Of all the proms around Bakersfield this spring, there's likely only one that had a Titanic theme. Throw in actual ballroom dancing and 50 home-schooled students, and it was a prom quite unlike any other in town.
Organized by Eli and Emma Prestage, home-schooled seniors about to graduate from Turner Christian Academy, the prom took place Saturday evening at the twins' aunt's home. With some help from their family, the two transformed the large backyard into an elegant prom venue decked out in the theme.
Students "boarded" the Titanic by walking over a decorative bridge that served as a gangplank. From there, they could stop for pictures by the side of the ship (a black tarp with "Titanic" in white lettering) or check out posters with information on the ship and its passengers. The students (all home-schooled through various schools and using Home Educators' Resource Center, or HERC) then enjoyed dinner before turning to the focus of any prom, home-schooled or not: dancing.
Each year, HERC students plan their own prom, with the Prestage twins taking on the responsibility for this prom before the school year started. Past proms have had various historic themes, from World War II-era to medieval times. Planning the prom has become a family tradition of sorts, with the Prestage kids' cousins planning theirs in previous years, all of them held at the home of Eli and Emma's aunt, the mother of those cousins.
"Every year, it was kind of our family doing prom," Emma said. "We'd always do a theme. It wouldn't just be a dance."
When deciding this year's theme, Emma wanted the theme to be something fancy; Eli suggested the Titanic, as it's a historic event that's captured his interest since second grade.
While the prom had some educational elements (like a quiz before dinner where the teens were assigned a passenger to learn about), the focus of the prom wasn't the actual tragedy of the Titanic.
"We're trying to make it more of the era of the Titanic than the sinking and dying," Eli said the Friday before the prom.
While some students opted for fairly traditional prom wear, many of them found 1910s-inspired garments for the special occasion. Emma had a dark red dress with black lace, similar to the one Kate Winslet's character, Rose, wears in the 1997 James Cameron film, and a replica Heart of the Ocean necklace to go with it. Eli dressed in a black suit with tailcoat jacket, a top hat and a pocket watch.
"I don't expect everyone to dress up as much as I am," Eli said before the prom. "It's a lot of stuff."
Setting their prom even further apart from a typical high school prom, the home-schooled students didn't dance in a way that might shock their parents. Many of them, including Eli and Emma, take ballroom dancing classes through HERC, so when the music came on after dinner, several students found a partner and got to stepping.
"You get more comfortable with people," Eli said of learning how to ballroom dance. "I don't do it to show off, but it is impressive to show people."
Seniors Annabella Moret-Montalvan and Elizabeth Bloedow both said they were excited about the prom and its theme on Saturday night.
"At first I was nervous about being able to find a dress to match the theme, but it ended up being easier than I thought," said Bloedow, who found her black gown in San Luis Obispo. "For me, a lot of the fun is finding a dress that's able to fit that era."
Besides the theme and the ballroom dancing, the home-schooled proms are different from typical proms in another way.
"I feel like it's more appropriate than at other proms," Moret-Montalvan said.
Senior Elisha Mookie agreed.
"It's definitely more on the conservative side," he said. "I've been to other dances and been like, 'Oh, I did not need to see that.'"
Bloedow said she thinks it's funny that a lot of people don't think home-schooled kids have proms or that, if they do, it's just kids dancing with their siblings in their living room.
"A lot of the time, it's more fun because ... you don't have to have a date," she said. "Home-schooled prom is awesome."