Commercial Class Dances formals semi-formals The North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Town Students

Shall We Dance: Early Campus Formals

Senior Dance, 1939

When the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) opened its doors in 1892, its purpose was to train young women to enter the teaching profession. Social occasions were limited and there were no opportunities for the girls to attend campus dances. In the following decades, formal events were expanded to Literary Society banquets and commemorative school-related activities. In the 1920s, students were finally allowed to bring dates to their Literary Society banquets, but it was not until the 1930s that they were permitted to dance at these events.

Senior Dance, 1950

It was a natural progression for Literary Society banquets to expand into full formal dances, but there were also class dances, Christmas and Halloween dances, and dances held by particular groups such as the Commercial Class and the Town Students. They usually incorporated  themes inspired by current events, such as the coronation of Elizabeth II of Great Britain in 1953, or popular songs, plays, and movies. Not surprisingly, the dances soon became elaborate occasions, which required committees to make sure every aspect of the event was perfect. Professional bands were hired, invitations were chosen, tickets were sold, and faculty was asked to be honorary guests or chaperones. Because in the early years the dances were held at the school gymnasiums, decorations were always a vital part of the planning. Crepe paper, colorful cut-outs, and props reflecting the dance’s theme helped transform the utilitarian space into a magical backdrop for their ball.

The high point of the event was the “figure” during which the dance chairmen and their dates participated in a choreographed entrance and dance while the orchestra played a song related to their theme. Campus dances reached their zenith in the 1950s, but as the college became part of the larger University of North Carolina system and male students arrived in 1964, students became less interested in school traditions, including formal events. Fewer dances were held and they eventually became more informal occasions. However, many alumnae who attended the school in the early years remember these dances as highlights of their college experience.

Semi-Formal Dance, 1966

Article by Kathelene McCarty Smith

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