Outdoor Dance

I never wrote about the time
the parent called me
a punk ass bitch.

For the most part
my scribblings aim at a higher purpose
celebrating this or that
pondering thus and such
trying to make sense
cheer on hope
or notice something small and splendid
in the greater world.

But it’s been time enough now
since that night
when the woman in the bathrobe
holding a flashlight
in one hand
pointing with the other
feet wide apart, for balance,
breath rich with spirits
stood at the top of the steps
just outside the main office
staring at me with eyes
gone wild.

I was
ridiculously
wearing a cowboy hat
relieved that the western themed outdoor dance was over
the kids streaming down the stairs
heading home
laughing, still so young, and filled
with the music they’d been moving to
for hours now, dusk until dark.

At first I thought she was joking
appearing at a school
dressed for breakfast
smelling of happy hour
toting that flashlight like she was on a campout.

But she made it clear
that she was deadly serious
about how loud the music sounded
waving an arm toward the courtyard behind her
silent now
kids cleaning up
a few bales of straw, some streamers,
parent volunteers heading home
and while she did not live in the house
across the street
tonight she was staying there
sensibly, I thought

and because of us she could not sleep.

Students in cowboy hats
slid behind her and down the stairs
like rolling desert hills
outside a moving stagecoach.
My assistant principal
took up a position behind me
a security guard
nervous of the woman’s drunkenness
joined him
a posse of sorts.

I watched her tortured eyes
narrow
as she screamed
teeth showing
as she heard me
say nothing
giving time for the students to leave.

We stayed like that until
my silence was not enough
and the woman lurched forward
brought her palm hard against
the brim of my hat
causing the security guard to flinch
and my eyes to widen
and my assistant principal to swallow a laugh
as she found the words
she was looking for
spitting as best she could:
“Punk ass bitch.”

The kids were mostly gone by then
and our conversation seemed at a natural end
so, adjusting my hat
and understanding that she would probably not
accept the offer
I invited my date
to meet for coffee
in my office on Monday morning.

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You Can Dance

IMG_4841Nick, our custodian, put black lights into the fixtures in the library hallway around noon when the students started putting up spider webs and paper gravestones for the “Haunted Hallway.” Decorations collected throughout the day, rubber rats, black streamers, and miles of yellow caution tape. Pumpkins emerged, small and large, dotting the parts of the school where the masses would gather for ACMA’s Fall Festival Dance.

By suppertime it was a campus transformed; tables for cotton candy, popcorn, and pretzels filled the courtyard. Caramel sauce and paper boats waited for students to take advantage of the local harvest; earlier in the week my assistant, Margaret, who had put in hours helping the kids organize the dance, had poked her head in my office and let me know “I got a great deal and need to go pick up fifty pounds of apples!”

The awesomeness of that statement was in part due to the fact that at ACMA it didn’t feel out of place.

A fog machine crouched in the breezeway between what would be the Haunted Hallway and the entrance to the Quonset Hut set up for dancing.

IMG_4848But dancing… well, for anyone of my vintage who hasn’t had the opportunity to chaperone a dance for a while, school dances look different now. Maybe it’s that the world has changed and people now, from eleven to ninety, expect more variety, more choice, but dancing at a dance is just one sliver of what kids have to choose from.

What that meant this Friday at ACMA was a photo booth stocked with props where groups of students could ham it up and leave with a memory of a night of silliness. It meant free raffle tickets handed to everyone as they came through the front door and a grand drawing for a mini cauldron filled with candy at the end of the night.

Any dance in October invites costumes, and to do that at an art school means wild, abundant creativity. Zombies and superheroes danced with flappers and Disney Princesses. Pikachu shared popcorn with unicorns and Jedi, and my favorite conversation of the night went like this:

Me: “Great antlers.”
Student: “People have been telling me that.”
Me: “They’re right.”

In addition to the Haunted Hallway, the corn hole games (built by our theater tech students), and a steady line for cotton candy, a room had been set aside and stocked with board games for kids who wanted a break from the lights and music.

A witty and wonderful group of students invited me to play Apples to Apples, something that in a quarter century of working in schools I’ve never done at a fall dance, and a great reminder that as much fun as some students were having moving to music and scaring each other under the black light, for others a chance to gather on campus and play games was more their style (at least for part of the night).

IMG_4856This notion that events like a dance might be purposefully crafted to include something that everyone could enjoy, not just those who know how to move to the latest rock and roll tune, is something that strikes me as wonderful. It’s also something that I feel like I see more of every year I’m a principal.

Board games, fresh fruit, and a Haunted Hallway (and all those unexpected delights that students today add to more traditional events to make them friendlier to all) reinforce the optimism I feel whenever I work with kids.

And Friday, you could dance if you wanted to, but if you don’t dance …well, you’re still a friend of mine.

Back in the Saddle

photo-1-7It was a hundred degrees in the morning, but the kids wanted to sit outside to make plans in the fresh desert air. Three weeks before classes started, forty or so students and their Associated Student Body instructor had traveled with parents and chaperones to their annual planning retreat in Palm Springs. This morning it was time to talk about spirit days, Homecoming, and the Welcome Back Dance.

They kicked around ideas, looking for activities that would resonate with their classmates. Their adviser, a twenty year veteran, showed them lists of what he’d seen over the past two decades. They wanted to repeat some of the events that had shifted from innovative to traditional, and they bandied around new ideas they thought would be fun.

photo-3-4Fun for me was seeing that on their own current students decided that they wanted a western themed Welcome Back Dance, complete with costumes and hay bales …an idea that San Dieguito students came up with on their own back in the 1940s.

More than a few of the alumni I’ve talked with have described the fun they had dressing up as cowboys and hillbillies when they did their own western dances in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Looking at the photos of these students from decades past. I see the same youthful exuberance I see in the faces of students today. Times change, technology changes, and the city around our campus looks profoundly different than it did decades back, but in the smiles beneath broad brimmed hats I see a universality that ties together San Dieguito Mustangs from across time.

For perspective, the first western themed dances at San Dieguito took place about sixty years after the actual gunfight at the OK Corral. More time separates the 2016 dance from 1940. And yet, no matter the decade, there is something familiar in the pictures of the students.

58-16These are students having fun, caring for each other, laughing, and dressing up to dance. I’ve sprinkled photos from 2016 and 1958 together in this post, and see in all that same spark of joy that I imagine will still be lighting students’ faces fifty years from now.

When this year’s Welcome Back Dance takes place, in a courtyard built in 1937, our students will saddle up as some of their parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents did in their own time on our campus. Tying these generations together is the shared experience of San Dieguito, the human spirit of play, and now, as then, probably a lasso or two.