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Prom night, Shanghai-style

PROM night, that quintessentially American high school event, is coming to Shanghai with a few twists - it's for college grads and they don't need a date. Pan Zheng and Sonia Jarrett take to the floor.

Chinese college grads, often a bit shy and reserved, are throwing the city's first graduation prom on Saturday and though it may not be a night of twist-and-shout, it promises to be a night to remember.

China has no tradition of proms - those very American formal dances for high school juniors and seniors with all the trappings of rites of passage.

It's so important who your date is, how cool he/she is, and what you wear.

Before graduation, classmates may celebrate quietly with a few close friends at dinner, go away as a group for a few days or enjoy a cultural performance put on by their college or university.

Then they go their separate ways.

So the Shanghai Magna Graduation Ball 2009 will be a first - a last blast with their buddies. In addition to dancing, there will be performances presented by student troupes as well as soft drinks, chips and ice cream to enjoy.

It's believed to be the city's first prom of any kind, and it's a "pan-university" prom organized by students themselves.

Around 500-600 graduates from 11 universities and colleges are expected to attend the party in Art Shaker, 800 Art Zone, in Yangpu District. Schools include Fudan, Jiao Tong, Tongji, East China Normal and Shanghai International Studies universities and Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Admission is free. Around 100 tickets are available. The only requirement is that you be a senior. If you're a guy, wear a suit, if you're a gal, wear a dress.

Take a date, or go solo. Many young people plan to go with a group of friends.

Expat seniors are welcome.

The sponsors are Doritos chips, Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins ice cream.

"The word 'magna' in Latin means all the top students of the class, and this ball will be a platform for students of all the best schools to socialize, communicate and bond," says Kiki Dong, one of the organizers. She's a graduating English major from Shanghai International Studies University.

There will be other Magna events after the prom, such as drama shows, she says.

"My friends and I are organizing this big party out of personal interest. We hope there will be proms in China like those in Western countries to remember four years of college life," says Dong.

She got the idea of a prom for college grads when she was a freshman, expecting that someone else would actually organize it.

"But four years passed and that 'someone' hadn't shown up. So I decided to be that 'someone'," she smiles.

The idea of a prom night, a big party, a blast, is unusual in China where students are relatively shy and moderate.

So the Magna Graduation Ball will not only be a time for Chinese students to relax, socialize and recall their campus days but also to experience a bit of another culture.

"The event seems like a nice way to create some lasting memories with my friends and to end my college career on a high note," says Cinderella Jing, a graduating Finance major from Shanghai University.

Some Chinese students have watched television shows and movies about American students and their high school proms - and have wanted their own special party.

"In middle and high schools, I always wanted to go to a prom, but Chinese schools didn't have anything like that," says Heidi Yu, a graduating senior majoring in English at the Shanghai International Studies University. "The Magna Ball gives me a chance to do something I've always wanted."

Young people in the West get all dressed up for their proms, often formally, and go to great pains to look perfect.

But for the Shanghai party there's no need to worry about getting all dressed up.

"We have made it more casual," says organizer Dong. "Boys only need to wear a suit and girls only need to wear a dress."

Live entertainment will be provided. There will be music to dance to and there will be dance teachers for those who don't know about ballroom dancing.

Some expat students also want to attend the prom, but they have to be seniors.

Kevin Ma, an American student majoring physics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, is curious. "This is different because of the performances," says Ma, from California, who remembers his high school prom. "It was simpler, there was dinner, a photographer who took pictures and a band.

"I think proms and formal dances are very basic to American culture," says Ma. "The Magna Graduation Ball is new for Shanghai and it's pretty cool someone thought of organizing it."

Date: June 13, 7-11pm

Address: Art Shaker, 800 Guoshun Rd E., Yangpu District

Admission: Free



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