Saturday night found me — where else? — on a crowded dance floor, surrounded by fourteen-year-olds. Yes, it was multistake dance night.
Youth dances are a memory that years of effort have only partially managed to repress. Ahh, those moments, my back to the cultural-hall wall, asking myself impossibly angsty questions like, “is she looking at me?” Fifteen years later, M. and I were returning to the scene of some of my most excruciating teen memories — this time, as chaperones.
It felt vaguely 21 Jump Street, or that silly Drew Barrymore movie. Would I find redemption by dazzling all the kids with my vintage early-90s dance skillz? Unlikely.
First, we met with the stake leaders. “Do we get Book of Mormons to measure with?” I asked. Stake YW Pres shook her head: “There’s not much of that.”
Our likely duties would include policing any moshing, jumping, and so on — anything that could result in a twisted ankle or broken arm — plus enforcing the dress code. “If you smell tobacco or alcohol on anyone, come get me.” Don’t let any fights start. Alert the DJ if any of the music is inappropriate. Keep the foyers and halls clear. And police the parking lot afterwards, making sure kids aren’t peeling out or anything else potentially dangerous. We don’t want anyone to get run over at the dance.
The music immediately destroyed any pretensions that I had of coolness. I had arrogantly assumed that I’d know maybe half the tunes, or more, or maybe even most of them. Nope. Try “almost none.” At best, I knew one in four. I had to wonder about my ability to discern any inappropriate tunes.
After a slow-moving first half hour, things picked up. The kids were dancing mostly in groups, kind of hanging out and chatting — there was extremely little pairing off. Stake YW leader was right, we never needed a Book of Mormon to measure distances. On the bright side, there was little actual wallflowering. Most of the kids were mingling, talking, and dancing a little with no one in particular. Horray for teen social mingling.
Stake leader’s other predictions were pretty accurate, too. I broke up three mosh pits, physically untangling participants and saying in my sternest voice, “no moshing.” After the third time, the kids pretty much gave up — I merely had to glance in their direction, and any incipient slamming came to a halt. I also told two boys to stop hanging from the rims. (I felt a little bad about that — it was clearly a good-faith attempt to impress the girls — but we can’t have someone potentially falling and breaking an ankle. And besides, guys, the girls would rather you go _talk_ to them than show them how high you can jump. Really. I’m doing you a favor here, even if you don’t know it.)
We also thought about intervening — but didn’t — with one boy who spent the entire evening doing his best J-Lo imitation, sticking his skinny butt out and wiggling it vigorously. “Should we say something?” I asked M. “Why?”, she replied, as we watched girls edging away from Mr. J-Lo. “He’s embarrassing himself. If the goal is to keep these kids virgins for a few more years, we’re better off just letting him dance.” That sounded accurate enough.
We did send a few kids home for wardrobe changes — a boy who came wearing an excellent, very edgy faux-bloody t-shirt that we just couldn’t let pass, a girl came in a cute but definitely too-short dress, and so on. Also, we kicked kids out of the foyer, repeatedly. It was shaping up to be a fun evening. Breaking up mosh pits, clearing foyers, rejecting t-shirts — really, what more could a chaperone ask for?
Something was missing, though. The dance just didn’t feel right. About an hour in, I asked M., “has he played any slow songs yet?” Could it really be a youth dance without the old slow-song staples?
Apparently it could. The DJ played only four slow tunes the whole dance, and neither With or Without You nor Forever Young were among them. I felt like a little piece of my soul had died.
But there was one undeniably familiar moment, just before the dance ended. The familiar sound of violins and accordions began. Could it be? Yes, it could.
I (briefly!) considered dancing as I had a decade and a half before — the silly but (I hope) endearing routine of squat-jump-kick-squat that I thought was so cool as a kid — but just thinking about it made my back hurt. Besides, the kids seemed to have it down perfectly well — they really didn’t need any guidance on this one. So M. and I satisfied ourselves with a milder version, locking elbows and twirling as They Might Be Giants sang, “just as old New York, was once New Amsterdam.” And we smiled and remembered dances past, spinning together in a dance present.
Why they changed it, I can’t say. People just liked it better that way.