A Sociologist's Take on a Middle School Dance

Middle School dance

I had the opportunity to attend a middle school dance last week.  I didn’t volunteer.  Apparently I missed a meeting!

I didn’t dance.  I’m not much of a dancer.

But I am pretty good at watching crowds and identifying patterns. I didn’t expect to see anything different from this particular dance than any other dance I’ve been to, regardless of the age cohort.  There were the typical groupings.  Cliques of no more than five sticking together. Boys and girls largely segregated their groupings, as to be expected among that age group.  There were the wall flowers and the aimless kids wandering around wondering just what they were doing at this event. The dance floor population was largely girls.  Some of the dancing was an obvious expression of sexuality that adults were largely uncomfortable with.

There were a a couple of phenomena that struck me, however. First was the nostalgic kick I derived by an apparent renaissance of break-dancing.  Of course, it’s not called break-dancing any more, but it was there.  Kids would gather in circles and watch select dancers do their tricks.  They weren’t bad.  Some of the dancers would even show each other their moves then put on a show. It so happens that the genesis of break-dancing hit the scene around the time I was at the middle school age (I attended a junior high).  The breakers wore baggy, rayon jogging suits, carried huge boom boxes and often pieces of cardboard as a portable dance floor.  The breakers today didn’t seem so prepared. Boom boxes have been replaced by iPods and rayon jogging suits have gone the way of the dodo, but the kids still had a great time.  They believe they invented something, and that’s fine.  I got a kick out of watching them.

The break dancing circles were open.  Anyone regardless of talent was able to enter.  Of course, less talented sorts didn’t remain as they were conspicuously outclassed by the more talented.  The circles were also open to girls as well as boys.  Many of those who entered the circles had their followings as well as their signature moves.  Like break dancing of old, the dancing represented street contests, one dancer challenging another to match and best his or her moves.  On a couple of occasions boys in the circle danced for specific girls on the edge of the circle.  As per the script of such interactions the girls feigned indifference, refusing to be impressed by even the most impressive dance feats.  Once the boy’s back was turned and the interaction over the girls demonstrated their glee at being so spotlighted. They had given a perfect performance.

The next thing that I noticed was a contrast to the dances I attended when I was young.  In my time the dance floor was often crowded with people doing their own thing to the music.  There was little syncronicity.  I was surprised to see just how many group oriented dances there were for the kids last week.  Of course, this observation is from only one dance, so I don’t know if this is the trend. The dance steps, however, were popular and understood by many of the students. This leads me to believe that this is standard fare for modern youth dances. Yes, there were opportunities for dancers to express themselves individually, but many songs offered defined, synchronized dancing similar to line dancing.  One song explicitly described the dance moves that were to be done, from cha cha to stepping to the left, to stopping with your right foot.

Kids during this dance spent a great deal of time in this group endeavor.  Could this be indicative of a general conforming trend among young people? Or perhaps, since this was a school sponsored event, these particular songs were selected for the purpose of increasing groupness, assimilation and conformity.  Probably not, but it caught my attention.

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