Do You Wanna (Go to the) Dance?

Yes, you do. Here’s how to make the most of it.

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.

II. Dates

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: [1] One who wants to choose her own date. [2] 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.”

III. Dancing

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.

IV. Music

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. ♦


  • barbroxursox February 6th, 2013 11:30 PM

    This is gold. <3

  • lydiajamesxxx February 6th, 2013 11:31 PM

    omg, this is perfect…and like, a week too late! My school’s winter formal was last weekend…and I was actually excited to go, just to have fun with my friends, but I ended up just being weirded out by all the grinding…

    • giov February 6th, 2013 11:56 PM

      same here, I went to one single homecoming dance and I did NOT enjoy it at all. granted, I was the exchange student in a tiny private school which I already loathed. but the grinding was just too much.

  • thefondest February 6th, 2013 11:35 PM

    I dunno, I didn’t go to my senior prom and I still feel fine about it years later. Went to a dollar movie, got drunk at a hotel, and got breakfast the next morning. Is anything else really necessary? Different strokes though.

    • marineo February 7th, 2013 2:16 AM

      that sounds just as great because really prom is all about the shit that goes down before and after anyways… like after prom we stayed at ihop until like 3am and it was way better than the dance itself

  • LikeDreamersDo February 6th, 2013 11:49 PM

    Ahh thanks Rookie! Ahaha I’m a freshman in highschool and have yet to attend one of my school dances because of feared awkwardness (we have had three dances already…I know I’m such a lameo!) Anyway, I think I’ll round up a few friends to help me crash the next dance with our awesome moves (ha). ;D

  • Emilie February 6th, 2013 11:57 PM

    LUH DIS, wish i wasnt going to a concert this weekend, this might’ve convinced me to go to the dance otherwise

  • lizzyheinie February 7th, 2013 12:06 AM

    I really need to stop reading Rookie while my roommate is sleeping because all I do is giggle and I think it annoys her but WHATEVER I’M A GIGGLEPANTS

    but also a considerate roommate

  • kathryn-s February 7th, 2013 12:08 AM

    This is golden! It’s like a thousand of your funniest tweets (ALL OF THEM I love your twitter omg hi) all rolled into one perfectly hilarious and actually helpful article.

  • jenaimarley February 7th, 2013 12:16 AM

    I did NOT want to go to our winter formal but my friends made me (we’re seniors so it’ll be our last) and I’m really glad they did. It was terrible but seeing people dressed up and shiny-eyed is kinda fun and then going for midnight diner food and dancing some more (to actually decent records) in my friend’s living room was so worth it.
    I guess it’s what ya make it.

  • SincerelyWrong February 7th, 2013 12:38 AM

    I’m home-schooled, but I’m a Senior and I really want to go to prom this year. I’m trying to make my own dress. X) Let’s hope it works out~

    • marineo February 7th, 2013 2:14 AM

      I made my dress for junior prom! It took probably 10 hours of sewing but it was soo worth it! You can do it!

  • PandaJane February 7th, 2013 12:47 AM

    100% love your teleportation machine setting choice.

  • periwinkle_dreams February 7th, 2013 12:48 AM

    Perfect timing! My college is having a “ball” next week and I’m trying to convince my friends to go.

    p.s. I totally type random nonsense into my phone in a “I’m not just standing around, of course not, pshh” way whenever I feel awkward. lol

  • thebrownette February 7th, 2013 12:53 AM

    I’m homeschooled, and my mom has asked if I want to go to “homeschool prom,” but I just CAN”T. People bring their parents, yo. Also, no “inappropriate” music is allowed, whatever that means…

  • Lila Gracie February 7th, 2013 1:01 AM

    i won’t be going to any high school dances (i graduated last year) but i will definitely be using the tips on dancing for my 18th bday party tomorrow night! thank youuu for the enthusiasm gabby!

  • marineo February 7th, 2013 2:13 AM

    almost all my friends hate them though, so I usually end up going with just 1 friend or friends-of-friends which is even better because then you can be even crazier!
    and plus, we had this ridiculous 90′s themed dance last year and I dressed up as rayanne graff and it was AMAZING!

    I’ve only had a date to 1 dance (i’m a senior) and I probably won’t have a date to ball either but really dances are so much fun at least you can people watch.
    but mostly me and my friends just interpretive dance and make laugh at the people who are *serious grinderz* because they always have their eyes closed so it’s pretty easy to watch in awe/fascination/horror.

    but yeah LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS massively because dances are only as fun as you want them to be.

  • sophiethewitch February 7th, 2013 3:28 AM

    I just changed schools and my middle school was an international school, so I’m new to a lot of aspects of the American education system, including dances. Two questions:

    -Does “formal” mean only slow, formal music, or is it normal music + dress up?

    -At what point in the year are you supposed to ask someone to prom? When is too early or too late?

    • Anaheed February 7th, 2013 5:09 AM

      “Formal” means normal music + dress up.

      I’ll leave your second question to current high-schoolers!

    • Gabby February 7th, 2013 12:06 PM

      I was really weirded out last year (my senior year) because people started asking one another in like February and prom is in May?! I say it’s ok to start asking like 4-6 weeks before prom. Also depends on how close you are with who you’re asking. Like, asking your close friend 2 months before? Totally cool. Asking someone you’ve never really spoken to that far in advance might come off as sort of uncomfortable? I say go with your gut and make sure you give someone enough time to figure out what they’re gonna wear!

  • purrr February 7th, 2013 5:51 AM

    I swear I saw this article up some time ago!!!

    The ‘John Hughes did not direct your life”
    and “Leave room for the holy ghost” and the whole thing on grinding….\\

    I definitely, definitely have already read that. Strange.

  • Equatorgrim February 7th, 2013 7:18 AM

    My senior prom is coming up next month (Who has prom in March though?)

    I moved here two weeks before school started , and I still don’t know a lot of seniors – my two best friends here are younger than me.

    I’m perfectly content with not going though. I went to Prom last year at my old school with all of my friends and nothing could top that.

    This year, my city’s Slut Walk is happening on the same day, so my friends and I are going to that instead, and then having a sleepover.

  • flapperhatgirl February 7th, 2013 8:31 AM

    I’m homeschooled, so no dances for me. I’d kinda like to go to one, but for now I’m stuck with the alone-in-my-room sort of dance. That’s so fun though XD

  • camikki February 7th, 2013 8:43 AM

    This is such an amazing article! I’m laughing so hard, but more importantly, this came at a lovely time because it’s just about time for people to ask dates to prom eeek! Thanks for the advice!
    LONG LIVE GABBY cuz she’s super cool

  • StrawberryTwist February 7th, 2013 9:48 AM

    Thanks for the dancing and date advice Gabby!
    I’m so exctied for my schools prom because it’s a masquerade theme! :)

  • i-like-autumn February 7th, 2013 10:13 AM

    I’m in cyberschool, so I haven’t gone to a school dance since middle school. (I HATED SCHOOL DANCES!!!) But now I’m a senior and I’m not passing up on my (online) school’s prom. YES- we do have one in REAL LIFE!!! It’s friggin’ exciting. I’m getting a dress and EVERYTHING! AHHH SO EXCITED!!


  • Loops February 7th, 2013 1:24 PM

    We’re having a school dance with our brother school (’cause we’re a girls-only), and I’m the only one who doesn’t know any of the boys there. I don’t know what to do, ’cause my friends will be talking to them and dancing with them and I’m really shy and antisocial!

  • kolumbia February 7th, 2013 1:35 PM

    An article on school dances!! So exciting!! My school dances have mostly been sucky because I’ve gone with guys who expected me to grind, and I didn’t know I had any other option, BUT… This year, my best friend who lives 8 hours away from me is flying down and we’re going to prom together, and he already has his suit and he looks fabulous, and I’m wearing a vintage dress that was my mom’s, and when the dance gets boring, we’re going to a diner to get jazzed up on coffee and then to the beach to watch the sunrise, and I’m unbelievably excited, okay, the gushing is over, bye.

    • Justin Case February 8th, 2013 12:33 AM

      That sounds so awesome! Have fun!

  • Isabelle97 February 7th, 2013 1:43 PM

    I dunno, my school is ridiculously drug-fueled and all the stories about last year freak me out a little. I think I might just camp overnight somewhere with my bf..

    • Isabelle97 February 7th, 2013 1:46 PM

      Hey, Rookie should post a list of alternate-to-prom activities! For all of us with feet disproportionately huge to our bodies (self included) :P

      • Cactus Woman February 10th, 2013 2:05 AM

        I second this! However, I’m interested in “anti-prom” activities because i think the whole concept of prom (ESPECIALLY prom king/queen competition – ugh!) is kind of ridiculous, even though I’m sure it would be fun and memorable if done correctly (is there even a “correct” way to do prom? i don’t know. maybe I meant “successful”). I love to dance and dress up, but I’d rather do it around other people who are LIKE ME and not around my classmates.

        Also, is it a crime to demand to listen to ACTUAL MUSIC THAT IS GOOD while dancing, rather than the utter crap they always play at school dances?!?! About half the songs they play are simply un-danceable, which really ought to be a word.

        A Thought I Just Had: Instead of Prom King/Queen competitions, they should have a contest to see who has the best playlist for prom (and hold the contest way in advance, of course). This way the students get to actually VOTE on the music they want to hear, rather than be forced to have their eardrums blown out by a bass drop (no thank you!).

        P.S. I don’t mean to hate on you if you like that kind of music. This is just me ranting, with my own personal opinions. :)

  • Mary the freak February 7th, 2013 2:20 PM

    Oh, damn, I am sooo sad we don’t have prom here! Can you believe that! Ugh.

  • Sharon February 7th, 2013 2:49 PM

    Maaaaaan, i convinced myself not to go to my junior prom b/c i’m not going to get a date even though I won’t get to dress up and then THIS article came and it is LITERALLY CRUSHING THE VERY FOUNDATIONS THAT I BUILT MY REFUSAL ON STOP ROOKIE OKAY I WAS FINE UNTIL NOW.

  • jessthetics February 7th, 2013 3:09 PM

    I’m from the UK and my school’s never had dances or proms. It’s so strange to me that this happens in real life and not just on films. I’m so jealous, it sounds like fun!

  • Skatapus February 7th, 2013 3:34 PM

    At my school we have a formal senior prom at a hotel, and then an after-party at a club or bar, but we have to fund raise for the entire thing ($10,000) and so there’s currently so much drama over fundraisers. x_x Ugh. Because there are only 40 kids in my grade pretty much everyone will go, and some people turn it into such a big deal.

  • Aurora February 7th, 2013 6:09 PM

    OMG my winter formal is this Saturday and I am SO PUMPED. This article is my life now. Maybe the cute guy friend will even dance with me(team Duckie forever). Be still my 14 year old heart.
    Lol I’m not funny.

  • Resh February 7th, 2013 6:15 PM

    Hi Rookies! I know it’s really irrelevant for this note but I heard that Anna Piaggi’s wardrobe is going to be in a permanent exposition in Milan! I know you love her as much as I do, so I guess you needed to know… Bye!

  • SamanthaL.Jackson February 7th, 2013 6:33 PM

    I’m on STUCO so I have to go to/plan/decorate/prep/advertise every dance and EVERYTHING…It is a ton of work and usually not fun because of our crazy teacher sponsor, but when we actually get to dance the dances are incredibly fun. No one from my year goes to them because they are deemed as super lame so all of the STUCO kids sneak off to play board games and occasionally dance like idiots.

  • Meara.L.Lovegood February 7th, 2013 9:24 PM

    Totally going to the super couple-y Jazz Band dinner and dance tomorrow as an awkward third wheel. But who can resist the chance to dress up and be classy and wear kid gloves and actually dance instead of fist pumping in a clump????
    NOT ME!

  • Bananaskid February 7th, 2013 10:35 PM

    That’s helpful.
    I’ve been thinking the exact same thing.
    What I’ve learned is, it’s totally ok to go by yourself to dances (without a date) and to not dance at all.
    I like to be myself when I’m out on the dance floor.
    I don’t necessarily reflect on confidence when dancing, I just go ahead and dance like no one is watching.

  • amazeedayzee February 8th, 2013 12:22 AM

    I’ve been wondering a lot recently whether I should go to prom, since I’m a senior this year. I don’t really have many friends in my grade, and only know two guys well enough (but one is gay and the other is super lazy), so I feel like it wouldn’t really be that fun for me. And also the people at my school grind at dances…a lot. “A lot” as in that’s all they do. So it feels very uncomfortable to be around that kind of stuff :x

    So I think my solution will be to go to the ball that a local anime convention hosts every year instead! Much more fun than my school dances and much cheaper ^__^

  • Sohini February 8th, 2013 11:52 AM

    Absolutely love this post! <3

    xx Sohini
    TV, Turmeric, Tea

  • allie.x February 9th, 2013 6:50 AM

    This. One of THE best articles I’ve had the pleasure of reading on Rookie (that’s saying something!). Makes me all “WOO! I AM PUMPED FOR PROM!” when I was feeling a bit “meh” about the whole thing before. Thank you Gabby! xox

  • barbroxursox February 9th, 2013 1:04 PM

    I’m going to our school’s Sadie Hawkins dance (ours is called Peppers, whoa we are liek so different and offbeat) tonight and I’m nervous, not because of any social thing, but because I just started my period and I have REALLY BAD CRAMPS, and I’m afraid I will like pass out or puke on everyone. I’ve puked many-a-time from my cramps and I’d much rather it not happen tonight. Oh well, time to load up on the pamprin and ibuprofin!

  • cloudinthesky February 9th, 2013 2:06 PM

    Could someone tell me what’s grinding? (I’m not a good english speaker haha)
    Oh, and I love this article! Perfect time because I’m thinking of going to a prom next week… Thanks rookie!

  • Cactus Woman February 10th, 2013 2:12 AM

    Hey people! Could someone give me links/suggestions of websites or other sources for hand-crafting my own prom dress?

    I am determined to make mine better than Andie’s (which I thought was actually elegant in a weird way, though I would never wear it). Deb’s puffy-sleeved dress from Napoleon Dynamite is pretty hard to beat, though! XD

  • didja February 12th, 2013 8:52 PM

    This is pretty cool. It makes me want to go to a school dance. The only problem is, my parents don’t even ALLOW me to go. Hopefully I’m not missing out on anything fun.

  • catpower44 February 13th, 2013 11:08 PM

    I have a dance on Friday and this is exactly what I needed! Also, I was asked by a guy, which I totally did not expect. Anyways, great article, it got me kind of pumped for Friday! :)