Junior High Dances
The time had finally come for my classmates and I to have a proper "dance" at school. The Junior High had traditionally (at least for a couple years before us) held a couple dances per year for the 7th and 8th grade (One in the fall and then one around Valentine's Day). They were held in the cafeteria which was the room just north of the gymnasium. It was also the concession "hang out" area during half-times of basketball games and other events. It was a wide and white room. The white ceiling tiles echoed the white tile floor.
During lunch there were three long rows of end to end tables. I don't remember any particular order to who would sit where, but the teacher's table was the area closest to the dishwashing/tray scraping area. Once in a while, there'd be a student in their midst... I think as a punishment, but I'm not sure of that.
During half-times the only tables would be along one wall... the wall of the trophy case hanging along it. There would be chairs there for people who wanted to sit and eat and visit. There would also be the tall black cylindrical ashtrays at a few places throughout. Yes, this was back when smoking inside was still ok. Halftime was a smoke-fest and there was a haze hanging over the entire room and the aroma would spill out into the gym as people walked in and out of the area. There would be the slight smoke smell combining with the smell of popcorn and big pickles.
During Junior HIgh dances the room was open in the middle and lined on both sides by a row of chairs. At first it would, of course, be boys on one side and girls on the other. The lights would be turn down except for at one end. The teacher supervisors would be stationed at strategic places so as to keep a little safe space between the kids who were already "in couple form".... the rest seemed to be confused by the sudden juxtapostion of slow songs and the opposite sex. We didn't have a DJ or a band at our little dances. We'd get the school stereo from the library or music room. It would be on a wheeled cart and the speakers placed as far away from the stereo as the speaker wire would allow.... or about 8 feet..
The concession stand would be open, We could buy soda and candy and popcorn. Mrs. Schumm was stationed in there. A few people mingled near that bright light and consorted with her, I think both as a diversion from being forced to dance by a chaperone and also because they took comfort in the bar-like atmosphere of the orange countertop and talking with the "bartender" Mrs. Schumm.
It was 1983 and 1984 so the soundtrack of the night was usually the red cassette case'd Air Supply. We'd play the tape beginning to end for all the slow songs... pausing briefly for a fast song dance now and then. Michael Jackson's Bad or some Bon Jovi or Van Halen perhaps thrown in for something a little upbeat. I distinctly remember the new fad of the moonwalk from Michael Jackson. It was mezmerizing. Nobody had ever seen anything like it and we weren't sure how he did it OR how we could even think of doing it. A few kids would make an attempt to replicate... these dances were the best time to try it. The music was playing and we were ALL in it together... our judgement of each other was lowered by this new social environment so attempts at all sorts of things were made. Breakdancing, the robot, disco, the moonwalk.... dancing close with a girl.
Yes, the inevitable happened those nights, the great barrier between the boys and girls would be broken down and an intermingling woud be forced upon us. ALL of us. Many sweaty palms clasped nervously onto the opposite sex. The boys would place their hands on the hips of the girls and the girls would put their hands up on the neck of the boys. A few brave couples would scootch in on each other close enough to touch their bodies together. Strange feelings were running rampant and many were relieved when the next Van Halen song came on. The chaperones tried to make sure everyone rotated around and danced with new partners. But certain people were avoided, certain people were favorites. I remember wanting so badly to dance a certain girl at one of the dances. I had such a crush on her, but I think all the other boys did too. .. AND she was an 8th grader, I was lowman on the totem pole of her dance card. I'd try to time the end of one dance close to her so that when the song ended and the girl I was dancing with pulled away from me, I would be able to sweep the crush off her feet and in one solid Air Supply song get her to fall in love with me. It never happened. Oh I'm sure I got a dance in with her. I'm sure I got more than two dances with her that year. She never looked deep enough into my eyes to see the magical spirit of my inner beast that longed to hold her forever. I seemed to remember her head on a swivel. She seemed to be constantly looking for somebody else. I thought maybe she forgot where she was and was trying to figure it out. I longed to hold her close and here I was, as close as I'd ever got and she was looking to get away. I'm sure she was looking for her crush, trying to end the song near him so that when I finally let go of her, she'd be able to turn and flip her hair and bat her eyes for him.
This was essentially how dances went for me those two years: under a few streamers sparsely hanging around the room, kids looking for the love of their life while those kids were looking for theirs'. It was like a room full of people all playing pin the tail on the donkey at the same time... and we're all blindfolded and we are all the targets of each other.
They were fun. They had to be, they were about all we had back then... poorly feathered hair, polo shirts and Air Supply.
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