Imagine a prom event where the kids wear everything from T-shirts and jeans to formal finery, no one needs a date and everyone can have a good time — even if they're outside the "in crowd."
The fifth annual Anti-Prom, sponsored by the Friends of the Land O'Lakes Library and organized by the library's Teen Advisory Board, will be held Friday evening at the Land O'Lakes Library, 2818 Collier Parkway. And although this year's event has a "retro chic" theme that incorporates music and decorations from the 1960s and 1980s, guests do not have to dress according to these themes at this free event, which draws 100 to 160 Pasco students each year.
"They can attend in jeans if they want to," said Paul Stonebridge, teen services manager of the Pasco County Library System. "That's the whole point — here they do what they want."
The first event was held in 2008 as an alternative to the conventional high school prom, which can carry a hefty price tag.
"That was at the beginning of the economic downturn, and kids were telling us the prom was too expensive," he said. "Everyone was unhappy, so we decided to make our own dance."
As the concept developed, Stonebridge and members of the Teen Advisory Board found other ways to differentiate the Anti-Prom from more traditional student dances, including the introduction of unique themes such as the Zombie Anti-Prom and the Haunted Masquerade. And every year, an Anti-Prom King and Anti-Prom Queen are crowned.
"We all agreed that, at the prom, they play stupid music and the girls have to wear dresses," Stonebridge said. "At the Anti-Prom we have free cookies, plus punch spiked with Monster energy drink. And kids can bring their own music."
Also coordinating this year's Anti-Prom dance is Mandy Bacon, president of the Land O'Lakes Library Teen Advisory Board. The junior at Sunlake High School first became involved in the advisory board after attending the Anti-Valentine's Day dance at the Land O'Lakes branch three years ago.
"The first time that I met Paul Stonebridge, he approached a decoration table set up at the dance that featured a pink paper heart," said Bacon. "He said, 'Wait, this isn't right,' and tore the heart in half. That's when I knew that I was in the right place."
Bacon, 16, said the "anti" events are ideal for students who may not feel comfortable at typical teen social events.
"The Anti-Prom is for kids who feel ostracized at school, and who don't fit in at the prom," she said. "Maybe they feel bad if they can't find a date. Here they can come and hang out, even if they don't have any money. It's really fun."
This year's Anti-Prom will feature music from a live DJ and a new sound system made possible through a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Florida Department of State Division of Library and Information Services (the music won't bother quiet-seeking patrons, as the library is otherwise closed at this hour).
There will be free snacks, picture-taking opportunities and a disco ball pinata. For a $5 charge, the teens can access a special room where they can eat pizza, play video games and get cans of energy drink.
All proceeds go to the Friends of the Land O'Lakes Library, who will put the money back into library programs.
"We want library events to be a community experience," said Stonebridge. "We offer many services and many different experiences. It's not just about books."