Stake Dance, 1986 (part 1)

In the mid 1980s, I spent many Saturday nights at Mormon stake dances around Southern California. There were several to choose from each Saturday, and the better ones would pack in several hundred kids from all over Southern California.

This post  was a journal entry dated February 1986, when I was sixteen years-old, but I wrote it several months later, and I seem to be writing in my Kerouac phase. I’ve taken out some embarrassing self-awareness and changed the names, but I’ve tried to leave the spirit of it intact.

I come home from work and call Baz.

He says, ‘Tonight. Arcadia?’

I say, ‘No, Upland. Paige called me, called me, to say she’s going to Upland. It’s her stake.’

He’s disappointed, but he says, ‘She called you? OK, Upland.’

‘Should I call Todd?’

‘Yeah, call him. He’ll be happy to see Whasername.’

I call Todd, and he’s as happy as he gets to go see Whasername.

So I eat, shower and get dressed, and dad gives me the old one-two. ‘Remember who you are and what you stand for,’ mom calls from the living room.

‘I’m Superman, and I stand for truth, justice and the American way,’ I call back.

I go to Baz’s, and his dad walks out to the car with him and gives us his own one-two, and then off to Todd’s, where he’s waiting at the curb.

We take the freeways to Upland, the Box [a 1975 VW van] struggling to keep up with traffic but the radio pounding. We’re earlyish, so we stop at AM/PM for Cokes and Cornuts, hanging out in the parking lot by the freeway overdressed in ironed shirts, skinny ties, thrift-store slacks and Docs.

Just after 9:30 we hit the Upland stake center. As we pay and show our dance cards, we hear the rhythm of the music and see a few bodies in the dark doorway, but when we get inside the heat is intense. The place is packed — jocks, punks, Madonna wannabes, youth committee members, little brothers, shitkickers, break dancers, wallflowers, burnouts, mods, geeks, new wave trendies and of course the chaperones, against the walls, arms folded, looking bored and suspicious.

With Duran Duran playing, I say hey to some familiar faces, look for Paige, but I don’t see her in the crowded darkness. Then The Buzzcocks are playing — The Buzzcocks at a church dance! I ask a willing-looking girl and we go. The girl looks bored but I don’t care — I want to move. I see Paige while dancing and after the song I go over.

We spend the whole dance together — talking, having punch and cookies, dancing and especially laughing. Paige laughs at everything, including herself. While slow dancing, I say, ‘I really like the way you laugh.’ She looks right at me, serious, and I realize I could kiss her right there. But this is a church dance, and there’s been hassle for dancing too close.

I only see Todd a few times, in the corners or dancing with Whasername. She’s more depressed looking than usual, if that’s possible. I see Baz working his System* and he comes and asks where we’ll go after the dance. Paige suggests Norms, and I agree. Baz makes a face — the cool kids go to Cocos — but he nods and takes off.

Just before 11, someone announces the closing prayer to be followed by the last song. During the prayer, I peek and about half the kids are looking around, scoping out for the last dance. Paige elbows me, and I smile and close my eyes.

After the prayer a Lionel Ritchie songs starts up, and Paige and I put our hands on each other and dance, mostly looking in different directions, for when our eyes meet it is too much, too close. In this moment, it seems unlikely that it’s happening, but here we are, and I’m not sure what is here to believe in, but I believe.

The song ends and the lights come one, and as we stand blinking at each other the adults immediately start folding chairs. Todd comes up and says he’s going to Denny’s with Whasername and could we pick him up there when we’re done? Sure. Baz asks if we can take a girl he’s met and her sister and drop them off at home? Of course. The girls needs to use the pay-phone to half-lie to their parents about where they’ll be, so we shuffle out to the parking lot, where we sit in the Box listening to the radio feeling wildly cool and full of anticipation, working out our curfews and exchanging plans with the other carloads. When Baz’s new friends arrive, off we go.

Part 2 will appear in a few days.

* I had to email Baz and ask what his System was. He remembers it well: ‘Use fast songs to set up slow songs, use slow songs to set up last dance, use last dance to get number.’ He wants the record to show that it ‘TOTALLY WORKED, just ask my wife.’ I didn’t change Baz’s name as he says nobody has called him that since 1988.

Bookmark Stake Dance, 1986 (part 1)


  1. makakona says:

    “I’m not sure what is here to believe in, but I believe.” awesome line. i have similar diary entries. the best part is that the cute boy i was moony-eyed over actually married me a decade later, despite having been subject to my dumb 14-year-old girl-ness.

  2. Even though my experiences weren’t until another 10 years after this account, so little seems to have changed in that time that this post fills me with nostalgia.

  3. This is fascinating. I was just wondering during the priesthood session, when Pres. Monson spoke, how many LDS youth kept journals or diaries. Does anyone know if church archives will ever start collecting these documents in a major way again?

  4. Smooth. This is actually fun reading…unlike, I imagine, the vast majority of adolescent journalizing.

  5. This is totally awesome.

    dance cards: I think this phased out in the late 80’s. I have not seen them since then. Are they still around somewhere?

    I like to see that your bud Baz is still proud of his System. And he gots the proof in his house.

  6. Latter-day Guy says:

    My AZ stake, mid-late 90’s, still had dance cards.

  7. nasamomdele says:

    Classic. Great stuff.

    Dance cards: They use them in our stake (Orem).

  8. HMM..

    Dance cards must still be in use in high density LDS areas.

  9. Way cooler than my teenage diary. Which I still imagine I’d like to burn someday.

  10. Dance Cards are done in San Antonio Texas.

  11. When I was YM pres in the late 90s, there were still cards, but the dances were crappy. Because of budget rules, stakes couldn’t charge entrance fees, so there was no incentive to attract huge crowds. In my day, stakes hired deejays from local college and commercial radio stations — KSPC dances out in Upland and Glendora were always cool, and my stake had KROQ deejays. A few years later, it was some goof in the stake YM presidency.

  12. The only reason my journals are fairly readable is because I took a creative writing course when I was 15 or 16, and the teacher really encouraged me to work at my writing. She said that I should keep a journal and use it to experiment with my style, which I took very seriously for many years, even through my mission.

  13. Awesome. Agree with #2 that although I was a decade later, this is still very nostalgic. Perhaps part of the explanation for the similarity is as you said in #11, the DJ was “some goof in the stake YM presidency,” so we had the same 80’s soundtrack even in the late 90’s.

    Wow, I totally remember dudes using “the system” on me. Yes, it is that obvious. =)

  14. Awesome! I have serious journal envy.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    I loved this.

    I would have liked to have had this kind of ready access to weekly dances when I was a teen; church dances were few and far between when I was growing up in Illinois.

  16. Dang. I had no system! I was systemless! That explains everything.

  17. MCQ, I didn’t have on either, but I had some advice from my older sister: use the dress code to your advantage. Girls dig guys who keep their tie straight and all that. It was the best dating advice I ever got, actually.

  18. You’re lucky. My sister had no dating advice whatsoever, but I have to say that “Girls dig guys who keep their tie straight” is not advice that I would ever have taken seriously at that time of my life. Oh well.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Norbert this is wondrous.

  20. Katherine says:

    In 2000-2002 the dance cards in AZ were signed mini For the Strength of Youth pamphlets. And I believe the dances cost a dollar.

  21. Ah, memories.

    I think they still use dance cards around here (Portland). A few months ago one of our friends (also in our bishopric) started deejaying. At one of the first dances he did, a group of kids from an outlying stake left in a self-righteous huff, complaining that the music was insufficiently “uplifting.” His crime? Britney Spears’s “Womanizer.”

  22. How fun it is to read this, Norbert!

    My teenage journals contain a lot of quotidian facts, with the occasional burst of angst or romanticism. I might actually check, but I doubt there’s anything I would share on a blog!

    The youth in the Puget Sound region use dance cards.

  23. Michael says:

    Around 1985, a born-again Christian buddy of mine had a serious crush on the Mormon girl in our class (graduating class of 14 people), and he decided that LDS stake dances would be a good way to hang out with her and with other nice local girls. My mom and I told him about the dance card system – I offered to go see the bishop with him, but he decided he’d go on his own and talk to a farmer near his house who happened to be the 1st counselor in said bishopric. For whatever reason, this farmer put my buddy through hell – going as far as to put on Frank Sinatra records and dance with him in the living room. He got the dance card, but was humiliated beyond belief.

    I never went to another stake dance again. My buddy didn’t either. From then on, I frequented Youth Night at the First Christian Church instead of Mutual, Scouts, or Young Men.

    That friend of mine grew up to become a minister. Last I talked to him, he was in Florida, but he made a point of letting the missionaries know that they were always welcome to come use the bathroom and phone in his church. He also didn’t display any anti-Mormon material. After an incident like that, I suppose it’s the best I could have hoped for.

  24. Thanks, Norbert, quite a fun read.

    I attended a lot of church dances, both in Florida and Utah. I recently perused one of my journals where I wrote about some of those dances. Nothing was as eloquent (or cool) as your own. They were, however, exceedingly embarrassing. (Like #9, burning needed!)

    On the plus side, while I didn’t meet my then wife-to-be at a dance, her being at one prompted me to ask her out for the first time.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Michael, being forced to dance to Sinatra with the farmer down the road? We are a cult after all! (Thanks for the great story.)

  26. Awesome.

    It especially worked for me because I was a 16 year old Mormon in SoCal with some serious game in 1986 as well… It all sounded so familiar (accept I never spent a whole dance with one girl)

  27. I just love that you ate CornNuts before a dance. I’m sure the ladies loved that. Smooth.

  28. Peter LLC says:


    My friend used to have a show on KSPC. After my mission he invited me on and I spun music I had collected over there.

  29. Norbert, that was fun. I was a socal teenager going to church dances about 15 years before you. Glendora, Arcadia, Upland, Newport Beach, West Covina… All of my non member HS friends knew about the Mormon dances and frequently went to them. On a Friday walking through the HS quad I could always count on someone yelling out, “hey, where’s the Mormon dance this weekend?”

    Thanks for the memories.

  30. This post has an odor. And that odor is Drakkar Noir.

  31. LOL. Drakkar has magical powers to be sure. But guys who want classy magical seduction powers choose Eternity.

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    Rusty, I had the same thought you did about the CornNuts!

  33. No dances in the Cypress Ca stake? You might have danced with my daughter if you went to any there.

  34. Yeah, the CornNuts brought back memories. I haven’t thought of them in years.

    I didn’t meet my wife at a dance, but I’m very grateful they happened so frequently after I met her. Oh, and I’m glad I never had to pay to attend one.

  35. My experience was 20 years earlier at high school dances in a very small American high school overseas. No church dances because almost no church members. But it sure sounds the same.

  36. Loved that! Duran Duran, Lionel Ritchie, and a bit of Madness! I loved 80’s youth dances; we would pull in the crowds, possibly ‘cos they were free, and reading your post gave me a “Wonder Years” nostalgia blast from my own era! Just another reminder I’m getting old!

    My wife was at most of those dances, but I don’t think I ever danced with her- just her friends! That’s when I wasn’t causing trouble in the car park moving friends’ cars!

    Those were the days…

  37. Daaaaamn, Norbert! Totally bitchin.

  38. “…jocks, punks, Madonna wannabes, youth committee members, little brothers, shitkickers, break dancers, wallflowers, burnouts, mods, geeks, new wave trendies and of course the chaperones…”

    I understand that all of these people think that Ferris Bueller is a righteous dude.

  39. You ate cornNuts right before trying to pick up chicks at a dance?

  40. You ate cornNuts right before trying to pick up chicks at a dance?

    Yeah, that was my thought, too.

    Being a teen in the late 60s/early 70s, I think I attended more high school dances than stake dances, but didn’t attend a lot of either — I was terminally shy and was largely incapable of asking girls to dance.

    In the 1996-98 period, my wife and I were called as stake dance coordinators for our Northern Virginia stake (Oakton). Much to our amazement (based on our own teen experiences), these dances were highly popular — we would get upwards for 400 kids per dance, including a lot of non-LDS kids, coming from all over the VA/MD/DC region. We would always have a bishopric member who could issue dance cards on the spot, and we had a closet full of stake-dance-appropriate clothes (the standards allowed nice jeans and even plain t-shirts, so they were pretty casual). ..bruce..

  41. Sweet Em says:

    I wait, with CornNutted breath, for part 2!

  42. For the record: gum takes care of Cornut breath. Geez.

  43. Nameless says:

    I grew up in the the rural Northwest. I read with envy of Norbert’s experience in SoCal. Growing up, our stake dances were not regularly well attended and the stake dances that my children now attend are marginal–we live in the NE. They are generally better if they can pull together 2 or 3 stakes but travel distance is usually a problem.

    I have never heard of dance cards–what is this system? Sort of like a temple recommend for dance attendance?

  44. From Glendora says:

    Upland dances were the best! Supposedly. I never had much fun. I did that same circuit in the 90s. We still had dance cards (just a stamp on the back of the wallet-sized “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet).

  45. From Glendora says:

    Nevermind, I’m not that old — early 2000s.