Imagine a prom where it's not fashionable to be late and you've only skimmed the surface of the Cinderella Fella Ball's appeal.
Started more than a decade ago by a crew of teachers, staff and parents at Battery High School, the dance is organized for special needs students and young adults with disabilities ages 14 and older across Beaufort County.
“I actually never even wanted to go to my prom, but at this one it's just an overwhelming feeling of love. There are no agendas,” said Gay Propst, who attended last year's ball with her son, Zach Serra, a special needs student at Bluffton High School. “My son is nonverbal, but the expression on his face was pure excitement all night. The kids watched out for each other on the dance floor and were mesmerized by how each other looked all dressed up.”
According to Lisa Lucas-Schell, co-chair of the special education department at Bluffton High, more than 300 people are expected to attend this year's ball. The event, which is free to students, takes place on May 21 at the Marine Corps Air Station Officers' Club in Beaufort.
“Even though our students could attend their school's regular prom, this is an opportunity for them to have a dance where they are not in the minority and where they can be completely themselves,” Lucas-Schell said. “There's a full buffet and deejay, and the kids arrive dressed to the nines. It's first class all the way. Just pure fun.”
In addition to receiving corsages and boutonnières at the door and complimentary prom pictures, those who attend the Cinderella Fella Ball are treated to manicures, pedicures and other types of makeovers by cosmetology students at the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence the week before the dance.
“The prom is all they're talking about anyway, but this field trip adds to the excitement. It's like going to the beauty shop,” Lucas-Schell said. “Outings and experiences we tend to take for granted are really embraced by these students. It allows them to feel a little sense of independence.”
And unlike the dynamics that are commonly associated with school proms, where students fret over dates, take their time to get to the dance floor and tend to stick with those they know, the Cinderella Fella Ball is a celebration of inclusion where no one ends up feeling self conscious. Attendees are allowed to bring a guest, which includes classmates, siblings and parents, and Lucas-Schell said awkward lapses in time never become an issue.
“Some of the kids will just start dancing and not even bother to eat,” she said. “They don't want to miss a beat of it. It's the highlight of the year.”
In addition to the Cinderella Fella Ball, which takes place on May 21 at the Marine Corps Air Station Officers' Club in Beaufort, students across Beaufort County will be dancing the month of May away at the following school proms:
- Hilton Head Preparatory: “Morocco,” May 15, Colleton River Plantation Dye Clubhouse
- Bluffton High School: “Masquerade,” May 22, Hampton Hall