I never expected that my Peace Corps country-of-service would have prom. Not only do Kosovars have it, but it puts American prom to shame.
Because I taught 12th grade English for most of the year, I was invited to celebrate prom with the graduating class and the other teachers. All throughout the year I heard people referring to prom, so I quickly realized that it was a big deal.
Turns out prom in Kosovo is not just teenagers grinding on each other like it often is in the States. It is primarily a graduation celebration for the 12th graders. There is no graduation ceremony, so prom night marks the end of their schooling. At the end of 9th grade students have a semi-prom, which marks their transition into high school and is also taken very seriously.
The first thing that stood out to me about Kosovar prom was how impeccably dressed everyone was. The students have style. Women here are also experts at doing hair and make-up.
The evening began at 8:00 PM and took place at a luxurious venue on the outskirts of the city. The teachers entered first, followed by the students walking down the grand staircase in pairs and posing for pictures. We then had a traditional meal served in a fancy ballroom, with live Albanian music to accompany it. Then the school director, class president, and Minster of Education addressed the students. I was also asked last minute to address the hundreds of graduates. So I gave a short but sincere congratulations speech. (Side note to future volunteers: You never know when you’ll be asked to give a speech in Peace Corps, so get ready to improve those public speaking skills!)
Then the dancing began. Albanians LOVE dancing. I’ve always been pretty shy about dancing, so I was planning to sit it out most of the night. The students and teachers, however, had other plans. I was quickly pulled onto the floor to participate in valle, the traditional Albanian circle dance. We then transitioned in to the clubbing type of music I’d expect at a prom, but the dancing stayed classy. Even the teachers danced for most of the evening, which is a major difference from American prom.
A few key points about Albanian dancing:
- Lift up yours arms. Wrist movements are key. In American dancing it’s about the butt. In Kosovo it is about arms and elegance.
- Consider holding a handkerchief in one hand to emphasize wrist movements.
- Possibly place a glass of water on your head while dancing to showcase your poise. (Really, I’ve seen multiple people do this at each dancing event.)
- Men love dancing just as much as the women. Maybe more.
- If trying these things alone on the dance floor is intimidating, grab hands and join the circle dance! All you do is (to the right) step, step, step, touch/kick and then (to the left) step, touch/kick. Then repeat. It’s very simple!
If you are having a hard time picturing this, check out the video I made with clips from the evening at the bottom of this post.
The students also prepared a little comedy show where they impersonated some of the teachers. Even though I could only understand 70% of it, it was still pretty funny. After the comedy show we had a couple more hours of traditional dancing, with me trying to dance like an Albanian but probably still moving my hips too much and my arms too little. Oh well, I’ve still got a year to improve.
One of the reasons that prom is so serious relates to one of the differences in the school system. Students here are placed in a class of approximately 35 students when they enter secondary school. They have every subject with that group of 35 students until they graduate. They literally spend 6 classes, 5 days per week, with the same group of people for three years. This leads to very close bonds between classmates.
Prom included a lot of celebrating, but also tearful goodbyes at the end. It brought back memories of my high school graduation and saying goodbye to friends before we all parted ways and moved away for college. I was struck by how similar people are across cultures. Here was a group of Kosovar teens experiencing the same types of emotions that I was at 18.
The celebration lasted until nearly 3:00 in the morning. And 85% of it was dancing. Although I was exhausted by the end, it was a memorable experience. I look forward to another prom next year!