When you’re unpopular in junior high, pop music can be as cruel as the people who seem to make it their mission to go out of their way to make your life a living hell. I guess I should clarify that because music itself can’t be cruel–for the most part, anyway–but it, combined with the hormonal awkwardness that can only come from being an early adolescent can make you do pretty stupid things, like think you can dance.
The usual popular culture portrayal of a junior high dance is the image of an extremely awkward evening in a humid gym where girls spend most of their time as far away as possible from much shorter boys, who are too busy trying to gross one another out to notice those girls. In those movies or television shows, two people eventually dance and it winds up being a rather chaste, sweet moment.
However, the dances I went to at Sayville Junior High between 1989 and 1991 were nothing like the ones we used to see on TV. I may be exaggerating here, but I remember those dances feeling epic, as if each was one night in my young life when I was in the right place at the right time. The student council and junior high staff certainly seemed to make it that way, at least by using the building’s architecture to its fullest advantage. Our dances were never held in the junior high gymnasium; rather, the student council utilized the large commons area that rant the length of the building from the main entrance to the gym hallway. The commons area floor was carpeted and the second floor was completely open save for a catwalk and a couple of balconies that looked over the rug. Most importantly, the commons area had an extra-sized stairway that pivoted on a platform, which is where the deejay would set up. When you break it down from the perspective of twenty years later, it’s a junior high dance, but to an awkward kid who didn’t get out much, turning off the lights in the commons area on a Friday night made the place a dance club.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t much of a dancer. If you pressed me, I could probably move back and forth to the beat of whatever music was playing but I really didn’t know my way around a dance floor. That wasn’t a problem in the seventh grade because I spent most of my time in the cafeteria, working the soda table with my friend Rich. People would give us 50 cents and we would slide a cold C&C Cola to them. We got a few breaks and were allowed to roam the dance floor, but the two of us were fiercely dedicated soda jockeys, so much so that when a girl whose name I think was Becky asked me to dance one time, I declined because I was going to be back on my soda-serving shift.
My social ineptitude wouldn’t improve much from twelve to thirteen. I’d blame it on the terrible accident that I was in two days after my thirteenth birthday because it’s not easy to go through an entire year of junior high with two fake front teeth (that you could remove) and a scar under your nose that looked like a giant pimple, but I’d been walking the halls with comic books and once wore a Star Trek pin to school. Scar or no scar, I wasn’t a superstar.
But I wanted to be, or at least I wanted a girlfriend, which meant that at some point I was going to have to talk to a girl and maybe even ask her out. This wasn’t happening, though, because I spent most of the year (and pretty much half of high school as well) with a mind-numbing crush on a girl who was completely out of my league and while I am sure she’d engage me in conversation if I tried, I suffered from the typical thirteen-year-old boy issue of acting stupid whenever I was around her.
There was something different about dances, though.