For many, the school dance was something to look forward to. Here was an event, sanctioned by both the school and parents, that permitted physical expression and better yet, a place where kids were encouraged to approach those of the opposite sex.
Unfortunately, if there was hope that a school dance would help the wallflower or introvert break out, it usually did not. Their plight was made more painful as they watched longingly from the sidelines, isolated and on display for all to see.
However, even for the extroverts, make no mistake. If a boy was serious about a girl, enormous courage was needed to ask her to dance - the implications of public rejection loomed large. Of course, there were a small number of men, brazen and thick skinned, for whom apparently public rejection meant nothing. I see men (or should I say land sharks) like this today, who have no fear whatsoever approaching women in any environment, making their pitch, for all to hear and see. But for most, the rejection monster raised its head at the thought of approaching the woman of your desire and asking her to dance.
Women had and still have a very sensible solution - dance alone or in groups with other women. If a man has the courage to pry one away, she will, if interested, most likely oblige. This ups the ante of course for a man interested in a woman - he must now face the prospect of group rejection and humiliation. Only the seasoned land shark with thick skin is willing to swim in these waters.
Times have changed. School dances are now faced with more provocative, sexually suggestive dancing, aka grinding. Some schools have even cancelled dances entirely. Others have resorted to a variety of rules and enforcement - see New York Times articles on the phenomenon here and here.
Irrespective of time or culture, there is no question that most dancing has a sexual element. Generations of parents have struggled, attempting to control the impulses of youth, at sea in an ocean of hormones. But in the anything goes environment of New York City, the gyrating, writhing and provocative dress found in the annual Dance Parade are really quite tame. And the performances in the ensuing Dance Fest held in Tompkins Square Park are an international smorgasbord of dance styles and traditions with 161 participating organizations. The Dance Parade & Festival is both a venue for unstructured fun as well as a myriad of serious dancers and performers. See my gallery of photos here.
I'm sure many will be pleased to know that in the Dance Parade, where spectators and dancers can both be found in great number, Wallflowers are Welcome :)