Sunday, April 3, 2011

A High School Dance

Circumstances conspired to end me up at the high school chaperoning the Spring Fling dance last night. Having only been to three dances in my life, two of them proms, I was curious what it would be like. It was....a fascinating study into the lives of teenagers, dances and Homer High School.

I decided I wanted to be on the periphery, so I recruited a friend to run the coat check with me. We arrived 30 minutes before the dance was to start and placed sticky notes on the walls all around the office every three feet, each with a letter of the alphabet. When students arrived they would come up, we would write their last name on a sticky note, stick it to their coat, cell phone, boots or whatever, and put it in a pile under the letter of the last name. When kids want something (make a phone call, check their text, etc.) they would come and ask for their stuff. Jackets and purses are strictly prohibited in the dances. Cell phones are technically not allowed, but that is not strictly enforced. It was a cold, rainy night, so every single kid had a jacket so we stayed busy.

Once the students checked their items, they would get into line in the lobby to get into the dance. Every student has to sign a 2-page code of conduct in order to attend the dance. Some dances students from other high schools in the district are allowed to come (they still have to sign up, through a student in our high school), but this one was for Homer High students only. Upon paying their $7 to get in, each student would get a wristband with their name written on it. Then they were in. The dance started at 8 pm. If a student came in after 9 pm, we had to contact the principal or assistant principal for special permission to let them in, they would be searched and given a sobriety test. One student came in at 9:10. When told he would have to take a sobriety test to enter the dance, he chose to leave rather than be tested.

Students can go out of the building as far as the flagpole in front (about 20 feet). If they go beyond that at any time during the dance they cannot come back in. In other words, they cannot run out to their car for anything. One student wanted to run out to his car for something so the principal offered to walk him out to his car, but the student declined the offer.

The biggest issue with dances is dirty dancing, which is not allowed but in the past was not enforced. Some students are so outraged that they are not allowed to dirty dance (basically simulating sex positions and other intimate 'grinding' on the dance floor) that they told the principal they were not going to come to the dance. The principal just laughed and said, "I would be happy to stay home and hang out with my family." The principal and vice principal walk around the dance with a marker, flashlight and scissors. All chaperones also have markers. If a student is caught dirty dancing they get a black mark on their wristbands, which is their first warning. The second time they get another mark and they cannot dance anymore. Their wristband is cut off. They can stay in the dance area talking to friends, but they cannot dance. This time, parents of those students are going to get a letter home informing them that their student was kicked off the dance floor for dirty dancing. If a student is found back on the dance floor without a wristband they are kicked out of the dance. Before this year, there was no system for handling this issue. Students would be warned numerous times by different chaperones to not dirty dance, but there was no way to monitor it. This system has helped reduce this problem, though not eradicated it.

Dances are something the kids want and everyone else puts up with. They are a great source of income: last night's dance with 130 kids (about 1/3 of the school) brought in $1000, which goes into class coffers to pay for all the special senior events. Some dances have as many as 250 kids. The DJ is a talented Homer High School student who has most of his own equipment and travels around the Kenai Peninsula putting on dances for $250/night. Teachers and parents are recruited to be chaperones, and of course the principal and vice principal have to be there. Parents are welcome to come in and check on their kids, and parents do come in.

Walking around the building and checking out the parking lot is part of the job for my husband, and when he walks down to the parking lot, cars sometimes take off. It is part of the system for keeping the campus drug and alcohol free.

A big part of the fun of dances for the kids (at least the girls) seems to be the pre-dance dress-up party. We have hosted this twice now for our exchange student and her friends. We don't have a big house, so five girls running back and forth between bathrooms and bedroom, trying on clothes, changing their hair, putting on, taking off and and reapplying makeup is plenty. I have seen these parties get as many as 15 girls; I can't even imagine it. The pre-dance party culminates in the girls posing for pictures. They have names for all the various poses, and even if I don't understand what they are saying, all the kids know exactly what pose goes with each term. There's the prim and proper (these are my terms!), the sexy/provocative, the crazy, the tongues hanging out, and on and on. It is not proper to show up to the dance at 8; 8:45 is the 'correct' time to show up, though kids do trickle in before then.

Seeing what kids wear is fascinating. If guys dress up at all, I'd be surprised. Mostly they wear jeans and a button-up shirt, not tucked in. Usually girls wear very skimpy dresses that are about as low as you can go without showing all and and as high as you can go without showing all. The biggest challenge for the girls is keeping their clothes from falling off or falling apart during the dance. This dance was 'casual' so the dress was more varied for the girls: many short, short shorts, a variety of dresses, jeans, leggings and whatnot. A lot of make up seems to be standard. My husband wonders if the parents know what their kid is wearing at the dance (because of the pre-dance parties many parents don't see their kids before they go), and they have contemplated taking pictures of the kids as they walk in and emailing them to the parents! "Do you know what your child is wearing tonight?"

The most notable thing, though, is that all the kids are respectful, polite and do what they are told. Even the handful of kids who were kicked out of the dance were not rude. And some kids at Homer High are quite avant garde, yet other kids do not harass or pick on them. Mostly the kids seem to have the attitude that you can be who you want to be. Like my husband said, some of these kids would have been beaten up at the high school where he went to school, but here very different kids co-exist fairly peacefully.

Overall, it was quite an education. These are not something I would ever want to go to myself, and I deeply hope my kids never want to go to dances. There are so many other fun things to do with one's time than jump up and down (Homer's style of 'dancing', if you can call it that) with a hundred other teens in a dark room to deafening music. Give me a walk on the beach any day. Yet, on the scale of things, school dances are probably as 'clean' as you are going to get with the majority of teenagers today. It is better than having them out on Bishops Beach hanging around a campfire doing who knows what. But dances only happen five times a year so for five nights a year kids can have this fun, and the rest of us will put up with it!

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