Each fall, our elementary school puts on a family dance. It’s one big popcorn-scented sweat fest with kids running wild, strobe lights flashing, a disk jockey spinning his music and parents looking on from the sidelines, or sometimes from the middle of the dance floor, zombie-like as colored lights flicker, or, on occasion, doing the Two-Step with their babies. The younger siblings plug their ears, overwhelmed by the loudness of it, or twirl around in the center of the room, oblivious. Girls gather in bunches, hopping up and down and shrieking while boys, after warming up, start break-dancing on the sidelines and play air guitar until catching the attention of the crowd of girls. Then they turn it up a notch and start doing flips and rolls and kicks — not a ounce of shame in it, all the shyness or compliance of the earlier school day completely worn away. In the room next door, a smiling volunteer snaps family photos, and in various spots of both rooms, fall decor — scarecrows and colorful floral arrangements — add a splash of festiveness to the scene. In the back right corner, more volunteers pour free punch and fill bags of popcorn and replenish the cookie supply. It’s all free, in fact, except for the entrace fee — canned goods or a box of cereal or other nonperishable to go towards the “Fill the Dome” food-drive effort. Finally, the faithful DJ announces the end, after which the kids groan and yell, “Encore!” But the glares of parents tell him, “No way,” and the lights come on. Quickly, chairs are stacked, smashed popcorn and paper cups and napkins are tossed into large trash bins, and everyone heads back outside, into the cool air, where sweat drops drip off or dry up. Tomorrow, real life will resume, but tonight, another school-year memory has been fashioned.
Eight down now, and by the time our youngest, number five, is in fifth grade and ready to graduate from elementary school, we’ll have put in fifteen school family dances. More than halfway there!