The last dance

January 7, 2005 | 28 comments
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The last dance was always a slow dance. Something by Chicago or Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” or the latest R&B hit.

For those with girlfriends it was an opportunity to end the evening on a good note — to recapture emotional intimacy no matter how pissed you were that she had spen the whole time talking with her friends or how in the doghouse you were for too obviously checking out the cute, blond rich girl from Danville.

For those who were players (to use the term incredibly loosely or rather in a narrow Mormon sense), who were popular and bold and had danced with a dozen girls or more throughout the evening, it was a chance to either bestow your favors on the one you like most or test how much she liked you. Maybe get a phone number or enough encouragement to sit next to her every day in seminary that week.

For the rest of us, it was our one last shot at redemption.

Sure we may have only danced a fast dance (or two). We may not have danced at all. But the last dance was our chance to prove we weren’t total wallflowers. Even if we had spent the entire evening standing around with our friends trying to look casual, our hands glued to our pockets, uncomfortably aware that our skinny ties and boat shoes should be in motion but unable to arouse ourselves out of our stupor of (dis?)comfort.

And it almost always worked.

the girls who had been running in packs the whole night — dancing together, going to the ladies room every five minutes, hovering near the dessert table — would break into individual units, we would ratchet up our internal peer pressure generators till they hummed and somehow the barriers would shatter and we would find ourselves walking over to a girl and asking her to dance.

Deals were sometimes made in order to spark one’s courage. “Okay — I’ll ask the blond one if you ask the brunette.” On rare occasions you’d hesitate a second too long and someone else would swoop in and aske her or she’d give up and head for the hallway.

But it almost always worked.

Although the dancing was often awkward (insert obligatory Mormons/rhythm joke), sometimes the conversation flowed and you left on an amazing high — the evening’s anxieties having keyed you up to such a degree that even the smallest victory felt amazing. Sometimes all it took was a glance and a smile at the end to make you feel like the entire trip (often it was a 30-40 minute drive) had been worth it.

And sometimes, it just didn’t go well. For whatever reason, it was just painful, and you couldn’t wait for the song to end. But even then — you had danced the last dance.

No matter how it went you were a sweaty mess afterwards. The cool night air — and in the Bay Area the night air is always cool — chilling your skin as you casually crossed the parking lot. And no matter what the temperature, you never rushed and you never wore a coat.

NOTES:

1. There’s a lot to be said (and that I left unsaid) about LDS youth dances and gender roles/relations. Clearly this post is from a male point of view. I’m not sure what more to say other than I especially welcome thoughts from T&S’s female commenters.

2. I’m not sure about the skinny tie and boat shoes detail. I remember wearing both, but I can’t remember how often I wore them together. I seem to recall that penny loafers were still worn by some guys, but I believe that either narrow black dress shoes with thin soles and boat shoes were the in thing for my crowd.

3. From what I remember one of the big topics of dicussion was what you were going to do/what you did after the dance. The answer said a lot about your home situation and/or the type of Mormon you were.

4. My heavy involvement in the LDS youth scene is comprised of a brief span (about five months) that began shortly after my family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area (from Provo). I grew tired of it (and didn’t totally understand it — what with all the gender games and social politics) and hung out mainly with my non-LDS honors student friends. I confined my involvement to ward YM/YW activities and youth conferences.

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28 Responses to The last dance

  1. danithew on January 7, 2005 at 4:36 pm

    Our stake dances (called Super Saturdays) in Yorktown stake years ago were a lot of fun. I don’t recall much about last dances being anything unusual but whenever Rock Lobster played there was this one girl I’d always dance with. We were good friends and that song was part of the friendship. Geez, what a nerd I was back in the day.

  2. Steve Evans on January 7, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    William, you’ve also described the mormon youth dance experience in Canada for me growing up, skinny tie, boat shoes and all. It was an awkward, but occasionally magical time. Sadly, I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to compensate for those years of awkwardness.

  3. Rosalynde Welch on January 7, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    William, this was brilliant. But how can you forget Richard Marx’s “I will be right here waiting for you”? I can still play that on the piano…

    I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry last year when, as a member of the Stake YW presidency and a chaperone, I got asked to dance the last dance by one of the young men… I accepted, but didn’t tell him I was a leader (I thought it would embarrass him). It was a lot more comfortable this time around than it was when I was fifteen, that’s for sure.

  4. William Morris on January 7, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    I’ve tried very, very hard to forget Richard Marx.

    Thanks a lot, Rosalynde. You’ve just undone years of therapy.

  5. Greg on January 7, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    Great post, William. These things were a bit different in Salt Lake, where you already knew nearly everyone at the dance from school, but you’ve captured the experience beautifully.

  6. Greg on January 7, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    “Forever Young” by Alphaville was the song in my neck of the woods.

  7. William Morris on January 7, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    So your days as a player came later, eh, Steve E?

  8. Rosalynde Welch on January 7, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    William, you should know that in English departments, nerdy awkwardness is the number one qualification for playing…thus Steve’s great success.

  9. danithew on January 7, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    The song to forget is Genesis’s “Invisible Touch.” Phil Collins reigned supreme back in the day. Oh, and don’t forget Sussudio … a title and chorus word that I’ve never understood. Please don’t explain. :)

  10. Geoff Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 5:17 pm

    Aaaah Yeeeaahhh,

    Stake dances in Poway (North SD County) in the 80’s… good times, good times…

    I think our favorite attention grabber was to convulse wildly on the floor when things kicked back up after the “down, down, down” part in Rock Lobster. (O yeah, chicks dig spastic convulsions on the cultural hall floor… )

    And in those days there was none of this sanitized new-fangled moshing (aka sardine hop)… Oh, no; various young men would get a real slam pit going — getting a full head of steam up before smashing into each other. (Though I think that cooled when one guys was knocked unconscious)… good times, good times…

  11. Russ Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    I seem to remember that a couple of the YM would walk through the dance flour waving (as if to their subjects) as everyone was convulsing on the gym floor.

  12. Steve Evans on January 7, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    Wm, my “days as a player” did indeed come later. Someday I’ll write about it, but it’s still pretty painful, really, to think of those teenage years. Basically, I reinvented myself when I went to college, and tried to leave the nerdy guy behind. I was largely successful (right Ros?). Now I’m beginning to realize that even those awkward times are a valuable part of who I am.

    In some ways this post of yours touches a real nerve for me: the idea that despite my best efforts, someone knows the ‘real’ me, the nerdy awkward teenager (some of you no doubt wonder if there is any side to me besides that nerd!).

  13. William Morris on January 7, 2005 at 5:33 pm

    Geoff:

    It sounds like the mosh pit was done right in your area. Here in the Bay Area, it was more like a group of bighorns taking turns butting heads — it completely lacked the elegant, terrifying chaos of the mosh pits I saw at concerts (not that I went to many concerts).

    Rosalynde:

    Cal’s English Dept. was different. But that may have been because it was filled with Marin County dudes who planned on going to law school.

    Steve:

    Haven’t you learned anything from Napolean Dynamite?

    Greg:

    How could I forget Alphaville? Yes, “Forever Young” was the song for my crowd as well. A couple of years ago I wrote a whole essay in my head about how weird that was for Mormon youth to be so in to that song. Actually it’s not that weird at all — in fact, it may play in to a post that I may write next week.

    I have a whole story about that song — about one moment where I felt like I actually was living the high school dream. But it would take some telling. Maybe later.

  14. Geoff Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 5:56 pm

    Russ,

    You know we only started that when everyone started copying the convulsion act! (Besides, I believe the strutting arround parade-wave act actually took place in the middle of the “down, down, down” part when it had the most spotlighting effect…) Never do what the crowd is doing! — that was the philosophy.

    William, Greg,

    Napoleon and friends still dance to Forever Young… “I like your sleeves… They’re real big.”

  15. Brian G on January 7, 2005 at 8:40 pm

    It’s so much more fun to read and write about Stake Dances than discuss divorce or drive off well-known writers.

    I remember the music, the fashion, but what I remember most is the moment after the last dance…

    The moment where the lights turn on. It’s that special time where you see embarrassed teachers split away from the mia-maids they’ve been clutching to as if they suddenly contracted leprosy. Mormon kids blink in the gymnasium fluorescent lights like moles fresh out of the ground and get a good look at the people they’ve been draping themselves over all evening long—man, those fluorescent lights could be unforgiving.

    And some kids look down at tiny scraps of paper with phone numbers written on them and wonder, “555-1234, that’s a funny phone number.�

    I’m not sure why, but my friends and I were crazy about Stake Dances. One friend of mine even weaseled his way into fulfilling his lifelong dream of DJ-ing a dance, but his glory was short lived. I guess the Littleton, Colorado Stake was just not ready for FISHBONE.

    And I’m not really sure what English department Rosalynde and Steve were in, but all my efforts to cash in on my awkward nerdiness resulted in more awkward nerdiness.

    However, having witnessed the handiwork of Steve Evans during his player days, I can attest the magic did work for him…at least twice.

  16. Kaimi on January 7, 2005 at 9:18 pm

    Isn’t being a playa something that you never lose? Kind of like being a bishop?

  17. Bryce I on January 7, 2005 at 9:41 pm

    The greatest last dance scene in a television show is from the pilot episode of the late and lamented NBC show Freaks and Geeks. Sam Weir, one of the geeks, has a crush on Cindy, a cheerleader. He gets Cindy to promise him a dance, and he cashes in partway into the last song, “Come Sail Away” by Styx. He’s in slow dance heaven for a few bars, but then suddenly, to his horror, the simple piano lines give way to some power chords, and the slow dance is over.

    If you missed this show when it first aired, run, do not walk, to your video store and rent the DVD. Especially if you were in high school in the 1980s.

  18. Geoff Johnston on January 7, 2005 at 9:41 pm

    Brian G,

    What!? Not ready for Fishbone? (Must… resist… testimony… waiver… — Truth and Soul is still one of my top 10 favorite albums).

    There were lots of songs from Angelo and the other boys of Fishbone that were far more acceptable than the regular rotation of AC/DC’s “Shook me all night long” or Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” we seemed to get for a while. (What were those people thinking? At least “Push It” never made the playlist…)

  19. Steve Evans on January 7, 2005 at 9:46 pm

    I agree with Bryce — get thee to the video store. Great scene, one in fact that I lived, only it was Stairway to Heaven, the most undanceable song ever.

  20. Larry on January 7, 2005 at 10:02 pm

    I feel so sorry for most of you. You never had the opportunity to dance to such meaningful tunes such as “Who Put the Bop in the Bop de Bop de Bop”, use Brylcream to comb your hair back in a ducktail and pour on the aftershave in the hopes of attracting some laurel, while wearing a baby blue polyester suit. That was class. Buck teeth and all were so popular in those days.
    Of course we did have Little Deuce Coupe for the hip guys.

  21. cooper on January 8, 2005 at 11:58 pm

    Ahhhh, Stake dances! Best last dance song ever: Something in the Way She Moves, by the Beatles. You knew if a guy asked you to dance to this song, you had him! It was great. There was that summer of 1969, must’ve danced with 6 different guys to that tune! But then again we had the Saturday night dances at Carlsbad High to practice with! Oh, the memories. Thanks William.

  22. John Kane on January 9, 2005 at 1:57 am

    I too lived the freaks and geeks half song curse, only it was with Guns and Roses “November Rain”. I’m not sure I ever fully got over that…

  23. The Only True and Living Nathan on January 10, 2005 at 3:32 pm

    I’ll see your Alphaville and raise you a “Somebody” by Depeche Mode. Not my personal favorite, but you learned to accomodate it or you’d never have a last dance again.

  24. William Morris on January 10, 2005 at 3:41 pm

    Good one TOTaLN.

    Yes, “Somebody” — what better song can express the Mormon longing for an eternal companion? ;-)

  25. Geoff Johnston on January 10, 2005 at 4:22 pm

    Ha!– “Somebody”. There’s another one that shouldn’t have made it past the censors… “I don’t wantto be tied to anoyone’s strings, I’ve carefully tried to steer clear of those things..” (Sing along!)

    I would much rather have heard George singing “Something in the way she moves” with cooper as our last dances, but alas it was the wrong decade. (#21)

    BTW — Frank Sinatra was reported to have called that song (Something) the best love song ever written.

  26. Jason Johnson on January 11, 2005 at 1:19 am

    Ditto on the Alphaville and Depeche Mode comments.
    Coming to Ricks from Vermont I could never figure out the popularity of limp-wristed europop groups like Yaz, Alphaville and Eurasure along the Provo-Rexburg axis.

    My father, who was in our Stake Presidency in the 80s still remembers Rock Lobster from the Super Saturday dances. My younger brothers and sisters (90s teenagers) look at him like he is nuts when he mentions it.

  27. Lola on January 22, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    oh my gosh u guys are really freaky (no offence though i’m sure alot will be taken)

    can one of u guys tell wot this websites bout neway?

    :) fanx

  28. Lola on January 22, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    wot on earths a mormon??!!!!

    and how d’u do smileys???