Editor's note: Author Jason Wright co-authored this column with his 17-year-old daughter, Oakli Wright. In this piece they discuss their take on what they call the "Church Dance Ecosystem."
Last Saturday, my 14-year-old daughter Jadi attended her first dance. She was, not surprisingly, more nervous about this rite of passage than a shrimp at a seafood restaurant.
Gladly accepting my fatherhood responsibility, I’ve tried to help Jadi by inviting her to practice dancing with me in the kitchen, living room and even the grocery store at every opportunity. Sometimes she says yes, sometimes she says no, and sometimes I grab her anyway and spin her around like I’m Derek Hough and she’s about to break a hip.
I know exactly what you’re thinking. “Jason Wright has professional dance experience?” Not quite, but I have played "Just Dance" on the Wii.
Jadi’s 17-year-old sister Oakli is a veteran of the church-dance scene and has also been helping to prep her sister by offering all the tips and tricks to surviving this important teenage experience — she’s served as part Yoda, part Chuck Woolery, mixed with a dash of Dr. Phil.
One of Oakli’s most valuable contributions has been her inspired revealing of the “Church Dance Ecosystem.” Like any ecosystem, it’s a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. Only in this case, the organisms have sweaty palms.
First you have Jadi’s species — the “Newbies.” This is the easiest group to spot. They’re the ones who meander around, not fully understanding what's going on. Sometimes they cling to those of another species, hoping to catch on. They're very awkward.
Next come the “Oldies.” These are the kids who’ve been to so many dances that they simply can’t be embarrassed anymore. The male of this species stands near the front of the gym during a lady's choice and poses, hoping one of the females will choose them.
You’ll also find “Lasties” — these are high school seniors who are nearing their last dance and decide to go all out because they want to be remembered. Oh yes, dancing like an escaped zoo animal will definitely get you remembered.
You’re probably familiar with the “Wallhogs.” They hang out against the wall for as long as possible, avoiding direct eye contact. Deep down, they love to dance — they just don't want to make anyone else jealous of their sweet moves.
The ecosystem also welcomes “Seat Warmers.” While you may be dancing around, they like to hang out in a folding chair. All they're really doing is performing an act of service, right? They know you like a warm seat when you’re ready to rest your feet. Next time you see one, thank them for their kindness.
Males dominate the “Food Table Magnets” species. They’re similar to the “Wallhogs,” though a little more adventurous. Rather than stand by the wall, they venture toward the food source. As a result, they risk busting a few moves by the punch bowl.
The dance ecosystem wouldn’t be complete without “Hot Hall Monitors.” This species prefers hanging in the hallway than getting on the dance floor. When people start to complain about the gym being too hot, they quietly excuse themselves to the hallway. Therefore, the gym is cooled by the lack of "hotness" emanating from this group. This warm species is especially welcomed during the winter months.
Finally, we must respect the “Slow-Song Bathroom Dwellers.” These are the young women and young men who are comfortable roaming the floor during fast songs or line dances, but who feel the sudden urge to visit the restroom when the music slows. Not coincidentally, their hair is always immaculate.
With that kind of insight into the world of the church dances, how could Jadi — or any other “newbie” — possibly go wrong?
Oakli and I are happy to report that Jadi had a great experience at her first dance. She discovered she was not alone as a first-timer and enjoyed interacting with every member of the ecosystem. She even sought out her chaperoning old man a few times to say hello or giggle-tell a story from the dance floor.
I know there will be plenty more dances in Jadi’s future and she has plenty of time to pass through as many neighborhoods in the delicate ecosystem as she’d like.
I just hope she always has time for a dance with me in frozen foods.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.