Monday, March 9, 2009

A Dance Lesson: Then and Now

The young women were beautiful and the young men handsome. While some came “drag”, most of the young people came “stag”. All were well-dressed, well-groomed, and well-behaved. To what am I referring?

I was asked to help chaperone the High School dance at my school last Saturday night. Originally scheduled as a Valentine’s Dance – but due to a conflict on the original date – the dance had been rescheduled and subsequently re-named a Mardi Gras Dance – though well past the date of Fat Tuesday. I suppose just calling it "A Dance" would have been lame.

I arrived fashionably on-time – meaning, the time I’d been asked to arrive – at 7:00 p.m. E
ven though there were a few students milling around, the Gym was mostly vacant. Things began to pick up, however, around 7:20 p.m., and by 7:30 p.m., things were in full swing.

As many of you already know, Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Note, please that the 1970s were the coming of age years for this writer.

People watching has long been one of my favorite pastimes – although I rarely have the time to indulge this small delight. Chaperoning this high school dance gave me nearly three hours to “play” at being Margaret Mead; that is, observing young Homo sapiens in their native habitat, engaging in their courtship rituals.

I noticed a number of things at that 2009 dance that were quite different from a 1970’s dance. In no particular order, here is what I observed:

1970s Girls’ Dress
Long, floor-length dresses, often referred to as “a formal”
Modest apparel that left something to the imagination
Shoes, though perhaps excruciatingly uncomfortable, were worn at all times

2009 Girls’ Dress
Short dresses were the norm; a few girls had knee-length dresses (which I found more attractive on them than some of the skimpier ensembles)
Lots of strapless/backless dresses – some I personally would consider somewhat immodest
Outrageously high-heeled shoes which were discarded upon arrival into what looked like a Shoe Mosh Pit – “dancing” took place bare-footed

1970s/2009 Boys’ Dress
Not really much of a difference – I suppose the pendulum has swung around far enough that 70’s clothing really is making a come back. Even the boy’s hairstyle of today reflects that of the 1970s: longish and casual in nature

1970s Dancing
Exclusive boy/girl dancing with “real” dance moves
Dancing usually reserved for “the one that brung you”
(I never would have considered dancing with someone who was not my date –
and I always had a date!)
Those not dancing were not on the dance floor were seated at tables or were standing and talking

2009 Dancing
“Dancing” could be defined as standing on the dance floor while talking and gently swaying with your partner, or in various combinations of boys and girls
Some, though not much, exclusive boy/girl dancing
Girls dragging boys by the hand to the dance floor where the “dancing” was performed
Girls dancing with other girls in groups of 3 or more
Boys huddling together talking with hardly any “swaying”
Large groups of boys and girls just standing on the dance floor talking

1970s Transportation
We usually arrived in a car with our date
Sometimes, two couples would share a ride

2009 Transportation
Young people, though usually it’s their parents (or their parents’ money) will rent a limo for the evening to chauffer a group of the young dancers to and fro’

There were, of course, other differences, but these were the ones that were most striking to me. Not intended as a criticism to the youth of today, my intent is only to compare. Having last attended a dance (and a college dance, at that) in 1979, I realize that like most other things, change happens: trends change; style changes; traditions change; in general, times change.

Still, it was a fascinating look at Today’s Teenager. One thing, however, remains the same for teens of all generations: for all their outward glamour and pseudo-sophistication, they are normal teens doing what normal teens do – getting together with friends for a good time.

And I’m glad to say, everyone did have a good time (the chaperone included) while also exemplifying good judgment, character, and propriety. Who could ask more of a teen from any generation?

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