I don't remember the first time I did the Macarena. I don't even remember the last the time I did the Macarena but I'm sure it wasn't that long ago. Maybe it was a wedding I attended in October. I know I heard a Macarena Christmas song a couple of days ago that people were singing along to and possibly dancing to. I was too focused on decorating cookies to pay much attention.
I was a middle schooler when the Macarena took the world (or at least the white-suburban world) by storm. It was a dance that people liked so much that we would do it at sporting events, in the privacy of our own bedrooms, anywhere that people felt the need to take part in large-scale social events.
I have a distinct memory of a 5th grade middle school dance, held in the gymnasium with all of the lights on. They were those big hanging dome-lights that look small from the gym floor but you know could easily crush a kid if they ever fell down. Whenever a student hit one with a kickball everyone would scatter and giggle, but not giggle too much because this is gym class and your pre-pubescent masculinity is being tested now and it fucking matters. They're the lights that take forever to turn on, you flip the switch and worry that maybe this time nothing will happen, but you notice a tiny inferno in each light bulb, like an old man slowly rising from his already fitful sleep.
The dance was held on the last day of school, from noon until the buses mercifully appeared to take us away. Attendance was mandatory. There were no alternatives, no movie to watch, no soccer game to play, just forced socializing, hopefully with the opposite gender. Despite spending the entire year eyeing each other we were not going to mingle. Hell no.
We did the the Chicken Dance, maybe some sort of slide or shuffle, definitely the YMCA, all from our respective sides of the gym. There were a few brave souls who would traverse the no-mans land in the middle of the dance floor (no black-soled shoes please) to talk to the girls or even dance. There was the occasional slow dance, when everyone would turn to look at the wall and talk to their friends. Everyone knew that there would be one final slow dance at the end of the day. This was the important one, this was the one to finally dance with that boy or girl you'd been thinking about the entire year.
My girl had a French name which I didn't know was a French name. She was also a year older than me and all of her friends were older than me, and taller than me, and more girl than I was boy. We had been in a group presentation earlier in the year during which I'm pretty sure I was a useless mess, even more shy than I normally was. I decided at that point, several months earlier, that I would tell this French-named girl that I was in love with her. Now, this year-end middle-school dance was my last chance. The next year she would be in a different class and be surrounded by other 7th grade and 8th grade boys, with little use for a scrawny 6th grade boy with glasses and a hair-cut that resembled a vivisected mushroom.
The entire social was just a preamble to the end. The final song represented a chance to dance with your special someone and then separate and hide your embarrassment, or to at least ask and live with the rejection on your own rather than face it daily in school. If she said yes, I could get close, for the first time in my life, for three-point-five minutes, sway arrhythmical, and then avoid the resulting awkward emotional limbo by heading home for the summer. No matter the result, there would be an unfortunate fallout, one that necessitated a summer's-worth of recuperation and emotional re-building. Nothing would be the same.
The minutes counted down to that fateful moment and I steeled myself to go ask her for the final dance. How would I navigate her friends? How would my friends act afterward? I hadn't told them that I liked the French-named girl. I didn't really care about them at this point. I was fixated on this one thing, this one thing that I felt an irreversible compulsion to do.
I worked my way across the barren wasteland, with the penultimate song blaring in my ears, threatening to mix up the galaxy of narratives running through my skull. I was through the circle of friends and asking for moment to the side. All of the rehearsal came in handy, when muscle memory took over and the words escaped without any actual brain activity. She agreed to partake in this exercise, to enter the contract of inarticulate adolescent social experimentation. As the final strains of an age-appropriate pop song ended we found a space on the floor, finally alone save the panoply of our middle school peers. We placed our arms around each other, me around her waist, her around my neck. My hands were clasped behind her back, so as to minimize the amount of intentional touching while maximizing the amount of inadvertent, excusable contact. It was nearly time to start swaying.
The fucking Macarena.