It's Friday night, and a group of about 50 high schoolers, mostly from Seaside and Monterey, are showing up to the Monterey Fairgrounds for the evening's entertainment. KDON, the popular Salinas-based radio station, is hosting its weekly Shockwave event, a 20-and-under dance party that rotates through local towns and high schools.
Tonight's a fairly small crowd compared to the groups of 800 kids that sometimes show up, but a steady stream is entering the dimly lit room, which is filled with flashing colored lights, smoke effects and pulsating dance mix music.
There's an added coolness quotient to Shockwave: KDON films and broadcasts each Shockwave-giving teens the chance to talk on camera and perform in their own mini-MTV dance party.
It's a far cry from the high school dances of my youth, where we stood a good foot or two away from the boys and mostly just swayed back and forth under the watchful eye of teacher and parent chaperones.
Tonight a young girl in a tight-fitting white tank top and matching short-shorts is bent over, hands on her knees, butt in the air, as a teenage boy grinds into her from behind, over and over again, in rhythm to the throbbing beat. The pair doesn't pause. It's mesmerizing, in a voyeuristic way.
Another girl in a twin white tank top walks over to the grinding boy and wipes the sweat off his forehead with a T-shirt. The music keeps playing and the pair keeps going at it.
Other groups of teens dance more demurely, but here and there a couple simulates copulation on the dance floor. Most of the teens have neon lit glow sticks in their mouths, eerily lighting up the insides of their cheeks in bright green, yellow, and orange hues.
Chubby Lopez, KDON deejay and promotions director, readily acknowledges what's going on. "I'm not here to blame, or to defend it," he says, referring to the sexual tone to the dancing. "We show what it is and put it on the air. If you're a parent watching, then do something about it."
The "freaking" (as the dance style is known) is only allowed to go to a certain point. Kids "invading each other's space," groping, and attempting lap dances are stopped by the ever-present security staff. The staff is trained to recognize gang wear, sniff for fingers smelling like pot, and deny entrance to any intoxicated kids.
A non-profit concession stand, run by teens raising money for a Salinas-based arts program, sells sparkling belly-button inserts to flash in the darkened dance room, slushies, and the ubiquitous glow sticks.
"The music today is a lot more sexual and suggestive, but less violent than say, N.W.A.," says Lopez. "It's substituting one bad for the other. It can be weird for parents to watch, but then they understand where kids' heads are. If you have issues with it-that's great."
A skinny young girl shows up wearing conservative jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. After paying the $10 cover charge, she removes the outer layer of clothing to reveal a tiny skirt and tank top and stuffs the fuddy-duddy gear in her backpack.
"Time to get out of the clothes mom lets me wear," Lopez laughs. "It's an age-old thing."
Teenage boys in powder blue leisure suits, baseball caps sideways, Raider's jackets, and giant unlaced sneakers lope in packs up to the door. Little eye contact is made with the stern-looking guards patting them down.
Lopez hopes Shockwave provides a safer environment for kids to let off steam than roaming the streets.
"I can guarantee that if they weren't here there wouldn't be any security guards or cameras watching [them]," he says.
And for all the humping, Lopez insists Shockwave is relatively tame. He tells tales of promoters elsewhere putting on teen events that include wet T-shirt contests, booty shaking contests, and cages.
"This is a happy medium for them," he says. "They don't have teachers and parents hanging over them. We have risers, but we draw the line at cages. They get crazy in those things-you'd think they went to stripper school."
"We come to dance-everybody's here," says Shane Louis, a sparkly decal reflecting the light off her cheek.
"If we weren't here, we'd be doing something we shouldn't be doing," adds Brittany Duvall. Her eyes scan the grounds for more friends.
"What do you think of the type of dancing in there?" I want to know.
"It's how we dance-how else are we supposed to do it?" Louis says.
"Well, we didn't dance like that when I was in high school," I counter.
Duvall looks longingly at the entrance to the dance hall, then back to me. "That was the olden days," she says firmly. "These are the 2000s."
I release them, and they head off eagerly to join the tank-topped booty shakers.
The trick, it seems, is to walk the infinitely changing fine line between keeping kids' interests while maintaining healthy limits. No easy task, when trying to decide how far to let things go. That's assuming you have any control in the matter.
"The number one problem for kids is they get bored and get into trouble," Lopez says. "Kids have no inhibition. They don't realize it might come back to haunt them."
Articles reprinted courtesy of Monterey
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