By Sitara Engelbrecht-Larkin
September 28, 2017-- I arrived to a hoard of white and black clad teens clogging the reception area clambering to pay the fee to get in. I brush past them, apologizing for not being early to the hero of the evening - Mr T, the StuCo leader.
No matter who you are, the first thing you do when you arrive at an MS dance is look for your friends. I pressured my friend to chaperone the dance the same time as me. Even though we came in together, within moments of greetings from students we are lost to each other and I search for a corner to leave my bag and shoes and scope out the lay of the land.
The YumYum pizza boxes are stacked up and the soda is lined up and ready. Already the cash box is busy feeding the hungry masses. Before long the party takes shape - people clumping together, detaching from one group and joining another like electrons, each group buzzing with a slightly different hum. More a social than a dance. “I came to eat,” one student states matter of factly with pizza in hand. The balcony is as full as the mouths.
The dance floor is spotty - once in a while a scream will erupt as a popular song comes on and with it, the voices of countless mini-pop stars singing along at top volume. But not all: a small stream of people eru
pt, fingers in ears, pained looks on their face. “It is SO loud in there.”
“Yup, it’s a dance.”
I am greeted with a sceptical look. Often they soothe their eardrums with pizza or soda. “This is my third piece,” a waif of a girl tells me.
The teachers blend in seamlessly, backs against the wall scoping out the room and making plans of attack. It is funny how little some things change, how much we still have in common with our charges. After a while on the balcony I move to the dance floor - anything to escape the draw of pizza.
There is something timeless about a middle school dance. A crowd remains around the DJ. I lean against the wall with a few students and we share our best worst dance moves. It is early yet, so between those favorite songs the dance floor is sparse with more standing around awkwardly than dancing. Yeah, I know that game. I’m good at that.
As it gets darker, more and more people trickle in from outside. But still, there is no real consensus that dancing is what should happen. A chaperone leaves me to give her eardrums a break. “Send in another adult!” I beg - no one wants to be alone on the dance floor. At one point a group of boys sit down in the middle of the “dance” floor to play a game - almost like a protest sit-in. Others stand around and chat - or attempt to, over the music - but slowly you can see the sugar kicking in and the toes start tapping.
Then BAM! THE song comes on - perfectly timed to the sugar pumping through the veins and the easing of nervousness. THE song - the one I have never heard before, but I am the only one who does not know all the words, and some choreographed dance moves apparently. The room comes to life - and that is it. People jump in unison, arms raised, shouting and singing. Then each starts to bring their own flavor of dance to the floor. Once the seal is broken, the dancing does not stop. By the time the Dabbing song comes on even the 6th grade boys are in the fray. Someone breaks out “the worm” with incredible skill. Circles form, break, and re-form in new groupings. The grades start to mix, brave souls step forward to show off their moves while others cheer - regardless of the actual level of skill of the dancer. And no matter the continent or year, in my experience every MS dance will eventually start up an unnecessarily long conga line.
The tide of the dance floor ebbs and flows with the song choices. The students rotate to ease their ears and get fresh air. I step outside to see the proud 3-piece-of-pizza eater sitting backwards with her head resting on the back of a chair. “You ok?” I ask. “My stomach hurts. I ate too much pizza” she says with a shy smile. No surprise there - but we must give them a chance to make the occasional poor decision.
As the clock struck 7:45, my shift ended. The last ten minutes are always the longest. I grab my bag and head down the hall. “My time is up,” I gleefully state as I pass the water cooler. A student, glistening with the exertion of dancing looks up from her moment of hydration.
“Time is up?” she asks crestfallen. “No, just for me.”
“Oh, good,” she downs the last of the water and frolicks back to the dance floor.
Downstairs I meet my dad, who just happens to be visiting at the moment. A retired educator himself, he declined my invitation to the dance. “I’ve done more than my share of MS dances in my time.” As I walk out the door people call to me from the balcony. I turn and wave. Then, hand in hand with my father, I leave another MS dance. The soundtrack has certainly changed, but not everything does.