April 16, 2006 | Pioneer Press
Malia Vadnais, by her own admission, "wasn't extremely
popular" in high school — not that she minded much.
She practically reveled in her nerdy differentness.
"I'd wear a blazer and a tie to school," the Cambridge,
Minn., woman recalls. "I'd go through my dad's closet
for the ugliest plaid shirt I could find."
It's hardly surprising, then, that Vadnais is attending Saturday's
Geek Prom, Minnesota's grand celebration of all things dorky,
nerdy and not-cool.
The Geek Prom, now in its fifth year, has moved from its Duluth
home base this year into the ultimate geek venue, the Science
Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.
Attendees wearing taped-up glasses, Klingon battle garb, marching-band
uniforms and old, appallingly out-of-style promwear will get
to engage in grand acts of geekiness, such as playing video
games on one of the museum's giant movie screens and posing
for prom photos inside the mouth of a T-Rex.
But Geek Prom staples aren't going away, either. Attendees
can still "spaz dance," which involves as much writhing
as dancing. And kings and queens of proms past will choose
this year's bearers of crowns and sashes — after quizzing
royalty candidates on their nerd knowledge, of course.
And, of course, there might be a Geek Streak, the sudden but
no-longer-surprising appearance of a nude nerd pack hollering
and scurrying through the crowd. A popular video of a past
Geek Streak is dubbed, appropriately enough, "Geeks Gone
'PROM FOR ADULTS'
The Geek Prom is the brainchild of Paul Lundgren, a Duluth-based
freelance writer who first envisioned a "prom for adults"
back in the mid-1990s. He figured a lot of people around Duluth
hadn't attended their high school proms because of rebelliousness
or social ineptness, or those who did go to prom "had
a bad experience."
He found little initial enthusiasm for his idea among his
friends and peers, who said they couldn't imagine re-creating
a dreaded event often consisting of "people standing
around staring at their shoes next to the punch bowl."
They were right, Lundgren now admits.
But "once the name 'geek prom' came up, the whole vision
became clear," he says. "Once we were able to throw
out all the uptightness that comes with trying to be cool
(at a traditional prom), once we let the inner geek flow out,
we really had something."
With the help of a prominent area music promoter, whom Lundgren
says he hounded mercilessly until the man agreed to lend his
event-organizing expertise, the prom was on.
Past venues have included the Duluth Technology Village, a
high-tech city complex, and Duluth's Great Lakes Aquarium,
where prom attendees gleefully engaged in David Letterman-style
rounds of "Will It Float?"
The prom moves to St. Paul this year at the Science Museum's
behest. "It kind of came on our radar as a fun, cool
event," says Liza Atkinson, museum special-events coordinator,
"and it seemed a perfect fit."
The museum is keen on attracting young adults to supplement
its typical kid, parent and grandparent clientele. Organizers
are trying to make the prom difficult to resist with seminars
like "The Science of Sex" and "Mixology 101:
The Chemistry of Cocktails."
IT'S ALL GEEK TO ME
So what is a geek, exactly? Typical prom attendees can be
a bit hard to define, Lundgren admits. But their behavior,
in many cases, will give them away: Some may engage in impromptu
prom-floor "Dungeons & Dragons" sessions (something
they could do anywhere) or carry their escorts with them ("Inflatable,
cardboard or otherwise inanimate dates will be admitted at
no charge," the museum says.)
Geek garb is another dead giveaway. "The way we sort
of officially say it is, 'If you're a geek, you should already
be dressed (for the prom) and ready to go,' " Lundgren
Minneapolis filmmaker Chuck Olsen, a self-confessed nerd who
is attending his second Geek Prom, jokingly refers to the
event as neutral ground where flamboyantly dressed Renaissance
Festival types and "Star Trek" fanatics in their
Starfleet uniforms can enjoy a temporary détente.
Prom attendees do tend to have an innate awkwardness in common,
Lundgren adds. "The more ridiculous and uncomfortable
you feel, the more you fit in" at the event.
Crystal Pelkey, last year's queen, didn't attend her high
school prom and got together with a group of girlfriends for
a slumber party instead. Even today, her prom bio at www.geekprom.com
says, "All of her romances have been imaginary. She has
been with her current boyfriend, musician Dave Matthews, for
But it's "exciting to have prom queen as part of my accomplishments,"
says Pelkey, store manager for New Moon Publishing in Duluth
and a collector of "Star Wars" memorabilia.
Vadnais, now married, did attend her high school prom but
says it wasn't a pleasant occasion. She was dateless, obliged
to attend as "a third wheel" with a couple she knew,
and her time at the event was short — the man in her
party got into a fistfight in the parking lot and was expelled
from the event.
She had to leave with the couple, she recalls. "They
were my ride."
But in a somewhat spectacular nerd comeback, Vadnais has the
ultimate date for this month's prom. Her husband, a classmate
whom she met after she graduated from high school, was class
president, captain of the football team and — unlike
herself in school — "the epitome of popular."