Practical Dance Theory
In a dingy boy’s bathroom at a high school dance, my friends—we’re closer to a zombie apocalypse survival crew than we are to friends—are scribbling our latest theories onto the cold walls. This new one has often been questioned but is still undisputed. It’s that no one between the 13 and 18 can dance. They are too self-aware, sober, and scared. But it’s not their fault. Those rooms are filled with way too many watching adults and pushed-aside lunch tables. The whiplash of country songs and trap music don’t help much, either.
Despite this, they jump and flail like they see adults do in TV and movies. It can be hard to watch. See the children jumping and grinding, all bare stomachs and sharp elbows slamming against fabric scented heavily with body spray. Watch them thrash through each number and sing along with every word, including the slurs. Watch them try and move like the math teacher that just gave them a 67% on a test isn’t standing twenty feet away. Watch them attempt to use their bodies for themselves.
You may have missed the corner table, however. Far away from the huddled masses sit a humble few underclassmen who already used up all their confidence convincing themselves to go to the dance, and now have none remaining to dance with. I am fiercely protective of these people, because I was one of them, and I’m sure some of you were too. When I was a freshman, the other closeted kids and I sat around that table and dreamed up a safe and fictional place where there were more of us than them and none of us would have to be afraid. Go ahead, make whatever jokes you want about the gay kids not dancing to the Beyoncé songs, but a person just doesn't forget about the long line of dead queers who chose to slow dance with the wrong people. Besides, we had already collectively decided we were different. We were not like Them.
Because being in high school often means only being able to define yourself against things. Sometimes that requires running away from the group and then wearing that separation as a badge of honor. Sometimes it means looking in the mirror and only finding a rough silhouette of yourself built from the negative space of everything that you are not.
At some point a dance circle will simultaneously open up and close off. The dance circle is a perpetual embarrassment machine into which students are pulled, pushed, and peer-pressured at ever changing intervals. It is like Soul Train except so much worse because no one can dance. So you make the fated jump into the center and hopefully onto the beat, and it doesn’t matter whether you stay on it or not because everyone will forget about you by the end of the song. Or maybe you never step inside, because anxiety, a term you do not fully understand, is racking around your body to the tune of every song you don’t know the words to.
This, by the way, is high school; when every moment and song is the most important of your entire life until the next one proves it wasn’t. Or until the next song leaves you missing the previous one, even if that means longing for a past you never had—one where you danced better or held on to someone longer.
If you really want to make sense of high schoolers, then it can only be understood by watching the dance floor at any dance in America. I know this sounds obvious: by meeting the people who shape high school culture and are shaped by it, you’ll absorb its ethos. But you don’t actually need to meet them. Just watch them. And watch yourself watching them, unable to look away, even for a moment, even to hide in the bathroom or to pretend that somebody is texting you.
This piece encapsulates so many aspects of the high school experience: from queer culture to identity to nostalgia. It's incredible how the author manages to put into words what so many teenagers struggle to even identify the existence of. The satire peeking through the author’s words makes it that much more gripping and traps the reader in a headlock—one simply has to read this to the end.
Dan Carroll is a writer and student at DePaul University in Chicago where he is double majoring in English and Media and Cinema Studies. In 2019 he graduated from Kingswood Oxford high school in Connecticut. As a child he wanted to become a stage magician or a professional Magic: The Gathering player, but now he spends his time writing about art and pop culture, performing comedy and theatre, and scrolling.
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