Sunday, December 12, 2004

Dancehall Deputy

Well, chaperoning my first middle school dance was really quite a trip. For one thing, I can now say, unequivocally and with two-and-a-half hours of listening experience, that techno music sucks. For another, I have been deputized into the fight against "dirty dancing," which mostly involves kids pretending to have sex in rhythm with said techno music. When the other chaperone-moms and I gathered in the school office for our instructions, the vice principal handed us a sheet about the kind of dancing we were looking for -- often identifiable by the large circle of curious kids who gather around the persons so dancing -- and instructions to break it up by walking right through the circle.

Now, I had some doubts as to my ability to disengage rutting preteens, since most of them are taller than I am and a darn sight more motivated to do what they're doing than I am to do what I'm doing ... but as it turned out, there were plenty of teachers on the dance floor who were not afraid to break up the party, and I had the awesome responsibility of guarding a door into an unused part of the gym, and far be it from me to abandon that post, although I did send out some grade-A Mom Disapproving Looks when I glimpsed any raunchy goings on. Most of what I saw, though, were girls practicing their pelvic thrusts without a partner; many were little girls I've known since they were in second or third grade with my daughter, and so my reaction was mixed between shock that they were moving like that and relief that they were doing it alone, like a kid putting on her mom's makeup just to see how it looks. The best part was the way they exploded into embarrassed giggles after just a few seconds.

Dancing may have gotten a lot raunchier than it was when I was in middle school (although really, isn't the purpose of most teen dancing to tick off grown-ups? How is it that each generation finds a new way to do that so well?), but many of the other routines of middle-school dances appear painfully unchanged. I observed many instances of the Happy-Hanger-On, the girl who stands next to a gaggle of popular girls, copying their facial expressions and following them around, hoping that it appears she's one of them. Then, too, there were many examples of the Purposeful Walk, in which a lone individual, usually a boy, walks determinedly across the room with an air that says "I'm not here alone, I'm looking for my friends. They're right over there." It's only when you have a lot of time for unwavering observation, like when you're guarding a door, that you can see that the Hanger-On is paying way more attention to the girl group than they are to her, or that the Purposeful Walker keeps walking back and forth without ever actually hooking up with anybody.

And while some kids were dancing way too close, others were doing that kind of side-by-side dance that maintains plausible deniability -- "maybe we were dancing together, or maybe we just happened to be standing in the same vicinity while we did dance moves completely independently of each other." At least they're not standing on opposite walls of the gym, like they did when I was in school. Although I suppose things were a lot safer then.

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