I loved getting ready for school dances. My best friend, C, and I would try on outfits, style each other’s hair, and apply make-up. This was unusual for us since we were jocks. Our normal school attire consisted of jeans, sweatshirts, runners, and barrettes or ponytails. Playing dress-up was fun, even if we did burn our ears with the curling iron, use a coat hanger to zip our Jordache jeans, and backcomb our hair until we defied Newton and his laws. All the while we’d giggle and be ourselves for the last time that Friday night.
Once we’d arrived at the gym, we’d join other girls and dance in a large circle. The boys lined the walls, leaning, joking, watching. I did the side-to-side shuffle with my feet, never sure what to do with my arms. I’d watch other girls and would try to mimic them, certain that they were dancing the right way. I seemed to hover above the circle, observing everyone, judging myself. How could someone so comfortable in that same gym with her basketball body not own it when she was dancing in the dark?
Eventually, the DJ would play a slow song, maybe Against All Odds, maybe Every Rose Has Its Thorn. C would find her boyfriend. She always had one. I never did. I’d pause momentarily near the court’s centerline, checking for any movement approaching. Inevitably, there was none. I’d follow the sheep into the fluorescent-lit hallway. I’d slurp water from the fountain and reenter the noisy darkness, searching for any girl I knew. I’d stand beside her and would watch the couples dancing: the straight-armed nervous ones, shuffling heavily in a repetitive side step; and the couply-couples draping their bodies over each other, hands roaming, feet anchored.
When the next ballad followed, there was both hope and terror as boys walked nearby.
Please ask me to dance.
Please don’t ask me to dance.
Sometimes I did get asked to dance, often by a boy a head shorter than me, a boy whose sleepy eyes were level with my breasts.
Don’t look at them.
Don’t look at my eyes either.
Sometimes a boy much older would ask me to dance. A boy whose wiry body knew what he wanted.
Please let Stairway To Heaven end.
Please let Stairway To Heaven go on.
The uncertainty of adolescence teetered amidst those two pleas.
What are your memories of school dances?