Awkward or Awesome – The Tween Dance Scene in NOLA
It’s a pretty big deal when students make the transition into middle school and start to experience some new milestones, such as changing classes, joining sports teams and… attending their first coed dances! While some kids may chalk up this gathering as an evening of awkward socializing made worse by parent chaperones, many organizations in New Orleans are putting on fun dances for local tweens and teens.
First organized in the 1950s, the Eight O’Clocks is a group that includes eighth grade girls from area ISAS, or independent, schools. Membership is by invitation only, and the girls who participate invite eighth grade boys at the participating schools.
The parents help to coordinate the two formal dances held each year – one in the winter at the New Orleans Lawn and Tennis Club and the other in the spring at the Nims Fine Arts Center at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. Meredith Picou is this year’s chair and, while she participated in Eight O’Clocks as a young girl, it’s now her daughter Caroline’s turn as an eighth grader at Trinity Episcopal School.
The teens look forward to hearing music from DJ Dave, and tables are decorated with themed cookies and containers of candy, which is one of the biggest hits of the night. The main purpose of the dances is simply for the girls and boys to socialize, Picou says. “Whether they dance or not, I have no idea,” she says.
A brand-new organization, called Nola7, is planning a winter dance in January at Metairie Country Club for girls and boys in seventh grade at several area private and Catholic schools. To become a member, parents must complete a membership form for their children and pay a $90 fee, according to the form, mailed to potential members in early October. Parents will chaperone the dance, which will include a DJ, light food and soft drinks.
In preparation for the dances to come, some parents enroll their sixth-grade girls and boys in ballroom dancing classes at Valencia. The organization takes its name from the original Valencia, an Uptown social club for New Orleans teens that operated from 1948 until 1988 and at its peak had 1,200 members.
Similarly geared toward younger middle schoolers, Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans holds semi-annual dances known as “La Boum.” Translated from French, La Boum simply means “a party,” and all fourth through seventh graders from the French immersion public charter school are invited.
Ashley Aucoin, Lycée’s athletic director, started the dances as a fundraiser for the athletics department. Last year’s La Boum raised more than $1,700 for the school. Both American and French music are played at La Boum, which is held at the school, but Aucoin is adamant that there be no slow dances, dress code or dates. “It’s a big night for the kids,” she says. “Parents can only stay for the first 15 minutes, then they are escorted out by security, unless they are chaperones. The kids love this.”
Several other dances in the New Orleans area are not school-specific and are open to all young people, depending on their age. The New Orleans Recreation Department hosts monthly Teen Nights for kids ages 12 to 17. The evening includes music by a local DJ, open mic performances and a snack bar.
The New Orleans Jewish Community Center organizes monthly Sock Hops at its Uptown location throughout the school year and welcomes all area fifth through seventh graders. Carolyn Shillinglaw, Children and Camp Director at the JCC, coordinates these dances and says that close to 300 kids – most of them non-members – attend each event. “It’s pretty cool to see the different schools come together at (the Sock Hop),” she says.
The highlight of the evening is the dance competition, and many of the returning Sock Hoppers come prepared with a practiced routine. The Sock Hops don’t have a dress code, and Shillinglaw says the kids tend not to dress up at all. Many kids attend the Sock Hop as part of a bigger celebration, arriving in large groups for friend’s birthday or sleepover, she says.
“It’s an opportunity for them to put their phones away and meet people that they otherwise would not have met, in a safe environment,” Shillinglaw says. She notes that the Sock Hops also are an added bonus for the parents, who get three hours to themselves.
Sarah Herndon is a mother of three and frequent contributor to Nola Family Magazine.
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