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June 24, 2007

When the Big Dance Is Over, the Fun Is Just Beginning

By MELENA RYZIK

The first party bus pulled up to Gypsy Tea, a club on West 24th Street, around midnight. Out spilled dozens of teenagers, in jeans and sundresses.

They lined up in front of the door, where several security people stood guard. They waited. And waited. And waited. The club was not packed; it was empty. But the promoter and the bouncers would not let the young people inside, waving them off with vague lines about “setting up.”

“Can someone slip him $20?” one teenager said.

So began the after-prom on a recent Thursday for about 40 students from Tappan Zee High School in Rockland County, the culmination of months of discussions, planning and prom drama, or “prama,” as they call it.

In addition to the usual turmoil over dates and dresses, there is much prama over where to go after the prom and how to get there. Many students opt for house parties or weekends at the shore; others rent buses and limos or beg rides and hit the clubs in Manhattan. (The Tappan Zee group planned to do both: After a night out in the city, they were planning to go to a house in Seaside, N.J.)

“People want to kill each other, they’re screaming their heads off,” said Alexa Zappulla, 18, describing the rampant prama at Tappan Zee. As recently as five or six years ago, high school students looking for a place to keep the party going after their prom could go to a club that allowed 18-year-olds.

But as clubs tightened security around under-age drinkers, the sanctioned, alcohol-free after-prom event became more important. A coterie of promoters sells tickets to B-list clubs — prices range from $40 in advance to as much as $70 at the door — and promises V.I.P. treatment.

“The kids are getting hipper, and they got more money than we did when we were in high school, so they just want to spend it,” said Daryl Daren, a promoter who runs AfterPromNYC.com.

Of course, some promgoers couldn’t get in to any parties. Ngozi Onuoha, 17, a senior at the School for Community Research and Learning in the Bronx, had a ticket for Gypsy Tea, but her friends did not. “I wanted it to be all of us together, but some of us can’t go because it’s too expensive,” she said. “Some of us didn’t have transportation home.”

What did she want to do?

“I want to not go home,” she said.

While her friends madly worked their cellphones to get access to another party — someone else was promising fun at Avalon, a club nearby, but it required state IDs, which some did not have — the Tappan Zee students were still waiting, still in the grasp of their prama.

Erin Wemmer, 18, began coordinating her group’s post-prom activities, including the New Jersey trip, four months ago — “Late,” she said. Between renting the $3,110 party bus, arranging who would go on it and fronting the money, “I had, like, an anxiety attack,” she said.

Around 12:30 a.m., the velvet ropes at Gypsy Tea finally parted. Then the frisking began.

The Tappan Zee students’ eyes went wide. “Welcome to the city, son,” said Adam Garcia, 17, a student at Pablo Neruda Academy in the Bronx who came as a date. Security guards patted down the young men, emptied purses and checked for lighters and matches (forbidden, along with cigarettes). By the time the students entered the club, it was 1 a.m. The party bus would come to collect them an hour and a half later.

The students filtered through the dark space, congregating downstairs, where there were couches to lounge on. Dancing started immediately, and moves consisted almost exclusively of grinding hips in pairs and foursomes. The club’s poles got a good dusting.

A few couples found quiet corners to nuzzle in. A young woman in a poufy dress with a “Prom Queen” sash danced on a banquette. More students — from schools in Flatbush and Westchester and Flushing — were arriving, in polos and jeans and taffeta and tiaras. The suburban groups and the city students didn’t mix much, though they all seemed to love Justin Timberlake.

The lone bartender kept yawning; few people were interested in $5 water or $6 Red Bull.

At 2:30 a.m., Ms. Onuoha was back, negotiating a friend’s entrance to the club (the promoters offered her a discount). They never made it to Avalon, she said. “We were just walking around,” she said dejectedly. “Then we went to McDonald’s.”

Meanwhile, the Tappan Zee promgoers were back on the street, waiting for their ride and complaining about the party: “Too many people.”

“It was too sexual.”

“The bottom floor was a basement.”

What now?

“We go to my house, fall asleep,” Ms. Zappulla said. “Eight a.m. tomorrow, we go to Seaside. Prom is not over.”