The past week has been particularly stressful for senior Vyanka Sotelo, with a test, college applications and homework to worry about. But as she enters the Senior Commons and hears “Cotton Eyed Joe” playing on the speakers, the stress slowly vanishes.
Sotelo smiles, leaves her books on a table and joins her class for a dance party.
Former Student Council Vice President Gabria Pearson ‘16 created the senior dance parties last fall after a speaker was left in the former Senior Hallway.
“We thought that as long as the speaker was there, we might as well plug it in and use it,” Pearson said, “We started using the speaker to play music and dance. It turned into a great bonding experience and became an every Friday occurrence.”
Last year, the seniors could be found dancing on Friday mornings in what is now the freshman hallway outside of English teacher Sarah Traphagen’s classroom.
This year, the senior class hosts dance parties in their own Senior Commons on Friday mornings and during lunch periods. Parties are also held for special occasions such as birthdays or college acceptances.
“We kick o birthday parties by playing ‘Birthday’ by Selena Gomez, and the birth- day girl gets to pick the rest of the songs,” senior and Student Council Vice President Molly Mahowald said.
Since the opening of the Senior Com- mons, the class of 2017 has been brainstorming ways to use their new space. Mahowald decided that the dance parties were a tradition worth continuing and a great way to utilize the room. She leads the parties, beginning each one jokingly with a warm-up song and stretching, and she then compiles playlists by taking song suggestions from seniors.
“Everyone’s dancing like a maniac and no one really cares. We’re all just having fun together without worrying about anything else,” said Mahowald, “No one is trying to tear anyone down. We’re all able to just hang out and dance. I’ll dance with people in my grade who I’m not really good friends with.”
And the parties are healthy as well. “Dance is a great stress-reliever,” Sotelo said, “It lifts your mood. Dancing releases endorphins and makes you happier.”
But to Sotelo, the parties mean more than exercise. “Back home, me and my friends make little music videos, so dance reminds me of home,” Sotelo said, “It’s like, I just woke up at 6 a.m. to finish my essay and just when I think my day is going to be terrible, it gets better.”
Students are not the only ones enjoy- ing the parties. Traphagen likes the sound of students having fun outside of her class- room. When she walks into school on Friday mornings, she hears the music playing and the seniors dancing.
“It cheers me up. It makes me happy,” she said, “I like to stop and dance with the seniors and let loose.”
The parties have helped to create new traditions. For example, most of the senior class has collectively learned a dance to “Cotton Eye Joe.” Mahowald and senior Emma Paine learned the dance at a summer camp prior to the beginning of senior year and brought it back to Hockaday with them. One day, the pair played the song in the Commons and it caught on with the rest of their class. Now the seniors perform the dance to “Cotton Eye Joe” at every major school event, including One Hockaday and the mixer.
A large difference between the parties of classes of 2016 and 2017 is response from the Upper School. The class of 2016 received complaints from faculty about the volume of their music and the songs that were played.
According to teachers and students alike, the creation of the Commons has removed many of these issues.
“The parties do not affect my classes in any way,” said Traphagen. “Last year they were right outside in the hallway and sometimes the parties got too distracting. I have no problems with the parties now that they’re in the Commons.
The seniors are mature enough to know if they’re being rambunctious. If they are, they’ll turn down the music or turn it off.”
Junior Paloma Renteria remembers that the parties made it di cult for students to get to class and could be a distraction, especially if the seniors were celebrating during a class period.
“The cool thing about this year is that the Senior Commons provide a space to have these celebrations in a way that is less distracting but just as fun.” she said.
Traphagen understands that being a Hockaday student comes with many stress- es. The large workload, extracurricular activities and college application process are things she sees students deal with every year. However, Traphagen believes that students should be able to work hard while still having time to relax and have fun.
“At the end of the day, the students are still in high school,” she said, “They deserve to have moments where they can be a kid and let loose.”
Ashlynn Long – Staff Writer