So, your school’s winter formal or Sadie Hawkins dance is coming up, and you’re considering attending, but you don’t know what to expect. Well, you know those British posters that say “Keep Calm and Carry On”? Don’t listen to them because now is the time to PANIC and FREAK OUT. School dances make or break your LIFE. What are you supposed to wear? Should you bring a date? Are people going to laugh at you when you dance? Can you do the robot? FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, IS THE ROBOT STILL EVEN CULTURALLY RELEVANT?!
Guys, guys! I’m just kidding. I’m “JK,” as the youths like to say. School dances, despite the anxiety you may currently be feeling, are actually nothing to worry about. I mean, the majority of dances are held in the school gym. Unless you’re an all-star athlete, nothing that will change your life will happen in the school gym. From this moment forward, I want you to imagine the school dance as just a really upscale version of P.E. OK, that’s probably not the best comparison, considering that I regularly have nightmare-inducing flashbacks to gym class (one word: DODGEBALL), but what I’m getting at is that school dances aren’t worth stressing over. They can actually be incredibly fun, if you know how to embrace their absurdity, their awkwardness, and the sheer group-dancing joy they offer.
The first step in embracing school dances is to drastically lower your standards. I mean, I genuinely hope that your crush asks you to slow dance or shows up outside in his car, waiting to kiss and whisk you away from your boring life, but, unfortunately, John Hughes does not direct our lives (plus, sometimes John Hughes movies don’t turn out entirely perfect, I mean, TEAM DUCKIE ANYONE?). Some of you might get extraordinarily lucky, but luck is nothing to count on. To make the most of your school-dance experience, take it as nothing more or less than an excuse to get dressed up, let loose on the dance floor, and not spend another Friday night loitering in front of the 7-Eleven.
Hereby, I present a guide to soothing all of your school-dance-related misery.
I. Getting Ready
The funnest part of a school dance is getting ready for it. I know I said that your life isn’t really a teen movie, but this is the one moment when it is actually a teen movie. Take advantage of this opportunity to pretend you’re living in a makeover montage. Invite your friends over beforehand, turn on some Beyoncé, and do each other’s hair.
Your parents will probably want to take your picture before the dance. Maybe you don’t want them to. But you should let them, because: (1) It was just yesterday that you were their sweet baby girl and you’re just growing up so fast and I think your mom is crying. (2) After the dance, if you’ve done it right, your body, face, and head will be dripping with sweat (which will be worthy of its own picture), and you’ll want to remember that beautiful hairdo and makeup and dress before they were utterly decimated.
Someone may ask you to a school dance, and you know why? Because you’re interesting and beautiful and smart! Also, someone may not ask you, and you know why? Cuz you’re still interesting and beautiful and smart! Having a date to a dance is no way indicative of your value as human. If you do get asked, don’t feel obligated to say yes for any reason whatsoever. If you feel like it wouldn’t be fun to go to a dance with this person, don’t feel bad about turning them down, and you don’t owe them an “explanation,” either. But! Also, even if you’re going to say no (maybe especially in this case), keep in mind how hard it must have been for this person to ask you. Think of them practicing the offer in the mirror with sweaty palms and a rapidly beating heart! Pretty endearing, right? So if you say no, be kind about it. Say, “I appreciate the offer, but I would rather go [alone, with my friends, with someone else, or whatever].” And if someone you don’t know well enough to have a strong opinion about asks you, can I just put in a vote for saying yes? It’s not like you’re committing to anything—they’re not asking you to marry them, or over their house. You don’t even have to spend the whole dance with them. Don’t totally abandon your date—check in with them, remember that this is their high school experience too—but again, this is not your wedding reception. This is a high school gym with paper streamers hanging from the ceiling. Your social obligations here are minimal.
In case its prevalence on every stupid sitcom ever has not familiarized you with the Sadie Hawkins Dance, which originated in the ’30s from a freaking cartoon, is a dance where, whoa, the girls ask the guys to be their dates, which is a crazy upside-down world, because, like, WHAT KIND OF UNMARRIAGEABLE HARLOT ASKS A BOY TO A DANCE ON A REGULAR DAY, RIGHT? And WHAT KIND OF PERSON GOES TO A DANCE WITH SOMEONE OF THE SAME GENDER? (Answers, respectively:  One who wants to choose her own date.  A gay person.) Maybe your school does this, maybe it doesn’t, but definitely it shouldn’t, because it’s dumb. Anyone can ask anyone to any dance. It’s perfectly (actually infinitely) cool for a girl to ask a boy to homecoming, or to prom, or to skip the dance altogether with her in favor of less-public activities. If any boy is freaked out by this extremely rebellious and unladylike action, they do not deserve to have the privilege of going with you. It is also very cool for a girl to ask another girl to a dance, and it should be OK with your school, too—if it’s not, take them straight to court!
I’ve gone to dances with a bunch of girlfriends, boys I barely knew, and one of my best guy friends. They were all fun in different ways. I never felt like I was missing out anything when I didn’t go with a traditional “date.”
Um, we all have “DANCE LIKE NO ONE’S WATCHING” tattooed across our forearms, right? No, just me? While this may be the cheesiest sentiment when it comes to anything else, when it comes to actual dancing, it’s true! No one really cares what you look like when you dance, because everyone is too busy mentally freaking out about how they look when they dance. I used to be incredibly self-conscious about dancing in public because I am clumsy and goofy when I am just sitting still. But then I realized I could harness that goofiness and dance like a maniac. And you know what? My friends found me to be entertaining! At least that’s what they tell me.
Now, when it comes to more ~serious~ dancing (YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN YOU GUYS), pleeeease don’t feel pressured to do anything you’re not comfortable with. But also, do whatever you’re comfortable with! OK, so obviously I’m talking about grinding, a practice that I believe originated when two sexually frustrated middle-schoolers, unsure of what to do with their newfound hormones, just started pressing their bodies together to the beat of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” Grinding varies in intensity from goofing around with your friends to that one couple who seem to truly take the “like no one’s watching” part of that maxim to heart. I don’t know how things will be at your particular school, but at mine, people grinded (ground?) with people they never even talked to in the hallways. Like, with the lights down low, my school gym became some sort of weird anonymous nightclub where everybody let their hormones do the talking. I always found this to be kind of amazing, but mostly disturbing because my spirit animal is every overbearing mom ever (“Don’t dance with anyone you’re not comfortable with! LEAVE ROOM FOR THE HOLY GHOST!”). That said, the reason your parents freak out about grinding is that they’re scared it’s sexual. Which it is. It’s supposed to be. So if that feels OK to you with a given “dance” (i.e., simulated sex) partner, go for it.
If you’re worried about those long, sensual slow dances that you see in every teen movie ever, rest easy: I have never seen one of those in real life. However, there will undoubtedly be awkward moments throughout any school dance—moments when no one’s dancing with you or talking to you—and it will feel very easy to pull out your phone and pretend you’re texting someone. If I had a dollar for every time I nervously pressed “hjbfghjfsgbhjdlsl” into my keyboard to look preoccupied, I would probably have enough money to build a machine to teleport me into the arms of Ryan Gosling. I’m not saying you should pull out your phone in this moment, but if you HAVE TO, like if the moment is mind-blowingly awkward, maybe text someone for moral support? Just don’t stay on your phone all night. It’s important to be present in the moment so you can absorb all of the FEELINGS OF THE NIGHT.
Imagine a classmate you dislike passionately singing along to “Call Me Maybe.” School dances provide a good lesson in humanizing those we despise. Yes, a lot of the music will suck, but after jumping around to it with your friends you might find that you like that dumb song; and if something comes on that you truly can’t stand, take it as a cue to take a bathroom break or grab a cup of punch.
“But Gabby, I’m just too cool for school dances!”
No you are not! You’re never too cool for anything, unless you’re Beyoncé (in which case, OMG Hiiiiii BEYONCE! YOU READ ROOKIE?! I WILL BABYSIT BLUE IVY FOR FREE, IF YOU’RE INTERESTED. In fact, LET ME PAY YOU. LET ME PAY YOU FOR ALLOWING ME TO BREATHE THE SAME AIR AS YOU).
Seriously, please just go to at least one school dance. You can hate it. It can end up being totally boring and all my tips were for nothing. But you’re only young once! You have your whole life to rage against the establishment, and the robot never did anything to hurt you. ♦