Tuesday, June 3, 2008


In seventh grade, one of the most uncomfortable social situations I experienced was that of leaving the dance floor during the slow songs at the sock hops our school sponsored after school on certain Fridays. For, truly, unless you had Farrah hair, and actually used the comb, or the flip brush that was tucked in your back pocket, rather than, (shudder), a pick for your curly, completely non-featherable hair, you weren't dancing with anyone. That was for sure.

I know.

Unless, however, one of your friends was able to put someone, say, Don Aven, up to asking you to slow dance to, say, "Truly" by Lionel Richie.

And before we go any further, let me just add, in case you happen to Google yourself, that this post is not about you, Mr. Aven. Hope you are doing well, though! Sorry I missed our 20th reunion.

As you move in rhythm, or rather, awkwardly sway to the music, you relish with satisfaction that you are now out on the floor, with one of "the" guys, while your friends stand off to the side watching. And then you realize, that this too, is actually uncomfortable. And this uncomfortable feeling only escalates as you secretly admit that Don Aven didn't actually ask you to dance, but, rather, had to be coaxed to approach you. Not that any money or goods exchanged hands, but it's not like Don took the long walk over to you from across the room after working up the courage to approach you with an true invitation to sway back and forth to one of the best love songs of the '80's.

Nope. It's a pity slow dance.

It's at this point of revelation that your former post on the side of the dance floor is beginning to look pretty good.

When it came to slow dances, I was a "fringer". Give me some good upbeat tunes, and I'd be on the floor for several songs in a row. But, then, as the tempo slowed, there would be an exodus of sorts, as several of us who had no one to dance with, (until we were "dating" someone, which, for me, was a number of years later and a story in an of itself), exited the floor. We'd mull around on the fringe of the activity, acting as if we were cool and were choosing to take a break from the dance floor due to fatigue, all the while hoping someone would ask us to dance. Well, the right person that is. Come on, we had standards.

I had a list.

I did get to check off Don's name.

So when Harper had a Kindergarten-2ND Grade school dance a few weeks back, (I know. Reader is like, "huh?" Kindergarten-2ND Grade dance?) I wondered how she'd fair. As a child with social anxiety, and yet a love of dancing, the conflict within her body to either dance or not dance would definitely turn to a battle. I was just wondering who would win.

We'd prepped her as much as we could. Mrs. Beckstedt would be there. Kelly would be there. The Cha-Cha Slide, her favorite, would most likely be played. And Hannah Montana? A given. No one would be watching her dance, as everyone would be clumped together in groups and not actually scoping the scene.

We arrived early to help Harper get her bearings. A few mom's milled around. I made eye contact and said "hi".

No response.

Just a blank stare.

George caught it. "I feel like I've just been welcomed by the Gestapo."

Ok, that's a little over the top, but it was cold man. Seriously. We felt invisible.

We took a seat on the side of the gym. The music started. Any enthusiasm that Harper had about this event began to fade. She couldn't do it. Her friends wandered over to ask her to join them. She couldn't do it. The DJ played her favorite songs. She couldn't do it.

"I want to dance, but my body won't let me." She was not content with this.

And so, we sat on the side of the gym for the entire dance. George and I danced a bit with Zane to keep him occupied, and to her credit there was Harper's 30 second attempt at the Cha-Cha Slide, but for 99.5% of the time, we warmed the bench and watched everyone else having fun. All the children were either dancing or running about. We had the bench to ourselves.

"One in every 150 children experiences social anxiety."

I just made that up. And yet, for this night, those were the numbers.

Here I was again, at a school dance, on the fringe. Feeling uncomfortable. Acting as if all was OK, and that I could handle the pain Harper was experiencing, while on the inside my heart broke for my daughter, who was physically trapped. And recognized it. And was frustrated by it. She didn't want to be sitting and was angry at her body.

For the next hour we sat there alone as Harper's friends bopped over trying desperately to entice her onto the floor. As for the adults, I did approach two mom's I know to share a brief chat and the principal came by. But mainly, there were stares. There was eye contact and yet no contact. As hard as it is to write, we were indeed noticed, and yet went unnoticed.

We realized just how "unnoticed" we went when 4 parents stood directly in front of us while we were sitting. They turned to look down at us watching the dancers, and then turned right back around without moving aside to open up our sight line.

We got quite a view. Have you ever stared at 4 middle aged asses in jeans from just inches away?

Oh, it's something.

And yes, I did say "Excuse me" and Harper yelled, "I can't see!" But we weren't "seen" and we weren't heard, because, well, we were on the fringe. We were that group of junior high kids who hang out by the wall and play Rubik's Cube during a dance. We were the groups of girls standing in a clump watching painfully as other girls were asked to slow dance. We were present, but we didn't fit in.

That evening, all of us, well, except Zane who mimicked the boys who were attempting The Worm, experienced a different degree of uncomfortableness during that dance.

Harper wanted to dance, but remained on the fringe because her body just wouldn't release her to the point where she felt comfortable jumping in.

George watched as the adults moved into clicks (ah, just like the good 'ole days) creating little pockets around the gym, realizing that even though we live less than a mile from the school, we live on the fringe and have no real friendships with other parents at our local elementary school.

And I, was brought back to those memories of feeling on the fringe during those slow dances and yet, I have never struggled with social anxiety like my daughter does. How much harder then would a situation like this be for her! My chest was tight as I wondered how I could help my daughter in this present situation and onward as she grows up. I know school dances aren't mandatory, right? And yet, we have to continue trying to take risks with her.

When we set out that night, I had no idea how uncomfortable the evening would be for all of us.

Fringe just kind of hangs there, you know? It's different. People either love it or hate it. You certainly can't miss it. An item with fringe does tend to stand out. And yet, the fringe itself adds nothing to the structure of the garment which can stand alone and be worn without it. It's an embellishment that can be removed. And thus, while it doesn't go unnoticed, it just doesn't always fit with the personal preferences of the one wearing the piece, so they pass it by or dismiss it.

So, I guess, in this respect, the fringers are indeed unique. And are indeed noticed. And yet that's where the contact stops. At eye contact.

It's been weeks since this dance and Harper has grown leaps and bounds in her anxiety issues. She is not a shy girl by any means (which makes her social anxiety all the more peculiar) and we're just beginning to celebrate the new confidence and successes that she has recently felt and experienced in herself. And while dancing in herds doesn't seem to be something that makes her comfortable, there are alot of other new things that do, softball mainly.

Perhaps my daughter, with all her new found confidence, will have a soft spot for fringers she meets and will not pass them off with a glance, but will be able to connect with them in a really special way. She already seems to have a sensitivity for others feeling included and comfortable. I pray that she continues to recognize the needs that all of us have to belong - whether on a big or small scale.

So, thanks Don Aven and Lionel Richie for coming to mind as I entered that school gym. Memories can certainly be poignant or painful, don't you think?

My memory of fringe is both.

1 comment:

Mego said...

Joline, I just read "Fringe" and I loved it. My thoughts are that most people have social anxiety to some degree, and some are just better at hiding it. At least I know I have it! Very cool the way you handled the dance, as Harper makes her way through life she will have strength knowing she is whole-heartedly supported by her family :)