I'd gotten my hair cut too short the year before, a mistake that turned into an unfortunate mullet. I spent all of 7th grade trying to grow it out. Long curly hair with giant teased bangs was the standard of beauty at my junior high, neither of which I could attain.
Our school regularly had dances, about one every six weeks. They'd push all the tables out of the cafeteria and turn the lights off and bring out some strobes. It was a money maker for the school. It cost $2, I think, to get in, and damn near every body came, all grades 6-8. The strains of the day were Tony, Toni, Tone and Boyz 2 Men, with a little Whitney thrown in for good measure. I'd dance with my friends to the upbeat songs, decked out in a flourescent yellow shirt and tight-rolled stonewashed jeans. The girls would dance in a circle, one brave soul willing to try a new move, only to have the entire circle copy her style. Middle school was about conformity, and no one wanted to be made fun of. It was this junior higher's scariest thought: "Is someone out there making fun of me, even in their mind?"
Then later in the evening they'd change it all to slow ballads. "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" or maybe a sweet country song. Obivous couples would immediately pair up, mostly the 8th graders. Kids with crushes would linger near each other until one of them drug the other by the hand, pretending not to like it all the while. I would sit with my back against the wall and watch, and sometimes cry.
I don't know why, but I always ended up crying at school dances. And it wasn't as though I had some mad crush on someone who jilted me for a bigger haired broad, it was that I never danced with any boys ever. No one ever asked me to slow dance with them. I would buy a Sprite and a Snickers and watch as the 8th grade girls, with their blossoming everything, would place their heads on the boys' shoulders and just sway. I thought it would be wonderful if someone would want to stand and sway with me, in front of the entire school.
There was this 8th grade couple, she a model and he the captain of the football team. She was tall, but he was taller, and they truly looked like real live adults. She'd wear very grown up clothes, and he already had to shave every day. The two of them danced like a couple of old pros, spinning and dipping and all that jazz. They were often the focal point of the room, wowing everyone with their skills. But they'd also stand crotch to crotch and kiss each other deeply on the dance floor when no teachers were looking. He mouthed her hungrily, and it only made me cry that much harder.
But I always went back. School dances were not to be missed. That little ritual went away in high school, replaced only by prom, where no one danced anyway, just figured out the best and quickest way to get drunk. Anyway, I overheard a twelve year old talking about wanting a shorter skirt than her mother would allow to wear to the dance, and all that came flooding back.