You can leave your friends behind

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.

Comments

  1. Kaimi, I am just finishing a year-long stint as the Stake Dance DJ, a fate I would not wish on anyone. I went through a lot of the same thoughts and feelings at my first dance, including really having to brush up on my Top 40. Turns out the kids don’t like my brand of indie rock. But you chaperones…you are hard on the DJs. Every dance I am accused of: playing the music too loud, playing the music too soft, playing too many slow songs, not playing enough slow songs, not playing enough rap, and I have even been called a “racist” for not playing enough latino music.

  2. Thanks for this nostalgic look at youth dances. I have fond memories of them as a teenager. Somehow they were way more fun than YSA dances.

  3. Mark IV says:

    I used to chaperone dances a lot, up until about a year ago. In our stake, I was surprised to find that they played a lot of old songs, too.

    Once, I was in the kitchen of the church, up to my elbows in dishwater, when I heard the unmistakable opening riffs that announced that the genelemen of ACDC were about to start belting out the lyrics to “Yooouuuuu shook me aaaalllll niggghhhhtttt loooooonnnngggg!” I had to go into the gym, just to see it with my own eyes.

  4. After chaperoning 2 youth dances the past year or so, I can earnestly say that they are much more awkward as a leader, than as a teenager. Just brutal.

  5. Over the years, I’ve been a chaperone at many a stake dance, and I would agree that it’s awkward to be a leader there.

    I try to be up to speed on current music with my kids (The Shinns, BTW, are my current fave of their playlists), but generally discover I only know about 10% to 20% of the music played.

    Stake leaders, though, sometimes make the job of a chaperone just about impossible, so my wife and I have been known to volunteer to do the coatcheck thing, just to avoid the nitpicking. We once walked out of a stake dance we were to chaperone because we didn’t agree with some of the standards required of the youth. This was a while ago, but we were asked to turn away anyone with extra pockets or zippers on their pants, thus eliminating anyone with khaki cargo pants. I couldn’t understand why it was immoral, and it lead to a polite argument with the stake YW president in charge, so we left.

    But I love that Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody still gets played, complete with all the guys doing the Wayne’s World head banging, or jumping up and down in the chorus of the Pretenders 500 Miles. It truly can be fun.

  6. My younger sister was able to get a lot of the standards for youth dances lightened when she was a stake youth representative. She argued that if we wouldn’t turn them away from sacrament meeting, why would we turn them away from a dance?

  7. kevinf, you are old. The Shins (one “n”) and The Proclaimers not Pretenders. :)

  8. In our stake the DJ turns down the part of 500 Miles that says “if I get drunk.” That always makes me smile. Inside.

    Also I think our slow song ratio is higher in our stake, but unlike when I was going to stake dances myself as a youth in the late 1980s, there’s no pairing off for “fast dances.”

    As a chaperone my faves to watch are the ones that have group moves to them. I mean, there’s the obligatory Cotton Eye Joe, but then there’s the Cha Cha Slide, and Dj Sammy’s version of “Heaven.” My son says some other stakes play Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat” that has a dance routine to it, but he admits that one probably shouldn’t get wide play and it doesn’t make our stake’s list. Long way from “Take On Me” and “You Spin Me Right Round Baby”… or maybe not. For some reason in the stake I grew up in Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” was a favorite. Go figure.

  9. Then there’s the guaranteed sing-alongs – the loudest one in our stake’s dances is usually “Since U Been Gone.” Shouted! Loud!

  10. sister blah 2 says:

    Love it. I haven’t ever chaperoned a youth dance, but I definitely remember them.

  11. Peter LLC says:

    mpb,

    I hear you. Once when I was a real live DJ I was invited to DJ a regional YSA dance. It was far and away the worst crowd ever with incessant complaining and ad hominem attacks regarding music selection. I swore that night never again, but a few months ago broke my seven-year moratorium when the organizers of another YSA dance came looking for someone to fill in at the last minute. The experience repeated itself. Unbelievable.

  12. TimJ,

    Part of the issue is that there aren’t a lot of CD cases, let alone album covers lying around these days, so the spelling of the Shins gets past me. And yes, the Proclaimers Sunshsine on Leith album, not the Pretenders, arghhh.

    And yes, I am old (sighs nostalgically at getting to see Blind Faith on their one and only US tour). Youth is so wasted on the young.

  13. SingleSpeed says:

    It def depends on who’s the DJ. When I was a youth, sometimes they would hire a local DJ, sometimes one of the members of the Stake Presidency would just be the DJ – the music selections were very different depending on whether they hired someone or not. The hired DJ’s never played slow songs, the SP played a lot.

    Now that I’m an adult, I’d be the worst chaperone ever – that’s probably why they never ask me. Do dances still require dance cards? I always thought that was the dumbest thing ever…

  14. Matt W. says:

    I never went to a youth dance as a non-chaperone. As a Chaperone, I mainly just play with my cell phone and set up chairs, clean up afterwards, etc. I’ve never broken up a mosh pit, sent someone home for clothing issues, or bugged people. The closest I’ve come to this was when I was assigned to occasionally walk the parking lot for people doing inappropriate things. Nothing happened, of course.

    Here in Texas, I don’t recall any TMBG at any dances, and they do have a lot of slower songs, mixed with the line dances, break dance sessions.

    It’s all odd to me, because when I was a kid, dances at catholic school were the things you got girls to leave… Mormon parents should be grateful.

  15. Weird, I thought

    Forever Young

    was required at Stake dances.

  16. Interesting differences, Matt.

    Btw, I wasn’t just breaking up mosh pits to be mean or a wet blanket. I was following orders from the stake YM/YW leaders. That’s what we do (or at least, what they said to do), mostly for liability/safety reasons. Basically, they don’t want anyone to get hurt.

    And I didn’t know the clothing rules well enough to make either call myself — I asked the stake YW pres about it both times, and both times, she said no-go. (Both kids came back later in different attire.)

    I’m still a neophyte at chaperoning.

  17. No Chicken Dance? We always play that one! My YW even got me Chicken Dance musical birthday card one year.

  18. What sort of music were they playing? Hip hop?

    I’d love to see kids break into Napoleon’s dance when Jamiroquai came on. Any of that happening? Only in my dreams, I’m sure.

  19. Single Sister says:

    Ah, this brings up memories of YSA dances in London, England (mid-eighties) where we played “Relax” By Frankie Goes to Hollywood LOUD. Once the Stake President walked through and said to a group of us, “Isn’t this one of the banned songs?”. We managed to not show our guilt somehow. Memories!

  20. Matt Thurston says:

    Great post Kaimi. Would have made a nice piece for Sunstone Mag.

  21. Matt Thurston says:

    I spent my first church dance running (literally) to the bathroom every time a slow song came on. I just knew Kelly Anderson was going to ask me to dance. She was cute, but I was scared to death of holding her waist. That would have been just way too embarrassing.

  22. I refuse to send kids home for clothing issues. They’ve been taught correct principles, let them make their own decisions. Why can’t we just be thrilled that they are choosing to spend their time at church activities? Send them home too many times, and they won’t be back.

  23. Julie M. Smith says:

    Kaimi, this is a wonderful post.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    I used to chaperone dances sometimes back when I was YMP. I don’t recall there ever being a wardrobe issue. I never, ever sent anyone away. I never had a problem with anyone groping each other on the floor. Basically I didn’t really do much of anything.

    The kids tended to dance in groups, which is probably a good thing. Back in my day you danced two by two only, and it was harder to get that sort of thing really going.

    Probably the hardest part for me was the fact that I love to dance myself, and so it was all I could do not to break out my 1970′s vintage Michael Jacksonesque moves!

  25. *tries desperately NOT to envision Kevin moonwalking in his nude model banana-hammock*

  26. *fails*

  27. Thanks a lot, Brad. Now I have to go wash my brain out with soap. *Shudder*

  28. Ha! I was imagining the same thing as Brad!

  29. Kaimi, the lyrics are not “Just as old New York was once New Amsterdam” but “Even old New York was once New Amsterdam.” Get it straight, man.

    (I know that being persnickety about TMBG lyrics betrays profound nerdiness, but I’m afraid I can’t help myself.)

  30. “I never had a problem with anyone groping each other on the floor.”

    Does this mean it didn’t happen when you were a chaperon? Or when it did happen, you didn’t have a problem with it? If it’s the later, man I wish you had chaperoned dances when I was a youth. :)

  31. I chaperoned a stake dance when I was about 23 or 24. My husband was at home with our baby because he didn’t want to come, but there were some other couples from our ward.
    Unfortunately, I guess I looked a little younger than I was, because an awkward 16 year old boy asked me to dance.
    Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I did dance with him, but after asking his name, I began the conversation, “Do you know I’m a chaperon?”
    It was a little awkward, but after the song, I introduced him to my 15 year old sister.
    He had already danced with her but didn’t remember it.
    Pretty funny. My husband really laughed and wished he’d come just so he could see it.

  32. Do they still play Rock Lobster? Because they should. They should ALWAYS play Rock Lobster.

    And Ice Ice Baby, so that everyone can dance like crazy while pretending to make fun of the song (even though inside they’re all YEAH BABY).

    I miss the dances. I really, really do. They were kind of awesome.

  33. Sue, they did play Ice Ice Baby. The kids loved it. I turned to M. and said, “you realize, this song is older than most of the kids here?” Weird to think that I was in high school when it was #1.

    They didn’t play Rock Lobster, sorry to say.

    They did play Since U Been Gone, jeans, and everyone shouted along.

    Susan,

    A lot of it was hip-hop and dance stuff. I guess I don’t know my hip-hop as well as I thought I did. I didn’t hear any Jay-Z, but that’s probably a good thing. Really, it’s what you might call “innocuous hip-hop” — the edgiest thing I heard was a few “shake your booty”s.

    Also, a fair chunk of it was teenybopper pop. I glanced at the requests list, and one of the requests (and I think it was played) was a Miley Cyrus song. I really don’t know my Miley Cyrus oeuvre very well. Daughter likes Let’s Dance (which is kind of a catchy tune, I’ll admit), but thankfully, that’s the only Miley Cyrus song I have to listen to with any frequency. I wouldn’t want to lose any of my vanishingly small amount of cred.

    Some surprises: The DJ played Beat It (which the kids loved), and That’ll Be the Day.

  34. Brad, that kind of thing is _definitely_ not allowed under the dress code. Go home and change.

    Jess, judging by your ExII pics, you _still_ look like you’re 16. Our stake YW pres (who guarded the door the whole time) would probably have told you that you couldn’t go in to the dance without an official dance card signed by your bishop. And she would have checked your breath and your hemline.

    Anna, that’s nobody’s business except the Turks.

  35. Mark IV says:

    Kaimi,

    What, no YMCA? I thought that was part of the unwritten order of things …

  36. DoubleL says:

    MPG #1:

    My husband has the same problem when he DJ’s. Too fast too slow blah blah blah. The kids LOVE him but the adults won’t leave him alone. Very frustrating. However, we have them jump constantly and as high as they can so we aren’t stopping all activities that may cause injury.

    The DJ before played the chicken dance, hooky pooky, etc. When my husband took over you could see the relief on the kids faces as he played current and REAL music.

  37. I chaperone dances all the time since I am in the Stake YM Pres. One thing I have noticed about tri-stake dances is that the girls in our stake think that the guys from other stakes are much much hotter then our own guys.

    I would love to write up a post on the regional LDS prom I recently helped put on here in TX.

    Our dress code is:

    Guys: Collared shirt and slacks no jeans. When the do not comply we rarely actually step in and do anything. I usually tell them to remember next time.

    Girls: I swear anything goes. I could be wrong but Girls never get questioned on what they wear.

    Lots of slow dances and the music is totally current.

    My favorite moments have been taking up with a stake P member together and convincing shy guys to get courage and go ask a hot girl to dance. “Bro, this is your moment, its your lucky day” We then give him tips and help make it happen.

  38. I’m of the age that I remember the Frankie Says era- and they always played Rock Lobster… Yeah yeah, I’m an adult convert but I went to tons on stake dances as a teen.

  39. Re: dress code, we have had trouble with some of the girls wearing shirts that ride up. Our Stake brought a few Girls Camp t-shirts to a dance and had the girls with that problem put a t-shirt on over their own shirt. The next dance was much better!

  40. sister blah 2 says:

    Random weird church dance experience: During a slow dance with a guy I’d never seen before, he asks me if I “like to party.” I said, sure! (I was a very sweet little 14 year old.) He says, “I mean, party.” Blissfully naive, I reiterated, yeah sure I like parties. So at the end of the song he slips me a flyer advertising a rave, as in a full-blown drug-filled rave.

    Out of countless church dances, that was the only time something happened that even remotely approaches that in any way. So, parents, yes you can safely send your kids to church dances. I just love that experience now because of how clueless I was. I think I was picturing birthday cakes and streamers or something.

  41. As a confirmed Old Man, I remember church dances when we would not attend unless it was a live band! DJs? Not in my youth. But that was a long time ago before disco took off.

    Ah well! (Sigh)

  42. Now that I think about it, I actually danced at a stake dance with my wife for the first time when we were sophomores in high school, but we never dated until we got to college. I guess that’s why in our current stake if they ask us to chaperone, I generally don’t have an issue with going. Chance to dance with my wife again.

  43. Chad Too says:

    When I was in the Bishopric I often got to interview the teens for their dance cards. I had gone out and purchased a day-glo chartreuse set of sweats in a 2X and hung it on the coat rack in the Bishop’s office (we met in the Stake Center).

    When they asked what that was for, I casually remarked, “I keep that here for stake dances. That way, if you show up in clothes that are inappropriate, you can always put them on and still go to the dance”

    Never had to take them off the hanger.

  44. #43 – I love it.

    #41 – “But that was a long time ago before disco took off.”

    I really want to guess an age, klutz, but I won’t. :)

  45. rondell says:

    Kaimi,

    Thanks so much. ;-) I have been singing “Safety Dance” for the past two days and can’t get it out of my head!!!

  46. When I was on my mission in the late 90′s in Idaho I remember members saying they had to be extra careful at the dances to watch out for FLDS young men coming to try and recruit their daughters as wives. I guess it happened more than once, although I don’t think the FLDS guys had any success.

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