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Observations and Thoughts at a School Dance from a Socially Awkward Teen
I had never, up until recently, attended a school dance. My school was too small and too religious to allow such frivolity. Attending this school was like attending a Catholic private school where the nuns dressed in navy blue, not in habits. But, as a bit of an experiment, I decided to investigate what these school dances were all about. Why they were so loud; why people went; why the lighting was so bleak; what a “grind line” was; whether the dancing was a vulgar as everyone described it; et cetera. It would be a new, and possibly life changing experience. And it would cost me five dollars. I have recorded my observations for any other socially awkward teen, one like myself, in high school to take note of in case they ever find themselves in this kind of situation.
INVITATION AND DRESS CODE
In terms of invitation, this was not a big deal. It was not exactly the most ideal dance to ask someone out to, kind of the equivalent to going out to Wendy’s, but there were a few who did anyways. The dance was scheduled for Friday. There was Quentin, who had been looking on with affection at this one girl Friday for the last week. I believe by the time he finally asked her out the Monday before the dance, even the art teacher knew . The tickets were five dollars if you bought them at the school office and seven if you paid at the door. Throughout the week preceding the dance, the announcements for the dance seemed to give an ultimatum: “Buy the tickets now or I will charge you seven dollars later. And you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
This was, by no means, a formal dance. I had attended a Mormon dance with my friend Christine earlier in the year, and we were instructed to wear nice clothes. Dress shirt, tie, dress, and basically everything you’d imagine a formal dance attendant to wear. We dressed to the nines, as they say. The colors of the dresses were vivid and pretty. The men’s looks rarely varied much, but there was pleasant difference in each person’s attire. At this dance, dress code was anything goes. I was expecting it to be formal. And I’m sure many people who knew I was going expected me to dress up like I was getting married or going to a funeral. But, I thought I would dress casually, and my version of casual is polo and dress pants. Other people showed up and the disjointed and unusual throng of people’s wardrobe would have made a gay fashion stylist shave a seizure. Girls showed up either in nice dresses, which were probably more appropriate for the Mormon dance, or barely wearing anything at all. Tank tops, loose blouses, bleak colored pants, jeans, leggings, “jeggings” (which are a strange hybrid of jeans and leggings), short shorts, granny sweaters, bras, etc. Shoes in particular were also very scattershot. They were either very loose or very formal; either moccasins or Alexander McQueen 11 inch stilettos. I know of the latter because someone used their high heels to pin someone to the floor. The male’s choice of clothing was equally unusual in appropriateness, but not nearly as interesting in what they actually wore. It was either bummy clothing, boring tee shirts, or some people who were a tad overdressed for the occasion, including myself.
When I first arrived, I was greeted by the parents in charge of the dance. They seemed happy, yet completely willing to pull people apart should they start simulating sex on the dance floor. Later, I would learn they would be completely okay with that. A few students were there already, and we began a game of “ninja”, in which you use your reflexes to avoid being slapped in the hand. The best competition was between Harry, whose father with ivory hair ran the event, Quentin, who had been dropped off at the same time as me, a towering senior named Kurt and myself. I’m Asian, so it was only seemed right and justified that I beat all three of them. As more people came, the DJ, who had been playing orchestral versions of Eagles songs, started playing contemporary music. He allowed requests, so Harry’s father requested the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help from My Friends”, which every one was confused by, and I requested Michael Buble’s “Sway”. He made a comment after the song was over, noting “Yes, that is proof that I will take any requests.”
Besides punch, I never thought of dances as places where you would find food. Yes, a very formal dance, like a homecoming or a prom might have a nice dinner or something. But all these cupcakes and muffins and candy and cake and cookies? I think I saw shrimp scampi somewhere….
The drinks were the usual punch and juice, though most people drank bottled water There was no soda. Because, I think, the last thing the parents who were holding the dance wanted was to see already off the wall children writhing all over the place with caffeine and sugar in their system. Though, if sugar is the issue, why was there practically a chocolate fondue fountain at our availability?
I came from a very small school, where my graduating class consisted of four people. I am used to small environments. I am used to have four grades and about 25 people run around a gym. I am not used to, however, that amount of people, perhaps a little more, running around the gym with overactive hormones. The amount of people that showed up could very comfortably fit within the confines of the curved borders of the basketball court. There was enough room for people to jump enthusiastically and wave their hands up in the air. But, the difference in numerical value is probably the fact that my school had 54 kids in its entire student body, kindergarten through eighth grade. I made the transition to public school, much surprised to encounter so many people. By the end of my freshman year, through four grades and 126 students, I was still introducing myself to people. The dance attendants were a very small fraction of our student body. One of those odd fractions that don’t come out evenly or has a "repeaten" symbol over the repeating numeral.
Probably one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The dances that were performed at this party or celebration or what have you were not of the classical kind by any means. No waltzes, tangos, or even a good old polka dance! No, what I observed was much closer to a tribal ritual, with specific parts performed by specific “members” of the tribe. There was the Dance of Masculinity, where people crowded around someone and made a big circle, staring as if there were a fire before them or a kitten. In front of them, various males would try their best to show off the most to the crowd . They would make their body flow to the music, while somehow accomplishing ridiculous and interesting acrobatic feats. One person spun their body on the floor, something akin to spinning a bottle. He spun and jumped and kicked and did everything with ferocity, unmatched by almost any dancer. He got up and his black curls showed traces of dust, dead skin cells, and probably sprinkles from cupcakes. There was sweat on his brow, but he smiled with ease, humbled by the experience. He knew that the people around him were all novices, with the exception of a couple seniors.
Then there was very strange Mating Ritual Dance, in which people somehow legally got away with, as had been vividly illustrated before the dance verbally as, “having sex with clothes on”. The gyrating pelvises would probably make Ed Sullivan roll in his grave and make Elvis deathly jealous. But it wasn’t nice. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even beautiful. I think I can draw the biggest difference between this kind of dance and, say, the Tango, is the intention. The tango tells a story of sexual power, feminine prowess, love and hate, and the pushing of boundaries. This was just like watching HBO; all explicit material with little meaning.
There was the “grind line”, perhaps one of the most scarring things I’ve seen since watching a certain sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Several people would voluntarily line up and sway their hips and groins together in a continuing line, like a very dirty choo choo train. Back and forth, backwards and forwards, and sideways, the sight was strange. Never something I personally would undertake something that was as unappealing as taking LSD and Coca Cola. But the smiles on the participant’s faces were very odd. They were having a good time, but it seemed too much like voyeurism, like I shouldn’t have been observing.
And then there were the group dances. These were standby songs like “Cotton Eye Joe” (which, apparently, dates back to the Civil War), “Soulja Boy” (which sounds very profane, to me), and a dance track classic “Cha Cha Slide”. These dances were significantly more organized and performed in unison. It’s rather strange how everyone seems to know these dances; even I was swept up into spinning around and clapping my hands for that socket full of cotton. These dances seem almost miraculously ubiquitous. When assembled, the dancers were spread over two or three consecutive lines on the floor. Bumping was not a problem. But for those born with two left feet, they must have sat out after the first dance or something.
I myself am not a huge fan of dancing in front of people. When I was a baby I would parade around the bathtub doing my best impression of an Irish step dancer in Riverdance. I would probably serenade my parents with the latest Chipmunk record. When I was 6, I dressed up in almost nothing but various colorful cloths wrapped around my nude body like a cocoon or a skirt or dress Lindsay Lohan would wear. I wore scarlet lipstick and luminescent green eye shadow. I had one velvety piece of cloth draped around my arms. And then I danced around the living room to Cher’s “Dark Lady”. And then I had a wardrobe malfunction. However, since then, I have danced only in my room, doing nothing spectacular but swaying to whatever dinosaur music I was listening to, or Lady Gaga. There was one moment at the dance, however, where I had to let loose. Quentin and his girl Friday were trying to force me to dance, when I was doing just fine observing the proceedings. And then a wonderful samba came on, and I, if only for a little bit, let go of myself. I think the movements were a mix of various styles, like Fosse, tango, samba, “Is he having a seizure?” and “I saw him on the news; he just escaped a mental institution”. But, I was able to evade the two, and it was honestly a fulfilling moment. It was liberating!
SOCIALIZING AND CONVERSING
A dance is not the place to talk to people. It may be built up like a good place to mingle or to meet someone, but it’s really not. It’s too loud. It’s too dark. You walk around and you bump into people dancing. You get chased after by people wanting to pinch your nipples. It’s just not the place to socialize. The booming speakers had music bled through them at an extremely high volume, and I’m sure that people In Middletown could here Ke$ha wail about something concerning love or narcotics. I wasn’t sure. If you’re not into dancing, as such awkward people as myself aren’t, you’re forced to wander around the hall aimlessly, jumping into conversations blatantly, even though you tried to do so with the utmost subtlety. Or you’re eating food. Or, even worse, you’re sitting on the floor, reading a book and playing solitaire.
Is it just me or is music being made today, mainstream music at least, only for use at these dances? They seem to be lacking in substance nowadays and are annoyingly synth-heavy. Jumping around, the attendees love this music. I, who was raised on classic rock, classical music, and somehow segued into show tunes and Sinatra, abhor, loathe, despise, and detest this music. When Katy Perry’s overplayed song “West Coast Bimbos” came on, I ran to the side, sat down, took out the book I was reading, read a few pages, and then started playing solitaire with the deck of cards I brought with me. Most of the songs I have never heard of. A lot of people say that I live under a rock, especially when they frown at my ignorance of who Bruno Mars is or what the new Enrique Iglesias song is. I have inhabited a world full of Paul McCartney, George Gershwin, Ludwig von Beethoven, Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger, and John Fogerty. I make no attempts whatsoever in learning about new music, because it simply does not please my palate. However, to say I live under a rock is rather unfair. I know Coldplay, Kings of Leon, the Fray, Lady Gaga, etc. But these new people who’ve been on the charts for less than three months? They, I believe, can wait a little longer, until I’m forced against my will to learn about them. Yet many today have no idea or only a very vague idea of who the classic legends and gods of music are who inspired natins and generations, even if it did happen to be their parent’s generation. Should I say that these who seem to not have a clue who the seminal masters of music are “uncultured boars who’ve lived under a rock for the last 15 years of their lives”? It’s only fair, isn’t it?
A quality of dances I have always wanted to experience. But, I don’t live in 1955, I guess. I got the wonderful idea that my first school dance would be incredibly and idealistically romantic. Nauseatingly so. I would either find my true love there and we would spot each other on the dance floor, or I would grow a pair and ask someone out and we would find love their in a sweet slow dance or a sensuous Latin dance. Neither happened. It didn’t even really happen for other couples. There was probably one slow dance, not counting the egregious use of Owl City’s “Fireflies”. The rest of it was really not romantic. People intermittently grabbed other people and super glued their faces together for minutes at a time. There was one sweet instance that was drastically contrasted by explicitness and intentions. While wandering, I saw that Quentin and Friday were slowly dancing, quietly and sweetly moving from side to side to the music, in an effortless and emotional way. He inched closer to her and embarked on a sweet kiss….which was promptly interrupted by our friend, Maria . This was probably the closest to what I imagined in Top Hat or Singin’ in the Rain. And while they continued to hold each other tight on my right, I looked to my left and saw two people who took a very different view of romance. Not the slow, sweetness, but more of a graphic and mildly violent make out session, that would probably soon lead to her being pinned against the wall. It was saddening. I was even more disappointed when it seemed that Quentin had regressed a bit and was humping the air like a dog. This is my generation. Damn.
The dance was no doubt an interesting experience, and I had a good time. Were any of my questions answered? Eh, not really. There’s no viable explanation, from what I observed, for most of my questions. I think dances are just to let go of your body and to feel liberated in to most carnal way. This is coming from a very prudish perspective, but one all the same. I’m still wildly disappointed that it wasn’t like it is in the movies, but I’m satisfied. I was fascinated with the pathos of the characters versus with the pathos of the real people. They are so very different. But, Lady Gaga sings in “Just Dance” about forgetting her car keys and being belligerent and drunk and forgetting your troubles or something. SO, what I’ve learned is, when life gives you lemons, make a lemontini and “Just Dance”.