School dances were the most stressful part of high school

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Do you remember school dances? If you are anything like me, of course you do. Who can forget the terror of standing in a dark gym, clumped together with friends, hoping some boy will come over and ask you to dance? Though, in retrospect, how could a boy possibly be that brave?

When my friends and I were in ninth grade at Wa-Hi, we all decided we were going to go to the Homecoming dance. We picked out our unsuspecting victims — oops, I mean boys — and told their friends to have them ask us. Yes, this is how girls operate when faced with a desperate situation. Poor Jason Romanik was my target. He was kind and available, good enough qualifications for me.

After arranging for him to ask me to the dance, my friends and I were eating lunch outside by the creek when he approached our circle. When he asked if he could talk to me, I was terrified. Leave it to egotistical ninth-grade me to give no thought to how this poor guy must have felt walking up to a dozen ninth-grade girls alone, I was just thinking of my own racing heart and ringing ears. All I could squeak out was a, “Wait! Ask me later!” to which he nodded and started backing away.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by a frantic group of ninth-grade boys, who had been nearby watching Jason. They were all talking at once, asking me what I was doing. I remember in particular a guy named Kevin May was really upset. I guess he had been watching Jason, preparing to ask his own potential date to the dance. I realized then that this was a big deal. Me not being cool and just saying, “Sure, I’ll go with you to the dance!” made all these other boys even more nervous. Ugh.

I still feel sorry to this day. Luckily it all worked out, Jason called me that afternoon and asked me in a safer setting — over the phone. We went to the dance together (an awkward experience; I simply was too young to date) and I was able to check Homecoming off my list.

High school dances are kind of a blur to me, and no, I definitely was not one of those kids who snuck in drunk. I think it was just that the loud music and swirling lights and crowds all created an experience that was overwhelming for a more reserved student like me.

I appreciated the dance instructions Pam Thompson and the other P.E. teachers gave us. And my ballet and jazz dance instructions from Idalee Hutson-Fish and Kathy Halfacre gave me the ability to move to the music, though not necessarily the confidence to do it in front of my classmates.

The only dance where I really relaxed and had a good time was Spring Formal my Sophomore year, when I went with a group instead of a date. We were performing in “Once Upon a Mattress” at The Little Theatre and went to the dance after a performance. In our costumes. Now this was my kind of event!

Now I get to chaperone dances at Garrison Middle School. It is a lot like I (vaguely) remember, though there are no slow dances at Garrison. Remember those? The music would change and maybe, just maybe, a boy would come over (i.e. get up the nerve) and ask one of us to dance. Usually they came in groups and asked us. I can tell you every slow dance I ever danced at Pioneer, a testament to either A) how important they were, or B) my popularity.

The funny thing about the slow dances, besides how much emphasis we put on them, was how extremely awkward they were once you actually got yourself into the situation. The boy, arms stiffly resting on the girls shoulders. The girl, awkwardly holding his sides. Neither really making eye contact, turning in a clockwise circle, making small talk. Did I say this was awkward? Oh yes, twice already. Maybe this is why we don’t have slow dances at Garrison now.

I interviewed some eighth-graders about our dances and they all mentioned that there are two slow dances at Pioneer, and all seemed relieved they don’t have to worry about slow dances here. As usual I had trouble getting serious answers from the boys. Once boy said he goes, for sure. He twerks. Another said he dances with all the ladies. I do believe both of these boys were teasing. Another said, yes, he goes, and he even dances sometimes. But no way would he ever slow dance. No way. The girls all agreed.

It looks like things haven’t changed much since I was young after all!

Sara Van Donge is a Walla Walla native, middle school dual language teacher and mom to two children. She can be reached at saravandonge@gmail.com.

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