Friday, June 12, 2009

Flashback Friday: Mandatory fun at the dance festival

The summer I was 15, I participated in a dance festival put on by the Mormons. Every few years - eight, maybe? - the Mormons organize a massive dance festival for the youth. The year I did it, the "cool" dance to sign up for was the ballroom dance. Looking back, I wish I had done the Ukrainian dance. But not the Mortal Kombat dance. The costumes for that dance were teal and black unitards that somehow managed to be unflattering to every figure. Just ask my sister, who was 10 years old at the time (and you know that if a costume can manage to disrespect the figure of a ten-year-old, it's BAD).

The figure-disrespecting unitard on my sister Teresa


Not that the ballroom dance costumes were beautiful or anything. They were hot-magenta dresses and if that wasn't bad enough, on the day of the big performance, the leaders - get this - stapled giant sequins all over the skirt. It was a hot day, too, so all us girls had shiny bright pink faces to match our shiny, bright pink dresses.

On a local level, before the big performance, we learned the dance steps from volunteer teachers in groups of eight couples. As for our dancing partners, they were more or less assigned to us. Somehow, I ended up with a guy (who I'll call Jose only because his real name is unusual enough to give away his identity immediately) who must have been something like 6'6". For those of you who don't know me in real life, I am 5'2" - and I was probably even a little bit shorter at the time. I don't know what the dance teachers saw in Jose and me that led them to put us together, but I did my best to stand on my tiptoes to be able to reach his shoulder with my arm fully stretched out. I was 15 and awkward, and having a dance partner twice as tall as me just made things worse.

You see, I was participating in this dance festival against my will. Honestly, my mom made me do it. Like many other things in life, I eventually ended up having fun and being glad I did it, but it was touch and go there for a while. I remember plenty of Saturday morning practices where my friend Kristen and I just dozed on the couches in the lobby of the church building wishing we were somewhere else - anywhere else.

And yet, I did learn the dance well enough to be ready for the big performance, to be held at a local high school. All the groups of dancers from our area would be performing there, so our set of eight couples would combine with many other sets of eight couples for one big, impressive display of parental-enforced-participation ballroom dancing.

I've never been clear on the details, but somehow when we got to the performance venue, there was a change of plans and I was no longer in my original group of eight couples. Instead, one other couple, as well as Jose and me, had been moved to our own square. Just by ourselves. Just us two couples. Everyone else would be dancing in the relative oblivion of being one of dozens of people dancing in a small area. We would have just four in a wide open space.

I was good friends with the other girl in our situation, and I guess we just decided to be good sports about it. I can't speak to her abilities, but my dancing skills were certainly not up to being featured in a major performance. Still, we danced in our little piece of center stage and I think we did OK.

After the performance was over, I remember trying to convince myself that maybe there had been so many dancers after all that nobody noticed us four in our own little square. No such luck - a friend of ours said something like, "So were you guys the featured dancers? I noticed you dancing all by yourselves right in front." D'oh!

A month or two later, we had the regional performance (with 10,000 total youth participating in all different kinds of dances) and it ended up being tons of fun. At that performance, my friend and I did end up back in a set of eight couples, so there was no more special featured dancing. But while I did manage to hang on to Jose as my partner, we were reassigned to a group of older (non-teen) dancers who seemed kind of professional. My friend ended up dancing with an older man (if I recall correctly, Jennifer).

Did anyone else experience forced fun in their teenage years?

11 comments:

Liz Johnson said...

Girls Camp and pretty much any mutual activity after I turned sixteen. I was not happy to be there. UGH.

Jill said...

I don't remember any kind of dance festival in my years as a youth (and I even lived in a couple different places). But, I do remember we did Road Shows... ah, nothing like singing a solo in front of your entire stake!

Britney said...

I'm glad I moved away in time to miss that exciting experience. :)

I'm not a dancer either, so your story reminds me of one of mine.

In '99 and '00 my family and I participated as cast members in the Hill Cumorah Pageant, performed in Palmyra, NY. Both years I was selected to dance, because of my height. For some reason, they wanted girls who were exactly 5'8", and chose us over those who had actual dancing experience. I danced pitifully during practice, EVENTUALLY learned the routines and ended up having a good time, but was humiliated being put in the spotlight like that, and in silly costumes, of course. :)

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Fortunately you weren't eligible for Mortal Kombat because that was reserved for 12-13 year olds (Teresa was turning 12 that week). The whole idea of the costumes was to make them look flashy from a distance, such as from the stands of Civic Stadium. So all the glitter and sequins had the desired effect, even though it might have been embarrassing to wear. At least you didn't have to wear a pepto-bismol pink felt "Indian" costume accented with pink feathers and lots of glitter & sequins (what I wore in dance festival in the Rose Bowl, 1973).

I have no regrets about insisting all our children participate in dance festival. Now you all have great memories, even if some of them involve disobedience (lounging in the foyer instead of joining in practice . . .)

Jennifer said...

Ah, a classic memory to add to your Flashback Friday collection.

Sad to say, your memory is correct. I did dance with a 40 year old balding man in our YOUTH dance festival. They ran out of youth and my partner was a punk and bailed so I was left with total awkwardness. I was always so jealous of your partner...even if the height match up was odd.

To this day, when I think of that performance at the high school, I cringe. It was so weird and awkward. Thankfully I had fun hanging out with the girls involved.

shabba shabba said...

My teenage years were forced. I wanted to skip from the cuteness of being 8 to the maturity and intelligence of being 30. But my mom wouldn't let me use the time machine I'd invented. Alas.

Teresa Jane said...

The "mortal kombat" costume was the WORST. Lets take a bunch of pre-pubescent, awkward girls and make them look even MORE awkward in unitards. The song was hilarious though! And I remember hiding out in the bushes outside of the stake center by myself during practice. I was the only beehive so I didn't have any friends there!

Kristen said...

Thanks for outing me, Bridget. I actually don't really remember skipping out on practices, but my memories of the entire experience are vague. I have a perfect recollection of the dresses though. They were hot! Hot pink taffeta to be precise. Now I'm really curious to remember who your partner was...Also, somewhere I saw a video on YouTube of a more recent dance festival somewhere where all the Deacons performed Napoleon Dynamite's dance in unison. It was awesome! Why couldn't we have learned the Bartman, or something relevant? :)

Jennifer said...

Our stake is doing a dance festival again this year, on a smaller scale (only 6 stakes). So Jeff and I were reminiscing and I told him all about this. I'm sharing this post with him as evidence.

Bridget said...

Ooh, what if you guys end up as instructors for the youth?? That would be awesome. I'm sure Jeff participated as well back in the day, don't you think?

Jennifer said...

Thankfully, all the instructors have already been chosen. Jeff did the folk dance and has very positive memories of the whole thing. He was surprised at how specific my memories of the whole thing are. :)

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