Elaine Fugate has ushered thousands of Apache Junction students through one of life’s rites of passage: Their first school dance.
For the past 30 years, she has taught sixth-graders how to not "drag" partners onto the dance floor, how not to "beg" if they say no, how to "turn someone down," and — if the magic does begin to happen on the gymnasium floor — how to slow dance.
"That is one thing we don’t have to worry about," said Fugate, a sixth-grade teacher at Thunder Mountain Middle School. "They don’t want to touch each other, anyway. I have shown them in the past where to put their hands if it is a slower dance: Girls’ hands around the boys’ shoulders, boys’ hands just on the waist."
And that’s exactly how dozens of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade momentary couples danced at Thunder Mountain Middle School’s winter dance Thursday night — exactly.
Twenty minutes into the dance — after the boys chased each other and the girls squealed as their friends arrived — the disc jockey played the first slow song of the night.
Underneath a ring of crepe paper that connected the basketball hoops, bodies swayed as told. Each couple rocked from side to side by barely lifting their heels and keeping their toes cemented to the floor.
Several students explained that the seventh- and eighthgraders are usually not nervous before the dance because "couple" dances are prearranged
through mutual friends weeks before the dance.
Eighth-grader Kristen Whitten said friends of the girl will ask the friends of the boy — or vice versa — if the two chosen students are going to dance together at the dance.
Or students will dance with their friends, she said.
But regardless, the nervousness kicks in once the slow beats begin.
"You’re just wondering what people are thinking about you and you just stand in the middle of the floor until they come up to you," she said.
Fugate has gone from playing Air Supply on a record player in her classroom to listening to a DJ bump Nelly through speakers from the gym’s stage.
The days of mandatory slacks for boys and dresses for girls have been replaced with just adhering to school dress code.
And the "Bunny Hop" is no longer seen on the dance floor. Today, the boys just jump up and down in groups and the girls show off their rehearsed hip hop dance moves.
But one thing has stayed the same, she said.
"The boys are still — a lot of times — not interested in the girls and the girls are usually interested in the boys," she said.
Seventh-grader Richard Penick is a perfect example.
"You get to jump in a big group of girls and watch them scream and stuff," Penick said.
Penick, who has "danced with a lot of people," said his older brother arranged for a friend to dance with him last year. Since then, asking girls to dance hasn’t been that tough, he said.
"So, I just went on from there and got people to dance with me," he said.
When the music starts, a lot of kids just go out in the middle of the floor, stand in a circle and talk, Fugate said. Very few actually pair off and dance.
But it’s not about whether the students dance or not, she said. It’s the social experience.
"I know it is a memory that they carry with them," she said.