Each January, students gather in the dining hall for a dance, with themes ranging from Winter Wonderland to Venetian Masquerade. Last year we ended the tradition of calling it the Sadie Hawkins Dance, just one name in a long line of monikers (to read about the origins of Blair’s mid-winter dance, read Chriss Liu’s “Things You Don’t Know: The Blair Contest Prom”). Historically, the name Sadie highlights girls asking boys to the dance, subverting what used to be the norm.
The idea of girls asking boys to a dance comes from the comic Li’l Abner by Al Capp. A 1937 storyline focused on Sadie Hawkins, “the homeliest gal in all them hills.” As the story goes, her father was concerned by his unappealing daughter’s inability to find a husband. As a result, he declared the pseudo-holiday, “Sadie Hawkins Day,” on which unmarried girls literally chased bachelors, who, if caught, were forced to marry their female pursuer.
The implication that women who don’t fit society’s beauty standards can’t ensnare a husband without subverting gender norms is clearly offensive. The dance tradition that grew out of it, however, was quite progressive for its time.
Sadie Hawkins Dances, in which girls asked boys to be their dates, began about 80 years ago and traditionally took place on November 15, the day the Sadie Hawkins’ story was first published. The tradition was popular in schools and clubs, and, by 1941, there were 500 such dances across the United States.
Blair Academy was part of this tradition for decades, but in 2016 the name of the dance was changed to Mid-Winter Semi-Formal. Initially, this decision was met with upset by many students who wanted to honor tradition and disliked the new, clunky name. Many students had not thought about the dance’s heteronormative nature, which left out the LGBTQ community. Once students realized that this was the thinking behind the name change, the jettisoning of Sadie was largely welcomed.
Many still champion a catchier name than Mid-Winter Semi-Formal, though. In recent months, some names have been passed around like “Snowball” and “Winter Ball.” While the tradition of girls asking boys still remains the norm, the name change started conversations about inclusivity and normalizes anyone asking the date of their choice, regardless of gender. Our task now is to find a name as fun as the dance itself.
(Copyright 2018 Janice Negvesky)