I love to dance, always have. Other than a year of ballet and tap when I was six I have no training at all, but turn on some music, any music, and I’ll be nodding along with the rhythm. In my daydreams (still) I do incredible acrobatic moves and subtle, perfect hand gestures that illuminate some deeper meaning in the music while looking really cool. So I was super excited that the seventh grade came with dances, even if they were from 4-6:30pm.
I paid my fee and went in to the lunchroom. The tables were pushed to the side of the room, a DJ was set up in front of the counter, and an attempt at decorating with fall colored streamers was evident. Most of the kids in school were there, social options in small town WI were limited before you had a driver’s license. The DJ started playing music, a song I liked, but no one was dancing. I knew enough not to be the only person on the dance floor so I hovered at the edges, bopping a little. Finally, a group of six girls went out to dance. I gave it a verse and then went out to join them; I was dancing! But at the end of the song they left on some pre-arranged signal, and I was stranded in the middle of the floor by myself. I slunk back to the edges and tried to figure things out.
After a few false starts the DJ played a popular song and the dance floor filled up and stayed that way, now I could dance in and among the gaggles of people and not be conspicuous. Then the first slow song happened. The room didn’t end up with boys on one side and girls on the other, but it was a close thing. The people who were dating, mostly the ninth graders, danced together and the rest of us shot longing looks at somebody. Then the DJ played another fast song and the floor filled up again. I had a great time, even if I mostly danced by myself around and near people I knew.
By the end of that first dance someone who wanted to be helpful had pulled me aside to explain: apparently school dances weren’t really for dancing, certainly not the first song. You had to see who was there, and see what they were wearing, and see who came in with who. You were supposed to dance some, but not to every song and not so hard you got sweaty – eww. And you never asked a boy to dance. I listened carefully, and nodded along, and took very little of it seriously.
As junior high went on I never missed a dance. By ninth grade we had moved out of the lunchroom and into the gym, which was a big step up, even if it meant no hard soled shoes. I usually came to the dance with a few friends, and arrived 20 minutes late – not to be fashionable but to lessen the chance that I’d get stuck waiting for some other group to be the first ones on the dance floor (my friends were never willing to risk it). I’d dance the whole time and leave sweaty and happy.
At one of my last ninth grade dances they shifted into a slow song just as I was coming back from the bubbler2. I moved to the edge of the floor and ended up standing next to Joe, who was in several of my classes and one of the most popular boys in school. I said hello, asked about the basketball game that Friday and we chatted for a bit. Then I asked him to dance, the worst he could do was say no3. But he said yes! So we moved onto the floor to dance: his hands on my hips, my hands on his shoulders while we stayed at least 18” apart. You know, classic junior high dancing. After the song we split up and the DJ played another slow song so I went to sit on the bleachers with my friends.
As I sat down I was practically tackled by Crystal.
“Ow, what are you doing?”
“You just danced with Joe!” Crystal still had an arm around my shoulders and was shaking me, surprisingly hard.
“I did, he’s a good guy.”
“I like Joe, a lot. I can’t believe you’d dance with him.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know. I asked him mostly because we were standing in the same spot when the song started; it’s not like he asked me.”
Crystal started to calm down, and let go of me. I slid away from her a bit and said “You can ask him to dance; he’s not here with anyone. If he danced with me; he’ll dance with you.”
“No, God, I can’t ask him to dance. What if he said yes?”
“Then you’d get to dance with him.”
“But what would we talk about? And what if he said no?”
“You wouldn’t get to dance with him?”
“I can’t talk about this with you Rebecca, you just don’t understand.”
I did get it; I know that asking someone you like-like to dance is different than just asking a guy. But my ears were still ringing from the tackle-shaking so I didn’t feel very sympathetic. She huffed away before I had a chance to tell her that I was pretty certain Joe was too polite to say no to anyone who asked him to dance. The only reason he wasn’t on the floor every minute was that too many girls were in awe of him and didn’t think they had a chance. Well, and because girls weren’t supposed to ask boys to dance.
I still think dances are for dancing to all the songs until you’re sweaty, and if you want to dance with someone you should ask them. These days I’m even willing to be the only person on the dance floor if it’s a song I like. There's a secret my junior high self never knew; everyone is so worried about themselves that they're really not paying attention to what I'm doing anyway.
4 A few years later I found out he had a crush on a girl in ninth grade that year, and didn’t want to dance with anyone so she’d know he wasn’t taken, not that he ever asked her to dance. Senior year at homecoming he walked up and said “I think I owe you this – Rebecca, would you dance with me?” I looked at him very seriously and answered “No”, before breaking into a grin.
***This is a home game entry for the craziness that is LJ Idol. The entries of the folks still in the competition can be found here, read them all!***