It’s been over 30 years since I’ve seen a dogpile develop during the playing of ABBA’s Dancing Queen (Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog’s loft in Stockholm was my sexual Waterloo) however this time around the dogpile didn’t involve Andy Warhol, Brigid Berlin or a traditional Swedish musical instrument called a Nyckelharpa; it was in my son’s elementary school gymnasium and it involved Jack, a number of his schoolmates and a traditional American novelty instrument called an inflatable electric guitar.
Last Friday was a momentous occasion in the coming of age for Jack as he attended his first school dance. Since it is federally mandated that all dances, proms, balls, shindigs, jamborees, hootenannies, sock hops, clam bakes and hoedowns occurring on public school property be themed and/or named after a current or popular song (My Senior Prom was 2 votes from being the “Buffalo Stance”. Blame it on the Rain? I blame it on the Drama Club stuffing the ballot box) the event last Friday was termed “Dance through the Decades of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and Today” which besides far exceeding any reasonable number of syllables in a title is a preposterous theme for an elementary school dance considering the oldest child at the dance was born in 1998.
Despite winning the heart of my first high school girlfriend Melissa Walrath at the Autumn Harvest Ball by beating her boyfriend at the time in an epic break dance battle to “Jam on It” by Newcleus (Cozmo D you still have my eternal gratitude. Melissa you still have my Depeche Mode T-Shirt) I have mixed feelings about school dances.
On one hand without them I would have never gotten to second base under the gym bleachers with Lynn Mclean (Cad Alert: Lynn was Melissa’s best friend who, incidentally Melissa, didn’t seem to mind my sweating problem) but on the other hand there’s just something “not right” (or “wrong” if you will) about a PTA sponsored rave where supposed chaperones burden slow dancing students with Orwellian restrictions, sketchy custodians leer from the darkness of the Girl’s Locker Room entrance and second-rate morning radio hosts and wedding DJs insist that someone actually requested Old Time Rock and Roll (Hey DJ Shovel and the Wolfman, go reminisce about the days of old somewhere else and play a song from this decade)
We only live a block from Hillside Elementary School so we walked but even before we reached the corner we could hear the dull thumping bass line and sampled Rick James hook of MC Hammers’ You Can’t Touch This, which Jack must have taken as a challenge because he broke into a sprint towards the building. After paying the steep admission price of $2 for students $3 for adults ($5 for Custodians which I thought was reasonable) we left our jackets with the Girl Scout troupe earning their Coat Check Merit Badge and headed into the gymnasium.
Hundreds of K-5 students were crowded in front of the DJ booth and doing what appeared to be a cross between crunking and the move Michael J Fox does at the Homecoming Dance while in his lupine persona in Teen Wolf. Jack immediately saw one of his classmates who came dressed to impress in a pair of snow boots, knit cap and bright orange hunting vest and the two of them quickly joined the throng of preadolescence that was bouncing in unison to The Pointer Sisters Jump.
What followed was a legendary and unrivaled string of sing-alongs, line dancing songs and playlist perennials that would have been catastrophic had a lesser Jockier of Discs attempted the maneuver, but fortunately for us DJ Jim Stacy “The Good Times DJ” is not a lesser Jockier.
Before you could take those old records off the shelf the gym was polkaed into a Chicken Dance Frenzy and with urging from Jack I was reluctantly partook in the hand-beaking, arm-flapping and tail-feathering while DJ Jim Stacey connected with the crowd by singing the Elmo version over the top of the accordion music (Listen Jim, what Elmo does in the privacy of his own home is his prerogative just don’t drag me into it)
Next we were Shouting with Otis Day and the Knights and it should be noted that after the “…a little bit softer now…” transitions back into “…a little bit louder now…” Jack and I were the only ones who Belushi yelled “GATOR!” then writhed around on our backs before rejoining the chorus and echo of “Heyyyy Heyyyy!” (What are they teaching these kids in school?)
After a surprisingly uninspiring rendition of The Electric Slide by the entire student body in attendance (perhaps they’d be more motivated if it were called the Electric Cattle Prod?) was followed up with an oddly hypnotic and strangely choreographed Macarena that even Jack participated in (What are they teaching these kids in school?) the Good Times DJ posed the question, “Does anyone know how to … Cotton Eyed Joe?”
Now there are only two circumstances in which Cotton Eyed Joe should be played and an elementary school dance is not one of them (In case you didn’t know, it can be played between innings at Yankees Games and during sodomy with Ned Beatty in the backwoods of Georgia) The reason for this is that if heard in its entirety the song is potently addictive to young minds, a theory proven true by the fact that Jack has begged me dozens of times since Friday to sing the “Cot and My Joe” song while he Michael Flatleys around the living room.
A Miami Sound Machine Conga line, the aforementioned ABBA dogpile, an unnecessarily extended remix of the YMCA and some unwelcome sweating at the hands of the C & C Music Factory and I was ready for Jack’s Dance through the Decades to come to an end.
The Girl Scouts at the Coat Check effectively and amazingly retrieved our jackets on the first try and I tried to give them a tip to which they replied they were not allowed to receive tips. A response I challenged with, “Where does it say that you can’t put out a tip jar?” “Right in the Girl Scout Handbook!” lashed the voice of their Den Mother from the shadows behind a London Fog Trench Coat and a hooded tunic. “But you can buy some Girl Scout Cookies if you want to.” the voice beckoned. I handed Jack his coat, placed $3 on the edge of the table and walked away. “Sir, you forgot your cookies…” a scout’s voice sang to me. “I’m diabetic (I’m not) keep them.” I yelled without looking back and with that Jack and I pushed through the front doors into the bitter night air.
A few steps from the school I heard the distinct Bum-Bum-Bum-Bum-Bum-Ba-Ba-Bum intro to “Jam On It” followed by the unmistakable falsetto wikki-wikki-wikki-wikki coming from the gym.
“Hey Jack…want to hear a cool story about this song?”
“Is it Cot and My Joe?”
“No, It’s Jam on It by Newcleus”
“Can you sing Cot and My Joe for me?”
“Sure Jack…Sure… I don’t see why not…ummmm…Don’t you remember, don’t you know, Don’t you remember Cotton-eyed Joe?…”
And with that the lord of the dance was once again dancing and jiving and having the time of his life.