mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
A 1950s high school dance.
A 1950s high school dance. H. Armstrong Roberts—Getty Images

Why Don’t Teenagers Slow Dance Anymore?

Jan 14, 2016
Ideas
Joel Stein writes a weekly column for TIME magazine. His book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity, changes people’s lives.

I figured by the time I was 44, I would pretend to be disgusted--while actually being titillated--by teenagers' hoochie-coochie music, hoochie-coochie dancing, hoochie-coochie outfits and hoochie-coochie apps, which would allow them to instantly summon forth hoochie coochie. But instead, I am horrified by teenagers who don't do any of the following: have sex, do drugs, move out of their parents' home or get a driver's license, or have any idea if they actually like anything because they have to "like" everything.

I was at a bar, which is a place people go to in person to harm their bodies and say inappropriate things, when a guy told me he was a part-time DJ and was frustrated that young people don't slow dance anymore. I instantly understood that at the end of every empire, as we see the next generation disintegrate, each person must make a choice: do nothing, fight to save it or make fun of it in a column.

Without the awkward slow dance, I would be even more stunted in my ability to be a romantic partner. It is largely due to slow dancing that I know just how to avoid my wife's gaze when things get too intimate, and how to sense that it is not a good time for my hands to be there, there or there. If I persevered through the horror of slow dancing, today's teens could do it, especially since they no longer wear pants literally made of parachute material, which made things difficult in the 1980s since parachute engineers want to make sure that when someone is caught in a tree, their silhouette can clearly be discerned, which is the opposite of what you want when slow dancing with Danielle at Jewish summer camp.

Erick Mauro, who runs a company that throws parties on Long Island in New York, says he not only does not play slow songs at bar mitzvahs but doesn't even try them at weddings unless the parents demand it. And then all the young people just leave the dance floor. He says he'd love to help my cause but can't do anything. "If a Kanye West or an Adam Levine were to come out with a breakthrough slow-dance hit, it would be done," he says.

So I contact James Valentine, guitarist for Maroon 5, Levine's band, who was unaware of our national emergency. "How are kids not doing this anymore? That was the best part of the Mormon dances back in the '90s in Nebraska," he says. "We were actually instructed to keep a Bible's distance in between. Or a Bible and a Book of Mormon." I do not know exactly why that rule was created, but I'm guessing Joseph Smith once went to a barn dance in parachute pants.

It's been nearly 15 years since Maroon 5's ballad "She Will Be Loved" was released, and while the band has written a bunch of other ballads since then, they were all cut from their albums in the drive to get hits. Valentine unwittingly placed a virtual Book of Mormon in front of the nation's pelvises. So he agrees to push hard to get a ballad on the next album. "I'll say it's for the kids," he tells me.

But I'm not sure we have that kind of time. So I find Anne Thomas Mathews, a junior and this year's prom chair for Charles D. Owen High School in Black Mountain, N.C. It's an important high school, Mathews explains, since it is 17th in North Carolina. When I ask her what it is 17th in, she pauses. "I guess academics. I'm not sure," she says.

Mathews says getting promgoers to slow dance will be difficult. "Most people just grind on each other," she says of the school's dances. I hadn't known about grinding. It sounds like the kind of thing I was hoping for, like slow dancing but fast and without dancing. It sounds, in fact, way more intense than what I do during sex.

But Mathews says that despite the name, grinding isn't all that intimate: "Grinding is just a big mosh pit of people awkwardly touching each other. If you break off into couples, it's more intimate." It takes some people decades, a few Craigslist ads and a lot of cocaine to realize that truth about grinding.

Mathews agrees to save her generation from being America's last by getting the DJ to play a few slow songs. "Last year they picked cheesy songs," she says. "I'm going to pick something awesome. I don't want to say something tasteful, because that implies I think I have better taste than everyone else. But something like that." In fact, she is leaning toward Ella Fitzgerald, which implies that she has better taste than I do.

So this May, at the 17th-most-something school in North Carolina, a revolution will start. Some brave teens will press their bodies together until they become a single unit wondering what both a tisket and a tasket are. They will awkwardly feel, through the thick fabric of their pants, the clear outline of each other's phones. And they will desperately wish they were doing anything else. Which is exactly what intimacy is.


Ideas
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.
TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.