Let’s go back, way back, and take a moment to observe one of the more public teenage mating rituals, in a small northern town during the mid-90s. There they are congregating in a dark gym that is strewn, with little forethought, in coloured balloons and droopy streamers. Beside a ghetto blaster are two large black amps from which uberous energetic tempos pour forth belonging to Ace of Base, Counting Crows, Boyz II Men, Gabrielle and Garth Brooks. A 30-something DJ is owning his Magnum PI moustache.
Along the bleachers are scattered small groups and couples, and the occasional lone figures in cowboy boots and parent-enforced turtleneck dresses. Others group by the door, directly avoiding the spotlight that shines on the basketball lines of the maple wood gymnasium floor. Surrounding the bright flashing orbs is an emptiness; and yet this gap, in the middle of the room, appears to be a focal point of great interest. Time passes. One boy rubs a balloon across the crown of his head and sticks it to the back of an unsuspecting girl. Many covert glances escape from corners, the smell of sweat and pharmacy perfume infuses the air. A choking fog lingers from the premature ejaculation of a smoke machine. Anticipation heightens.
Eventually, two couples break through into the circle; the boys are stocky in their oversized grad jackets, girls round on the edges with bouncing hair and floral dresses. The small group begins to shake their limbs, side by side, under the strobe; the girls are graceful and flirty; boys jerky and out of tune, stealing glimpses of cleavage and hips.
Beside a ghetto blaster, and a 30-something DJ with a Magnum PI moustache, are two large black amps from which uberous energetic tempos pour forth…
And so it begins.
While I was friends with the “cool” girls, who dated the older boys and were invited to all the parties, I was not in my own right popular. Or, at least, popular in the way they were. I had friends, and I could crack a good joke so people generally liked having me around, but in terms of sex appeal I was more “weird little sister” than “potential girlfriend.” It probably didn’t help that I had helmet hair, and wore homemade clothes. Unsurprisingly then, all slow dances unfolded the same way: intro chords to “Stairway to Heaven” led the Grade 12 boys to approach our group and pick off my friends like game shooters (Pull! Pull!), until the girls dropped off around me and I was left alone for the next 12 minutes. I’d bend over with a hand to ribcage, like I was busy catching my breath, too winded from the Macarena to hit the floor again anyway.
At one particular school dance Ayt appeared, which was very much out of character. Not that it mattered why or how he ended up there, I was prepared to seize the opportunity regardless. I zeroed in, desperate to reconnect since the intimate afternoon of our drug addled minds, and overtaken by the opening stanzas of Mr. Big’s hit that floated out like a call to action: “… So come on, baby, come on over. Let me be the one to show you…”
He was sitting on the bleachers, forearms on his knees, chatting with a friend. I approached and stood directly over him; not wanting to waste a second of the song I asked if he would be my partner before he’d even had a chance to recognize me. He seemed vaguely surprised, like he’d only just noticed where he was. The expression on his face revealed a silent debate before he shrugged with, “I guess.”
Sweet, sweet victory. We headed towards the other couples, who were cocooned in each other’s embraces like half-melted caramel squares. As I collapsed into him and we found our side-stepping rhythm, I prayed that he would get the message loud and clear. My choosing him for this dance was a signal that the lyrics were speaking the contents of my heart. I wondered at my lack of tact; was there such thing as being too obvious, or was too obvious not obvious enough? I struggled with this profound inner monologue while remaining recklessly optimistic that by the end of the song we’d be a couple.
I lost myself in the feeling of his hands on my back, and the smell of his Drakkar Noir. I swayed with his body as we swept the floor in fluid unity. The night, the world, was ours. For the first time in my life I felt like a woman; the expanse of possibility awakening inside from a lifelong slumber. It took all my physical strength, including a little of his, to pry myself off of him at the end of the song.
“See ya,” he mumbled, making eye contact with my shoulder. Then he was gone. While I processed the failure to establish our union, Nicole grabbed my shoulder and dragged me back to our group. “Oh. My. God. Emily, what were you doing?”
“What are you talking about, we were dancing,” I told her, feeling rather superior. “It was exquisite…”
“You were, like, dry humping him.”
“Seriously, I did not know you could move your hips like that,” someone said.
“Did you see Mr. Foster? He was totally bugging but I think he was too embarrassed to intervene.”
The girls giggled, staring at me with knitted brows and sympathetic, tilted heads. I was bewildered. I had just been expressing my unspoken feelings! Through the beats! Surely he too had been moved by our musical chemistry. In confusion, I scanned the bleachers, but Ayt was nowhere to be found.
Years later, Shakira validated my moves by explaining to the world that hips don’t lie. While it may seem sensible, then, to let them do the talking when the time feels right, know that there will sometimes be people on the receiving end who just can’t handle the truth.
Read from the beginning: Part I: The Loner