Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guess What I Did A Long Time Ago.

Last year, starting in September, I began planning my church's youth's New Year's Eve dance, an annual event held at the church building. Thinking back, I was never really given the assignment--I just sort of took it and ran with it...

I had a budget of a couple hundred dollars for a dance that was going to start at eight in the evening and go until midnight and I was supposed to plan for about 400 or 500 teenagers.

Now, to understand how I approached this whole thing, you have to understand a typical church dance: minimal decorations (maybe some Christmas lights?), a little table with snacks (oreos, anyone?) and chairs lined up against the walls. People mingle in the middle of the gym and occasionally dance, but generally what ends up happening is that kids meander around in the hallways of the church or sit in the chairs and desperately try to ignore the fact that they're at a dance.

To this, I said "No."

I rallied together a group of about a dozen youth and we started planning in September (much to their protestation. "The dance isn't for months!" they said. "Resistance is futile," I replied.) I went with an Art Deco theme, called it The Last Gala 2010 (a name a friend suggested), and based all the colors on Cobalt blue, white and silver. I wanted lights strung across the entire gym, so I asked for people to donate their white Christmas lights. I wanted real food, so I asked for people to donate real food. I set up tables with tablecloths and chairs with bows and an e-mail account. Anyone who wanted a reserved table with their friends could send an e-mail.

Instead of the usual half-hearted fliers (a staple of Mormonism), I sent an invitation to each individual youth:

(Please excuse the bad quality--instead of searching for the file on my computer, I took a picture
of the one I keep in my journal.)

I DID make fliers, but they looked like this:

(Except they were on blue paper, not white.)

Here are the preliminary sketches that I drew in October-November-ish of how I wanted the whole thing to look in the end:

Pretty ambitious. Well, I learned a lot about myself doing this dance and one thing I learned was that I have ambitious ideas and high expectations of myself. People told me not to get my hopes up. To them I said, "Resistance is futile."

I wanted this dance to be something different, something people would remember. I decided to shake things up a bit by serving hors d'oeuvres (fancy) and asking for people to donate board games and card games (casual and fun). You'll notice a running theme here--I asked for a lot of donations and, somewhat surprisingly, got everything I asked for. EVERYTHING. By the time people started arriving, there wasn't a darn thing missing. I wanted two chocolate fountains. We got two chocolate fountains. I wanted plain white, non-LED Christmas lights. I got them. What I'm trying to say is, people are generous and if you're planning something, don't be afraid to ask for stuff (well in advance, though, obviously). Especially if you're a Mormon. 

I really had the time of my life planning this monster. 

Here is the church gym before (with some tables and wire for lights):

And here it is during preparation:

Here it is with tablecloths, place settings and a few lights. Notice also the white drapes tied with blue bows. 

And the tables were set thusly:

Because, fancy.

That thing you see hanging in the background was something I designed on the computer and then, with the help of a few friends, transferred onto a white sheet. Here's what it looked like close up:

It's hard to capture in pictures the way it felt... It was definitely different from other dances.

Yes. The place settings are reserved for specific people in specific parties with the name of every person and every party at every place. All in all it took three whole days to set up, but it was kind of funny--I organized everything so that no one was breaking their back to get things done and everything got done efficiently. It was organized well enough that I was able to do what I wanted, such as writing every place spot by hand and making sure the tables were set well and answer questions when people had them. 

I couldn't have gotten it done without the help of those who who volunteered to set up. 

For several years, the tradition at the New Years dance has been a balloon drop. They put balloons in a net and then drop them at midnight... and then everyone pops them like crazy. A noisy mess ensues because teenagers are usually not the types to clean up the balloons they pop. I decided to take the balloon drop idea and rework it, coming up with a balloon rise, partly inspired by the movie Tangled with the floating lanterns.

The day of the dance (at this point everything was set up entirely) we filled nearly five hundred balloons with helium...

But first we slipped a TINY glow stick into each one. Tiny--fingernail sized. Then we filled them with helium.

There I am, tying balloons. It was nice that everything was done beforehand--all we had to do on the actual day was fill balloons and get the food together. 

There were SO MANY balloons. I've never seen so many before in my life!

This was only one bundle.

During the dance, since, like I mentioned before, many of the kids end up walking around the outside of the church, we blocked off every hallway with tree branches spray painted white, forcing them to remain inside. The main doors were open and the doors that led to the bathrooms were open. Everything else was blocked off and guarded by one of the dance's chaperons.

The dance itself went over well. Everyone had a place to sit and mingle and play games, and even so the dance floor was never empty. It was well-lit, but not bright. The decorations gave it a sense of decorum and the fact that most of the girls were dressed in formal attire made it feel like a classier thing that church dances usually are, but not stuffy. Just... fun. 

And, if I may be so bold as to say so myself, it turned out perfectly. Exactly as I planned. Every table and chair looked just like what I had been imagining for so many months. 

As midnight drew closer, we brought out the balloons, tied to silver carts, and handed one to every youth there. Imagine two or three of those bundles of balloons coming in through every door, keeping in mind it was a surprise to most of those in attendance. To me, at least, it was magical. We instructed them to carefully break the glow stick inside their balloon (which is much easier than it sounds) and counted down to midnight, turning off all of the lights in the gym.

I cannot explain the experience, standing on the stage and watching hundreds of glowing balloons float up to the ceiling simultaneously. It sounds so silly, but bear with me. To me it was more than just a unique way to ring in the New Year. It was a symbol of an accomplishment. I did something. I single-handedly organized a group of unorganized teens. I lead them in the direction of my own goal. I brought about something memorable--I watched something that started as an idea come to life and shared it with others. I made other people happy with the talents I've been given. And that sums it up. I was able, for a night, to make four hundred people happy.

Oh gosh, this is starting to sound personal. Anyway, here's a picture (it doesn't do anything justice, but whatever):

Another valuable lesson I learned was about tradition, especially Mormon tradition. I took everything about a traditional dance and turned it on its head. I challenged every limit and it paid off. It made me realize something crucial: there are two types of people. There are "cookie cutters" (people that fit the mold and try to fit into the accepted standard) and there are mavericks. A cookie cutter doesn't take chances. A maverick does. A cookie cutter accepts while a maverick questions. A cookie cutter wears heels. A maverick wears Chuck Taylors.

(Dirty ones. To my own formal New Year's Eve Dance.)

When push comes to shove, a maverick is true to himself and a cookie cutter is true to the cookie cutter.

The next day when we got back to the church to clean things up, all of the balloons were on the floor. Clean up only took a couple of hours. We (miraculously) got everything back to its rightful owners. 

Doing the dance, I learned a lot about myself. It was a daunting task that I fearlessly (and somewhat recklessly) undertook. I gave it 200% and learned how to NOT be a cookie cutter. I like to think those are my defining factors and the New Years Resolutions that carried my throughout 2011. If I'm going to do something, I'm going to do give it everything I've got and then some--and I'm going to try and do it differently than anyone else would think to. 

Well, now its 2012 (or, twenty-dozen as the cool kids say) and I have new New Year's resolutions that I would like to share with you (all five of you) in this post: this year is my year. I was born more than two weeks too late and often joke that I'm a late bloomer. I wait until the last second to start things, but when I do jump in, I do it with a bang. I hope in the months (perhaps years) to come, this blog is less a rambling update to extended family and more of a record of my achievements--because I'm ambitious, that's why. And to propel myself further, I've made a resolution to ALWAYS SAY YES. Because every opportunity is an opportunity to meet new people and gain new experiences. 

So if you have a project you think I'd enjoy, shoot me an email at because I'll say yes and give it my all. Let's go somewhere awesome this year. 

Happy New Year, folks.

P.S................................................. I also do parties.

(This balloon met me on the stairs when I got home, 
with its tail perfectly curled as if to say, "Good job.)


  1. After reading this, my heart feels like the balloons... all glowy and floating. I feel inspired (so please don't delete this post). I'm the opposite of you... I have grand ideas, but the execution never seems to meet my expectations. I'll try to dream of better execution and results... :) P.S. Did you know you're amazing?

  2. Oh, I just love you. You're so sweet to me.

  3. I want to second Cindi...I, too, feel all sorts of glowy and inspired. *sigh* The baby shower I'm helping throw on Saturday suddenly just got 200% more awesome.