This year’s Fourth Annual Nerd Prom drew over 800 geeks to the Summit Music Hall, all dressed as the best of nerdom. There were wizards and wolverines, Mario characters and Jedis, Batman villains, Dr. Who characters, and thirty-somethings there for the excuse to wear a prom dress. And amid them all stood a lone cowboy.
He was a teenager, maybe fifteen or sixteen, who, probably deciding he could dress as a super hero any day, took Nerd Prom as an opportunity to hit the dance floor in full-fledged cowboy gear. Watching him move awkwardly around the dance floor and cheer excitedly for the bands was a reminder of those simple days when getting a partner for the slow dance was the world's biggest problem. That cowboy is proof that Andy “Rok” Guerrero was able once again to revive the spirit of high school and make prom cool again with Nerd Prom.
A lot of the evening was clearly nerdy. There was an NES console with a live feed of Street Fighter and Super Mario Kart projected on the screen behind the bands and a booth where you could get a full body scan converted into an action figure of yourself (so action-figure-you can finally make out with Princess Lea, host DJ Alf joked). There was a cosplay contest and drinks named after Adventure Time and Barry Allen. There was even a moment of silence for recently deceased Leonard Nimoy, during which hundreds of hands held up the Vulcan salute in memory of the man who gave nerds something to aspire to before nerds were cool. But, really, most of the night was straight-up high school prom.
Though there were plenty of twenty- and thirty- somethings there to reclaim their lost prom nights, at least half the room was teenagers bringing with them all the hallmarks of prom: pre-teens argued in the bathroom about how someone else had copied their Loci costume, the Joker and Harley Quinn, both with x’s on their hands, sat making out while their pizza slices got cold, and a line of parents sat at the back bar with their vodka and Red Bull, chaperoning. One mom, who successfully slept through the entirety of I Fight Dragons’ set, explained that this was her fourteen-year old son’s first concert, and he promised to do the dishes for a week in exchange for permission to attend. Balloons and a hand-written Nerd Prom banner hung with a disco ball over the dance floor.
Take it from the cowboy—at prom, you can’t dance until the moment is right. While DJ Hollow and Mile High Soul Club played tunes from the '50s and '60s, the cowboy and his teenage comrades stood awkwardly around the edges of the dance floor and watched the grownups. Then, a dance circle broke out, and it was time to move. A group of pre-teens quickly took over the dance circle, wowing the crowd with a lot of spinning and giggling. When a handsome twenty-year-old Thor put down his hammer and joined the girls in the middle of the circle, it pushed them over the edge of elation and sent them running away from the crowd, fanning their faces in delight.
In true prom fashion, there was a Nerd Prom king and queen who, in addition to the pre-event photo competition, had to survive a nerd gauntlet to win the Lego crown. Mitch Slevc, 35, was this year’s prom king. After barely squeaking through the video game competition—his technique was just to push as many of the buttons as fast as he could—he dominated the dance competition using a mixture of pre-choreographed moves and the Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to win the crown. Slevc's winning outfit was a Justice League Booster Gold costume, which is maybe not as cool as what he wore to his actual prom at an inner-city high school—a suit that he sewed silver and black sequins to. Back then, Slevc wasn’t cool. But here, at nerd prom, the crowd cheers like he’s a real super hero when he gets on his knee to begin the first dance with his queen to “The Time of My Life.”
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The biggest difference between Nerd Prom and normal prom was the music. Andy Rok & the Real Deal’s first performance was fun, upbeat and danceable, and finished with a cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity." I Fight Dragons was met with complete hysteria and a crowd who clearly knew all the words to every song and wanted everyone to know it. A couple girls nearly passed out from excitement when the band played “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie and then (the battle cry of the evening) “The Geeks Will Inherit the Earth”
But the real highlight of the night was the grand finale, a performance of the Guardians of the Galaxy Mixtape Vol. 1 by I Fight Dragons, Andy Rok & the Real Deal, and the horns section from Contraband in the aptly named super group “We are Groot.” The band played the rock favorites with clips of Guardians in the Galaxy playing in the background, and when Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” began, everyone looked around for a slow dance partner. Soon the dance floor was awash with couples—the adults pretending to hold each other at arms length and avoid eye contact, the teenagers doing so in earnest. The disco ball spat just enough light for the parents in the back to make sure their kids weren’t dancing too close to each other, and the Joker and Harley Quinn pulled their faces apart for long enough to share a dance. And there, at the front of the dance floor, was the cowboy with a girl in a blue sparkly dress, having his first prom dance ever at the best prom he’ll ever go to.