1. Joe, “I Wanna Know”
Kicking things off with one of the gentlest of slow jams, here, Joe crooned all of the sentiments we wanted to tell our significant other of two weeks. Things were serious, it was time to sway back and forth with our arms on each others’ shoulders, and Joe was going to remind us how much we totally like-liked each other.
2. Marcia Griffiths, “Electric Slide”
IT’S ELECTRIC. This, one of the more challenging line dances for the timid sixth-grader, was guaranteed to leave the dance floor to only the most sure-footed. There was that whole wiggling back and forward thing and turning around to face the right direction, a challenge, to say the least. Then there was always that one kid who realized a few seconds too late he was facing the opposite direction from everyone else and had to scramble to compensate. We saw you, uncoordinated kid, we saw you.
3. Next, “Too Close”
The song which left us innocently grinding our pubescent crotches against each other, halfway singing along to the largely obscure lyrics, blissfully unaware that a grown man was talking about getting an erection from rubbing against a woman’s back. The woman, in true 90’s R&B form, only coquettishly acknowledges the amorous protrusion as “a little poke coming through.” Classy material all-around for a middle school dance, I’d say.
4. Montell Jordan, “This Is How We Do It”
Never missing an opportunity to make small white pre-teens look incredibly ridiculous, this song was guaranteed to get Brad and Dylan jumping up and down, throwing half-formed gang signs, and insisting that this was, indeed, how they did it. It was a moment for all of us to think we looked so, so cool and had a certain tingling sensation that we didn’t know how to identify at the time, but would later retroactively diagnose as “swag.”
5. Los Del Rio, “Macarena”
The crown jewel of all things group dance, the Macarena was both easy enough for the whole group to do, and Spanish enough to put those World Language Connections skills to use. We’d incoherently babble along to that chorus as we did the hand gestures, sure to turn around with an emphatic “HA!” at the end — lest we end up like that uncoordinated kid in the Electric Slide. And, true to middle school dance song form, the lyrics were actually rather provocative, telling the story of a lustful woman who cheats on her out-of-town boyfriend with two of his friends. No surprises there.
6. Lou Bega, “Mambo No. 5”
As a middle school student, the only lyrics you were legally required to know were, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, everybody in the car so come on, let’s ride!” and, of course, the chorus. I was not lucky enough to experience the agony and ecstasy of having your name actually mentioned in that chorus, but I imagine it would be a defining middle-school moment. I imagine it would have made you feel, temporarily, a celebrity.
7. Eiffel 65, “Blue”
The brief, tenuous moment in which the middle school dance risked getting a tiny bit rave-y, this would allow all the kids who abhorred dancing in even its most base, grinding form to just jump up and down and flail their hands like the inflatable car dealership man. Dance on, nerdy kids, dance on.
8. Boyz II Men, “I’ll Make Love To You”
Boyz II Men, the veritable ambassadors of all things school dance-related, bring us this, the most tender, important song of their entire catalog. If you weren’t asked to dance by your crush during this song, if you didn’t get to put your head gently on their shoulder, well — you just needed to give it up, cause you totally weren’t going to get a kiss on the lips at the end of this dance. Maybe next time, champ.
9. The Village People, “YMCA”
Bringing out this song was like injecting a hypodermic needle full of pure, uncut fun into any middle school dance. There was literally no one who couldn’t mime those four letters, and nothing makes awkward pre-teens happier than being able to unequivocally participate in something. This song united us all, be they native american, construction worker, police officer, or cowboy. We were all equals in the eyes of this song.
10. K-Ci & JoJo, “All My Life”
From the delicate tinkling piano it opens with to the flawless harmony that closes it, this is, without a doubt, the most perfect middle school dance song ever created. The dance would almost without exception be ended with this rose-colored gem of a song, leaving you to gently sway into the night with the love of your middle school life, getting a few last moments of magic out of the evening before those unforgiving house lights went up and your parents came in looking for you. Your lover was “close to you, like your mother, sister, father, and brother.” Sure, those lyrics are super gross looking back on them, but we were 12, what did it matter to us? Even incestuous lyrics couldn’t ruin the perfection that was — that is — K-Ci and JoJo.