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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

No Hop For the Sock: The Death of High School Dances



It seems a new trend is the decline of the high school dance. What used to be a staple for social interaction, dating, fashion, and falling in love is dying out in many high schools. Students simply aren't attending dances in great numbers anymore causing many high schools to cancel these events.

Why is a once-beloved teen event, perhaps the foremost high school mixer function for many decades, sputtering and dying?

Some school officials believe the reason for the death of high school dances is technology that now allows students easier and faster ways to interact with one another. It has allowed teenagers to be more independent than ever and to have greater, more instantaneous access to one another than ever before. One reason this technology is so appealing to teens is that it is largely unsupervised by adults. No longer is a school dance a necessary or even popular way to socialize.

And, new methods of teen interaction require little more than access to the social networks or applications. Now, they can "be with each other" by sitting in their beds with their laptops and phones and texting or Snapchatting. Snapchat is a photo messaging application that allows users to take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. Snapchat's main demographic is users between 13 and 23 years of age. Who hasn't heard of the popular photo "selfies"?

Others think the decline of school dances is an indication of rebellion -- the young generation is using this as a method of divorcing themselves from the sanction of institutions, kind of like "skipping" school.

And, of course, in affluent, safe communities, teenagers have an abundance of things they could be doing when not confined within the walls of their schools. The school gym simply isn't the first place they want to be on a Friday night. Now, the selective teens can find real-life interaction at parties, at the movies, or at the mall where they can quickly become adult-free, unlike the school gym.

In his book Bowling Alone, an in-depth look at social change in America in the new millenium, Robert Putnam sees no sign of a comeback of community social activities.

"Kids today just aren't joiners," Putnam quotes Tom Kissell, the once national membership director for the VFW.

(Caroline Moss. "My High School No Longer Holds Dances." 
CNN Business Insider. March 17, 2014)


The Tradeoff -- Yesterday and Today

I remember school dances as important social activities where rites of passage occurred somewhat sequentially under the sympathetic, half-closed eyes of school chaperones. The dances were opportunities to display practiced dance moves while tentatively shaking to the latest rhythms; to sweat out decisions to ask a groovy girl to dance; to teeter nervously back and forth while actually feeling the brush of beautiful, young breasts; and to steal a little kiss in hopes of extending a teenage crush.

Young garage bands often played the dances as well as popular DJ's -- both providing the latest sounds that that became the stimulus for the much-anticipated interaction. Who was there? Who was going to dance with whom? "Jesus, look at those girls in the short mini-skirts! Hey, shake a tail feather, baby! I'm going to get to third base tonight, brother."

Sometimes we dumb, reckless young bucks would sneak and drink a beer or two we had bought on fake ID's before we paid to attend the dance. (When we became 18, we legally bought our own 3.2 brew and did the same.) The risk of getting caught and suspended only added to the excitement of the evening. We assumed we were bulletproof, but many of us paid the price.

I even remember packing awful-tasting, black licorice, Sen Sen breath "perfume mints" that supposedly covered up the smell of the alcohol we had imbibed. And most guys had a condom our dads had told us to carry loaded in our wallets for "safety" -- too bad it had become "holey" and unusable due to years of decay and sexual inactivity. But, how stupidly cocky we were, and we assumed the girls would think we were James Dean and a bag of chips with alcohol on our breath.

Then, there was the after dance -- the "cool down time." At age 16, the boys had cars they had polished and immaculately cleaned for these adventurous getaways. The object was to attract a chick or a flock of chicks to the nifty nests, then head out for adventure. Boys with muscle cars counted cuddling coup with regularity. The first objective was to get the coolest girl to sit close, right beside the stick shift. The next objective, usually never achieved, was to gain amorous attention.

The music ceased, and pairs of steadies and hopefuls quickly loaded into their machines and headed for Peach Orchard or to a dark, country "parking spot" for further excitement. Social animals went to restaurants and hamburger joints to eat, talk, and brag about some insignificant and often-inflated sports accomplishments or to shoot the neighborhood gossip. Some dudes hit the carry-outs to buy the ladies sweet Boone's Farm, screwdriver, or sangria.

We stayed out as long as curfew allowed. And, if we were late, we spent some time "getting our story together" which often involved tales about car trouble or being a good Samaritan and helping some poor person in distress. We became pretty proficient in our deception (At least that's what we thought at the time.) often sneaking back home and silently keying open the door, then crawling off to bed.

School dances then made lasting memories and even sealed dreams. Often fueled by equal measures of cloaked testosterone and estrogen, most negotiations, confrontations, and sharing was done face-to-face. Maybe a phone helped arrange meetings, but technology did not suffice for the human touch. Talking the teenage talk had to be backed by walking the teenage walk. We usually accomplished this in stages -- first, with timid immaturity, tenderness, and innocence; then, with more confident experimentation, experience, and gradual refinement. 

I wonder about dating, tactile interaction and falling in love in a world filled with technology that allows easy electronic contact to replace physical events. If words, selfies, and short videos have taken the place of the touch, the smell, and the un-amplified sound of human contact, I fear this young generation is missing important opportunities to become socially competent. 

Are teens kidding themselves by believing they are maturing socially online? It is so easy to conjure false portrayals, to misjudge, and to advertise with technology. Hell, check out senior photos these days. They look like works or art, often taken in a hundred suggestive poses, and meticulously airbrushed to hide the slightest defects. Yes, they are beautiful representations of wonderful teens. But... they are merely depictions of humans, not the flesh and blood of the subjects. 

To find honesty and truth in a person requires a lot of direct social interaction -- the same, old time interaction once found in gyms during school dances and in places the attendees traveled after the music stopped. "Kids today just aren't joiners"? What a shame.

* CAUTION. Please, if you are young, do not do any of the negative things I did at my school dances. Alcohol and driving and messing around with dangerous opportunities can only lead to heartache and tragedy. I know. I lost some friends that way. You can dance, hug, kiss, etc. without fear of danger if you abstain from drinking and if you practice safe sex. 

I beg you to have fun and to understand that I wished I had done things much more innocently. I know I would have avoided trouble that resulted and would have enjoyed myself even more without vices and social crutches.


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