There are few things that make me want to be 15 again, but the description of this past weekend's Wallflowers and Wildflowers: Alternative Homecoming Dance was one of them.
The brainchild of the Mayor’s Youth Council was an anti-bullying initiative for teens who are home-schooled or otherwise unable or unwilling to attend their own school’s homecoming dance. The event was held in partnership with the Carnegie Library and Carnegie Museums.
It was inspired by the recent film of the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, set in Pittsburgh. This is the first city to host such an event. I attended the dance at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History on Saturday.
An age range of 14 to 17 and an open door to any dweller of Chbosky’s “island of misfit toys” was bound to create diversity. Or as Olivia, 14, exclaimed as she surveyed the Hall of North American Wildlife and Botany: “This is so perfect! Nobody here is normal!”
Olivia came with a group of four friends who didn’t enjoy their own school’s homecoming dance. “People were just grinding,” Calista, 14, explained, “I was the only one standing about. Here it’s nice, you can actually walk around.”
While everyone I asked claimed to be a wallflower rather than a wildflower, the setting seemed to instigate a newfound wildness. I witnessed a girl with pink hair cartwheel barefoot past a stuffed polar bear, while a mountain lion oversaw a dance floor that was never empty. I spotted Calista again later, taking off her shoes to shimmy to “Come on Eileen” a song DJ and librarian Joseph Wilk was forced to play twice due to persistent requests.
Seated against a display of elks was Mackenzie, 16, wearing in her hair a fascinator she designed herself. She brought her girlfriend, Lauren, whom she couldn’t take to her Catholic school’s homecoming, and she brimmed with strongly-worded criticisms of that fact.
Cooling off between the coatracks I found Kat, 17. Her girlfriend lives in Texas and was unable to attend, so the Doctor Who fan invited me to dance the Macarena with her.
Ryan, 17 also goes to a Catholic school and danced with his boyfriend, Calin. Home-schooled Emma, 16 avoided the dance floor altogether but was conspicuously the best-dressed of the evening, in full “Japanese Lolita” cosplay.
Olivia Benson, 27, works for the City of Pittsburgh and was one of the event’s chief organizers. “They’re having a blast!” she said, delighted with the number of attendees. “People keep asking me when we’re going to do this again. Maybe the spring?”
The Alternative Homecoming turned out to be a rare event that, even as I left, still made me want to be a teenager just so I could call the diverse individuals I’d met there my peers.