The politics of school dances

School tends to be very cyclical. We do the same thing every day, five days a week, for at least
12 years. For the most part, it’s mundane, not particularly painful but also not all that fun. But that
one aspect of the cycle that actively causes an immense amount of tension and stress are school dances.

If you weren’t aware, three times a year New Trier hosts a dance. There’s Homecoming, Turnabout, and Prom. Theoretically, they should be a lot of fun. Just a bunch of kids dressing up and partying in a sweaty gym. Good vibes.

Spoiler alert: they’re not.

I think we can all agree that the way dances work is kind of wack. The whole finding a group, taking a party bus, and wearing a costume is not how typical high school dances work. Not surprising considering New Trier does most things differently, but I digress.

You have to admit that it’s weird. And more than just being weird, I’ve noticed that dances really seem to bring out the worst in everyone.

The comparison that best captures the intense culture around dances is that of a military strategy. It’s a numbers game, and there are those who survive, and those who are less fortunate.

The whole process is definitively outside the realm of what a high school dance should be. Students aren’t planning a dance, they’re planning a war.

I think that this is best exemplified in the process of figuring out groups. For some, this is an easy process; you have the perfect number of people without having to combine, having a date or not doesn’t matter, and someone can host. Easy. But let’s be honest, has it ever worked out that perfectly for anyone?

More often than not, there are issues with who can or can’t be in a group. And this is almost always based on numbers, a utilitarian calculation that doesn’t care about who’s in or out.

Most people aren’t trying to be mean or exclusive when deciding who can or can’t be in the group.
I mean they might be, but I don’t think that’s what’s usually going on. They’re trying to make it work based on numbers.

Based on ratio of boys to girls. Based on who could host an after party. Based on how many people can fit on a bus without it being too expensive.

But then what if the group splits? Or groups combine? Or a couple switches groups? I’m not great at math, but that seems like a lot of factors to put into an equation.

In essence, people turn into numbers. Soldiers on a battlefield.

Though ridiculous, you can’t exactly blame people for adopting such a calculating mindset considering how much we over complicate the whole endeavor. It’s hard not to when everyone else is doing the same thing and has been for years. New Trier is nothing if not complicated and obsessed with tradition.

I’ve been making a comparison to war, but there is one significant difference: after the dance is over, everyone survives. But as with so much of what goes on in high school, it never feels like we’re going to make it out alive. We’re all so wrapped up in it that we can’t see the absurdity of it all. That’s just high school.

Everything we do seems significant, as if it’s magnified to the point that everyone cares, as if it’s the most important thing in the world. An obscured version of reality that’s inescapable for our four years. But then it ends, and we don’t care.

At the end of the day, after the months of worrying, stressing, and probably lots of tears, it’s just a dance. Take pictures, go to the actual dance for a few minutes, and then go to the after party. Survive the war.

Then do it all over again.