Anatomy Of A Middle School Dance

“Drop me off over there, under that tree. I’ll walk.”

“Kimberly, it’s pouring out. I’m dropping you off in front, just like everyone else. Is that Katie? Hi, Katie!”

Mom waved as I ducked my head down below the passenger side window, so no one could see that I was being dropped off by an actual parent. At 13 years old, I was obviously old enough to drive myself, or at least make it appear that I had arrived to this dance as if by magic. Perhaps I even got a ride from a creepy high school dude named Dusty or Rusty or Kurt, because that was totally possible, too. I mean, I’d just changed out the elastics on my braces to an older, more mature shade of teal. My orthodontia brought all the boys to the yard.

Because I refused to wear any sort of jacket or be seen with something as stupid as an umbrella, my hair was already frizzing around my multicolored butterfly clips and my flared jeans were soaked through by the time I arrived inside. The lobby, so boring and familiar during the school day, became a whir of high-pitched chatter, incessant hugging, and obscene amounts of cotton candy body spray. Hugs were exchanged, compliments were cooed, crushes were spotted, and plans were hatched. We bounced into the dark cafeteria, which promised many more possibilities than chop suey or cheeseburgers on a night like this.

The DJ was both a teacher at the school and the father of a girl in my class, so he knew just what we sweaty, hormonal little gremlins wanted to hear. First, we lamented those triflin‘ scrubs with TLC. Then, without any transition, we were suddenly scatting and grunting to Korn’s “Freak on a Leash.” And as the ominous first notes of DMX’s “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” – the radio edit – began to play, we launched our favorite familiar chant: “Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down, open up shop!” We hadn’t the slightest idea what we were stopping, why we were dropping, who we were shutting down, nor how to open up shop, but we trusted that DMX did. We also learned that snitches wanna lie. I still pity the poor teachers that got suckered into chaperoning our obnoxious asses.

In between taking unnecessary bathroom trips in packs of eight, where we gossiped about who had brought the vodka-filled water bottle that was being passed around, hush-hush slow dance arrangements were quietly taking place. “Um, Matt wants to know if you’ll dance with him,” a courier approached and whispered to me as Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You” began playing. I surveyed the shy guy behind him and while I most definitely didn’t dream him into life, a dance couldn’t hurt. “Sure,” I mumbled, and with that, a figure was pushed out of the shadows and into my outstretched arms. We spent the next three minutes making small talk about how much we hated the song. Shuffling clumsily in a circle at an uncomfortable distance from each other, our friends urged us to make out from the sidelines. As soon as the song ended, we turned away, giggling to our posse. This wouldn’t be spoken of on Monday.

By this point, my face was sufficiently sweat-streaked and red from jumping around to “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and my ill-fitting purple RAVE top was clinging for dear life to my frame. This meant only one thing: it was time to go home.

If you weren’t “going out” with anyone (read: walking them to the bus and stealing kisses during movies in class) and didn’t make it out of the cafeteria before the last song… well, lord have mercy on your soul. Unless you were a middle school dance virgin in my small New Hampshire town, you knew that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” always marked the end of the evening. Like the zombies encroaching at the end of the “Thriller” video, the great unwashed miscreants came out of the shadows and ravenously searched for a gal to grope and breathe heavily on during the song that never ended.  I’d learned this at the first dance and vowed never to stick around that long again.

Though, come to think of closing time at the bar these days, I guess my 13-year-old self was smarter than I give her credit for. TC mark

image – Sarah


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  • Michael Koh

    this sounds really familiar… 

  • Claire

    At my school we were all about the cha cha slide.

  • Kaagers

    Leave room for Jesus Kim!

    • Kim Windyka

      pretty sure there was enough room for mary & joseph too

  • Sophia

    I’m pretty sure I must have grown up in a different decade than you, and yet this story is exactly the same, just with different music.

    Amazing how adolescence never really changes.

  • Mashka

    Hahahah you had me at “butterfly clips”. I was just reminiscing about middle school dances the other day when kaci and jojo’s “All My Life” came on my iPod (yea, seriously).

    I also loved how you dubbed the friend asking you if you’d dance with their friend as a “courier”.

    Sounds just like my middle school dances and whaddya know I went to school in a small NH town too!

    • Kim Windyka

      damn, i totally forgot about that song too! also, aerosmith’s “don’t wanna miss a thing”. tell me you’re from amherst! 

      • Mashka

        Oh yes that song. That was one of the ones that when it came on I would awkwardly walk around the perimeter of the dancefloor in the dark, either trying to ind my crush at the time and stare him down as he danced with some hussy or just like move around a lot so maybe no one would notice I had no one to slow dance with.

        And nope I’m from Dover!

      • Kim Windyka

        so funny. i also remember my crush having a “waiting list” of girls to dance with…pssh.

  • Rachel Butters Scotch

    proud to say I have since moved up from cotton candy body spray to vanilla cupcake body spray.

  • jimmy_j

    I’m pretty sure I was Too Cool for the mid-school dance.  Dang.

  • arjun chandrasekhar

    i grew up on the other side of the country and yet some things never change! this is so funny, and so spot on – great article kim! all of this, from the awkward entrance to the awkward slow dance requests to the awkward radio-edited songs is so familiar lol.  and who can forget stairway to heaven, the never-ending, universal last song, so great yet the source of so much awkwardness. good times lol

  • Guest

    i remember that whenever a slow dance song came on, all da single ladiez would sway in a circle around a friend who was dancing with a boy in an effort to embarrass the hell out of her.  good timez.

    this article was awesome.

  • Nuthegecko

    I spent my one middle school dance hanging out in the hallway with a bunch of my friends who also didn’t have any boys to dance with and didn’t like all the noise and crowding. We played truth or dare (mostly dares because the dance and the empty hallways provided so much material) until our parents came looking for us to take us home.

    Coolest person you know.

  • Lindsay

    Two totally real diary entries about two totally different 7th and 8th grade dance experiences I had:

    Sunday 2-14-99:  It’s V-Day! Last night I went to the dance.  Guess who I danced with?  Andrew!!! I was going to ask HIM, but when the song came on, all my friends yelled, go! It made me cry, for who knows why.  It was weird. But Ronni went and told Andrew to dance with me. So he did. He kinda held his hands up like he was shrugging and said, “Hi!” I was like, “Hi.” He said, “Well, you wanna dance?” And I said, “Yeah.”  It was weird, I think it looked like I was pissed, but I wasn’t.  I was soooooo happy! I wished the song would never end!  We danced to “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. It felt like he was holding me close.  I loved it so much. I am going to go to sleep and dream. I want school to come soon so I see Andrew!  Bye!  In <3, Lindsay (In big block letters):  I <3 ANDREW A LOT!!

    Sunday 3-21-99:  I like Micah a lot now.  Andrew is such an asshole, and it's probably cuz his parents split up last year.  I don't know, but Micah is really sweet.  NEway, last nite waz the dance. It sucked 4 me. I wanted 2 dance w/Micah really bad, but I waz scared 2 ask him.  I let Ronni ask him 4 me, and here is how it went (as Ronni said):
    Ronni: Will u dance w/Lindsay?
    Micah: Who?
    Ronni: Lindsay
    Micah: Lindsay Who?
    Ronni: Lindsay E
    Micah: Who??
    Ronni: Lindsay E!!!
    Then Micah kind of paused and slowly shook his head. I cried when Ronni told me, cuz why? I mean, I know I'm not ugly.  He saw me, and he looked 2 me like he felt bad. It waz probably my imagination, though.  He went and asked Camille to dance at the next slow song.  She's shy, nice, and is flat too. The only difference is that she's prettier.  O well.  I gotta go do homework.  C ya!  <3, Lindsay

    • Lindsay

      Not 8th…just 7th grade.  My bad!

      • Kim Windyka

        hahaha, this is amazing. and totally true. there was ALWAYS a middle man.

    • Briana

      “O well. I gotta go do homework.”

      if i had a nickel for how many of my lovelorn, tormented middle-school journal entries ended with that statement…

  • Inconnumag

    inconnu magazine seems funny, carefree and thoughtful. check it out, yo:

  • Laura

    I had a perfect vision of all of my awkward middle school dances and the rubber bands in my braces snapping off while reading this story. Well done. Good call with the butterfly clips.

  • Cnlaird

    an older, more mature shade of teal, my orthodontia brought all the boys to the yard, and butterfly clips. literally flawless.

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