Prom night brings magic to Fort Worth’s senior citizens

It’s prom night.

Dancers glided across the room dressed in sharp tuxedos and glittering dresses, while live music echoed through the room. Friends flocked to each other for hugs and chatted excitedly under the dim lights.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center hosts a prom every year for Fort Worth’s senior citizens as a fun way for them to relive this high school milestone with family and friends.

Community center coordinator Paula Jackson came up with the idea seven years ago when she found out that many seniors hadn’t attended a prom before.

Fred Jiles was named prom king.
Fred Jiles was named prom king.

She talked about how the community center’s staff doubted that many seniors would be interested in a dance – they were wrong. The center’s first dance in 2011 had a few dozen attendees and its grown dramatically to 312 prom goers this year.

“Old people like to have fun just like young people do,” she said with a grin as she gazed across the room.

No one seemed to have more fun than one woman celebrating her 70th birthday on the dance floor clad in a flowing teal dress and shining tiara. Eula Harris talked about how she looks forward to this dance every year.

“I’m enjoying the prom,” Harris said with a big smile. “It is magnificent what Ms. Jackson is doing.”

Eula Harris, 70, celebrates her birthday at the senior prom and calls it a "magnificent thing."
Eula Harris, 70, celebrates her birthday at the senior prom and calls it a “magnificent thing.”

She said she loves an opportunity to dance and spend time with her friends and family. Of course, these reunions can sometimes be bittersweet.

“To see friends and loved ones, it’s like a checklist,” she said. “I know there’s some that are not here, but it’s so good to see the ones that are and still coming…It’s a chance to celebrate many things. We learn things about the ones that aren’t here and we go on and be happy.”

Events like this also have some medical benefits for senior citizens, according to Dr. Robert Kelly, a specialist in geriatric medicine. He said that when people get older they’re more socially confined and have fewer interactions outside their homes.

He said there’s an association between rising age and functional impairment and social activities can help improve overall health. When people get older, he said, there’s more barriers to going out.

“Anything that enlarges social space maximizes our well-being in many ways,” he said.

This program has been maximized as well. Senior proms have been trending in cities all over the country for several years.

Jackson said she didn’t know senior proms were this widespread, but is glad that people outside of Fort Worth are able to enjoy them too. She said she thinks they’re so popular because it allows seniors to come together and recreate a special moment in time.

She said she was pleased with this year’s dance, even though many of her potential guests were deterred by stormy weather that Saturday. However, the special evening still has room for improvement.

She said she would like to book nicer venues for future proms because, while the Tarrant County College gym offers a lot space, it doesn’t have that “ooh and ah” factor she’s looking for. The dance is all about creating an atmosphere, she said, so she wants them to enjoy it in a ballroom to better invoke the prom scene.

“It’s about creating a magical moment for them,” she said.

The senior prom is always schedule on the last Saturday of April and is free for seniors 50 years and older.