Although I am not officially involved in the YM-YW programs, my daughter is 16, and in a fit of service euphoria, I agreed to drive her and six other youth from our ward about an hour and a half to a Tri-Stake Dance. We arrived about 40 minutes late because a 13-year-old YW — yes, that’s right, I participated in smuggling an underage YW into a Church dance — convinced the older youth that being on time was uncool. The location had been selected because it was central to all three stakes, but the gymnasium was about one-third of the size of a full stake center, so things were cramped right from the start.
The tight quarters presented a difficult logistical problem: where would I position myself? This was my first experience at a Church dance in which one of my children was a participant. What I really wanted to do was follow her around, directing her toward the more upstanding YM, but that would embarrass her, of course. Given the small size of the gymnasium, I could see from one end of the dance floor to the other quite easily, but the crowd was dense enough that my view was inevitably obstructed. Recognizing my predicament, I surrendered to my fate and plopped down on a chair very near the entrance. I needed to occupy myself for just over two hours.
The first thing I noticed is dance walking. No, I am not talking about a version of the “moon walk,” or anything else that happens on the dance floor. I am referring to the constant locomotion of youth at the periphery of the actual dancing (about which, see below). They seemed always on their way to a new destination. Rest room. Drinking fountain. Refreshment table. Looking for a friend. (Any friend! Please!) The dance walk is especially important for those who are in between clusters.
Ah, the clusters. Normally unisex — or at least heavily weighted in favor of one gender — these groups of three to five youth stood around the dance floor and talked. They didn’t seem to dance much at this dance. Except in these clusters. One purpose of the clusters seems to be the demonstration of dance moves. These came in short spurts of a few seconds each, nothing that was maintained over the course of a whole song. The moves might be a special shoulder shimmy, hand movement, or hop step. I am not sure whether YM still ask YW to dance, or vice versa, but it would have taken more courage than I ever possessed to break into one of the female clusters to pursue a YW.
The clusters looked like those that form at a cocktail party, but in this setting, I immediately noticed the exaggerated facial expressions. All of the usual human emotions are taken to an extreme on a teenager’s face, especially when the interaction crosses gender lines. Jokes have never been so funny. Faux pas never so embarrassing. Self-consciousness never so acute. Of course, several times the teenagers “caught” me watching them. Their eyes seemed always to be darting around the room. If I had never been a teenager, I would think that they were looking for new opportunities, but if my teenage years are any guide, they are most likely looking for new threats.
The music at the dance broke down into roughly two types: (1) music that was popular when I was in high school (late 1970s dance music); and (2) current hits that were essentially undanceable (e.g., Immortal by Evanescence). I was surprised that so many of the youth knew the words to songs from Grease and Saturday Night Fever. While the music played, two screens on the stage showed professional motorcyclists zipping around a track … and later, skiers jumping and flying down a mountain. Was this some sort of PoMo art exhibit or a Church dance?
Such dancing as does occur was almost uniformly silly. The only steps I saw all night were frequent, spontaneous outbreaks of country line dancing (even to fairly hard rock songs, which I think might have embarrassed the bands who played the songs had they seen it) and a Stake President and spouse who apparently came of age in the 1970s, too, and actually learned what John Travolta was doing. The slow dances were uproariously funny, with most of the YM doing very fine imitations of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. We really need to teach them some basic steps.
To get a change of pace, I occasionally walked around the gymnasium. At one point, I stood alone at one end under a basketball hoop. Suddenly, two unfamiliar YW came striding toward me. For a nanosecond, I thought that the lead YW might have mistaken me for one of the YM and was going to ask me to dance. The flight response almost engaged, but I held my ground. It turned out that she wanted me to open a door for some air because she thought she would get in trouble if she did it herself. I felt pretty silly, but I opened the door.
About halfway through the dance, I needed a break from the music and removed myself to the foyer, where I sat on the couch and read the Fortune magazine that I had brought, just in case. When I saw a member of my Stake Presidency looking at the magazine with a slight scowl, I casually turned it over and found an advertisement for vodka on the back. I folded the back cover over and continued reading.
The foyer was a tough place to concentrate because of all of the dance walkers. It seemed to be an especially popular place for the youngest of the youth, especially those who were alone. I am certain you recognize them. The shortest YM, who would rather be almost anywhere than a dance, but were too afraid (of parents or youth leaders or friends) not to come. Petite YM wearing too much makeup and clothes that are just a tad bit too dressy. The foyer was also a popular place for certain older boys to engage in coversations with their youth leaders. I suspect that this activity allowed them to feel mature and provided a plausible alibi for their absence from the dance floor, which terrifies them.
When I returned to the gymnasium to observe the last dance, I saw my daughter dancing with my favorite YM in our ward (besides my son, of course). Gradually, I located the other youth from our ward. All of them were dancing the last slow dance and smiling. All in all, this was a good thing, and I am glad that I was there.