The middle school dance is an exquisitely, excruciatingly awkward experience; it is mortifying in every way. But the first time I ever danced with a girl (and I mean really danced, none of that ass-out horseshit) was at one such event in the seventh grade, and I remember it vividly. The year is 2004. It’s early June in Boston, MA and school is out. Bar Mitzvah season is upon us. Scores of wealthy Jewish parents are celebrating their sons’ coming of age, which is really just the sprouting of hair below the neck and the greasing of skin above it. Some boys will receive thousands of dollars for doing nothing more than becoming angsty, unappreciative and rude.
She’s a freshman in high school and easily a head taller than me with heels on. She is blonde and subtly curvy, you know, with those freshly pubescent hips and breasts that seem divine and womanly compared to the Midwest-flat 2×4’s I’m used to seeing in middle school. She has on a bright turquoise dress that fits her seamlessly and shows just enough cleavage to drive my ravenous new libido stark raving mad. She is wearing just the right amount of mascara, and perfume that smells like peaches. She is, in a word, devastating.
I, meanwhile, am wearing a Polo shirt and khakis that I refuse to accept are too big for me, matched with some worn out sneakers of an obscure brand that tie up using elastic laces (I honestly couldn’t tell you where I found them or why the hell I thought they were cool). My hair is gelled gratuitously so as to retain that diamond-hard texture you can’t wash out for days, and I reek of the cheap deodorant they’ve been handing out in sex ed. Despite not yet having hit my growth spurt, I am somehow still gangly, all elbows and knees. I am, in a word, ridiculous.
She is a friend of the Bar Mitzvah Boy’s older sister and the absolute center of attention. Every boy wants to dance with her and more, although most of us wouldn’t know what to do with her if given the opportunity. We lean back against the wall in an attempt to look cool while ogling hungrily (as is SOP for young males at the middle school dance). I’ve been trying to muster the courage to walk up and talk to her for what seems like forever. There are other girls present, but they do not interest me. She is totally unattainable and thus, I must have her.
I decide to make my move and stroll casually over to the refreshment table, swinging my shoulders, looking at no one in particular. I pour myself a waxed paper cup of some liquid courage (Hawaiian Punch) doing my best to smolder à la Bond while sipping it coolly. After scoping things out a bit more, I down it, crush the cup in hand and toss it towards the trash without looking; it doesn’t go in. Shit, let’s hope no one saw that. Alright, just do it. Just go talk to her. Walk right up to her and ask. It’ll be easy. You look good, smell good….so just go for it.
I start walking over. The dance floor is completely empty; it is a vast, daunting chasm separating fiery young genitalia. My hands are sweating like a whore’s in church. She’s talking to her friend in the corner, laughing and generally looking way too cool for middle school. This walk is fucking endless. I feel like I’m crossing the Sahara. My throat is tightening up. It’s a good thing this shirt is ill-fitting, otherwise I’d be sweating right through it. All of a sudden, I’m in front of her and wishing the walk had been longer. She turns and looks at me. I’m frozen, paralyzed with sick indecision and dread. I totally blank on whatever line I thought to be a sure thing only moments earlier. Fuck, I’ve been standing here way too long without talking. I’m panicking, seriously contemplating turning around and walking back, but then I blurt it out:
She immediately bursts out laughing, and I feel myself turning Crayola red. I look down miserably at my lame elasti-sneakers and start to turn around, when she stops me. “Wait, of course I’ll dance with you!”. I’m not sure whether or not to believe her, until she grabs my clammy hands and pulls me onto the floor, which has fortuitously become my own personal New York City nightclub. I have no sense of rhythm whatsoever, and I’m pretty sure everyone around us can tell. I start out by bouncing around timidly, not knowing if it’s OK to touch her. She pulls me towards her by my chopstick wrists and presses her body against mine. This feeds my confidence, and my moves start to get a little bolder.
I can feel everyone in the room staring at us. Slowly, unsurely, they start to join in. The chasm has disappeared, instead replaced by a bespoke stage for this festival of newly adolescent awkwardness. The kids let their guard down and start to get goofy, start to have fun. Things get raunchy….butts are being grabbed and training bras brushed. We realize this isn’t a school event, so we can do whatever we want. Parents shift uncomfortably. The Bergs and Steins weren’t expecting this to happen, but it is; and there’s nothing they can do about it. We’re all drunk on Sprite and HP and this feeling of waywardness that is consuming us all like never before.
She’s letting me put my hands all over her, wearing a mildly amused smile throughout. My khakis are tightening in the way that shouldn’t really ever be seen in public, damn. I look up at her and sort of ask her with my eyes if this is inappropriate. She smiles again, unfazed. This is the greatest night of my life. I’ve been hearing this song on the radio for months now, but this is the first time I can remember actually enjoying it. I really start to get into it. Hips are swaying, pelvises thrusting. Knees are knocking unceremoniously. I want to go in for the kiss, but I let my inhibitions get the better of me. Which is probably for the best….don’t want to get too ambitious.
I had no business dancing with her, but did anyway. And it was glorious. I live in a state of total disbelief for all four minutes and ten seconds of Usher’s “Yeah!” (which remains, in my mind, the catchiest Bar Mitzvah Banger to date). When the song finished, I told her thank you for the dance, and that I hoped she enjoyed it as much as I did. She giggles intoxicatingly and says that she did. I walk away with newfound confidence, doing that thing where you try not to look smug but fail categorically. We’re keeping this party going until 11. Everyone keeps dancing, except for me. I’m satisfied for the evening, and will be for weeks to come. The Mitzvah is a sacred rite of passage for young Jews, and I totally just hijacked some kid’s manhood.