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Students dance night away at homecoming

Senior+Nick+Burzumato+boogies+at+homecoming+with+his+friends.+He+did+not+come+with+a+date%2C+but+that+didn%27t+stop+him+from+socializing+on+the+dance+floor.+%22I+like+hopping+around+and+dancing+with+as+many+people+as+possible%2C%22+Burzumato+said.+%22I%27m+going+to+see+zero+of+these+people+in+six+months%2C+so+that%27s+pretty+good.%22
Senior Nick Burzumato boogies at homecoming with his friends. He did not come with a date, but that didn't stop him from socializing on the dance floor.

Senior Nick Burzumato boogies at homecoming with his friends. He did not come with a date, but that didn't stop him from socializing on the dance floor. "I like hopping around and dancing with as many people as possible," Burzumato said. "I'm going to see zero of these people in six months, so that's pretty good."

David Beck

David Beck

Senior Nick Burzumato boogies at homecoming with his friends. He did not come with a date, but that didn't stop him from socializing on the dance floor. "I like hopping around and dancing with as many people as possible," Burzumato said. "I'm going to see zero of these people in six months, so that's pretty good."

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It’s homecoming night, and Senior Daniel Heiser* doesn’t have a ticket. He sits at home in a leather swivel chair, stocking feet propped up on his computer desk, and texts his friends about the possibility of sneaking into the dance. “We’ll get you in through the loading dock,” someone writes. Heiser tells them it sounds risky, but they’re insistent that he not miss the final homecoming of his high school career.

The route to the high school takes Heiser through downtown Harrisonburg, a popular party destination for college students on a Saturday night. He’s already late, so he speeds down Main Street. Men and women in James Madison hoodies watch him fly through a yellow light.

The parking lot is quiet when he arrives, the cars of homecoming partygoers deserted, lined up in long rows that point to the double doors separating him from the dance. The colored LEDs that illuminate the dance floor twinkle through the windows, cycling from red to blue to green, accompanied by the bass throb of the stereo system, audible even in the parking lot.

Inside, the DJ puts on “Cupid Shuffle.” The students on the dance floor cheer and organize themselves into lines, moving to the right, then to the left, kicking in time to the snare beat. When the next song comes on, the lines dissolve and everyone returns to dancing freestyle, whether alone, in a group or, as in the case of Seniors Joel Clevenger and Sydney Harper, as a couple.

“I like bachata [and] salsa,” Clevenger said, his head on Harper’s shoulder, “all different types of dancing, really.”

The dancers make a motley crowd. The theme of this year’s homecoming, “Come as you are,” has brought all manner of eclectic styles, with the traditional tux-and-bowtie dance attire on one end of the spectrum and the more casual shirt-and-jeans look on the other. Others refuse to fall on the spectrum at all, as with Junior Aerious Kubin, who showed up to the dance in a seven-foot-tall inflatable tyrannosaurus rex costume.

Kubin’s dinosaur head bobs through the crowd of dancing students. He looks out of the costume through a clear plastic window, which fogs up whenever he exhales. Junior Abbie Manard, his girlfriend, leads him through the cafeteria by his small inflatable dinosaur arm, to somewhere his tail is less likely to get stepped on.

“It gets hot, very hot,” Kubin said of the costume. “It’s very thermally isolated, since that’s the only way to keep the air in. The suit is fun if you’re skinny like me, but pack on a few pounds and you’ll have trouble getting through hallways.”

In the opposite cafeteria, the auditorium side commons, volunteer Karen Fansler stands behind a table arrayed lavishly with food. At each end, students grab crackers and sushi rolls, brownies and macadamia nut cookies, but the center of the table, flanked on one side by a line of girls, stands a chocolate fountain. She dips pieces of fruit into the stream and hands them out.

“I’ve done [homecoming] for the past 15 years,” Fansler said. “We usually serve… an assortment of cookies, brownies, gluten-free brownies. We try to accommodate those who are gluten-free, like Ms. Warren.”

Outside, talking with his friend over the phone, Heiser discusses how he’s going to slip inside unnoticed. Through the window, he spots someone making the agreed-upon hand signal, which indicates that Heiser’s friend has succeeded in distracting the teacher guarding the door. Putting his phone in his pocket, he waits. A Freshman boy, whom Heiser’s friend has convinced to participate in the break-in, opens the door from the inside, and with that, Heiser has arrived.

“I spent zero dollars getting in here,” Heiser said, smiling. “I had a skilled team of experts who arranged everything. It was like ‘Ocean’s Eleven.’ I think there were about three or four iterations of the break-in plan – it kept changing every five minutes – but eventually we decided on a plan, and here I am.”

“What the heck!” a bystander who witnessed the break-in said. “There is no security in this school!”

Back on the dance floor, students unbutton buttons, loosen ties and roll up sleeves. The dancing mass has generated a great deal of heat, and people are taking notice. Some escape to the relative coolness of the sidelines with their dates, where they take to kissing, while others seek refuge in the bathrooms.

Senior Hashaam Ahmed leans on a stall divider in the boy’s room. This is his break from all the excitement. He’s a student athlete, and a stress fracture in his foot has consigned him to a large black orthopedic boot – but that hasn’t stopped him from dancing.

“I’m powering through the pain,” he said. “It’s senior year. You have to come. Though I will say there are too many people [here], it’s too hot, everyone’s sweating: it’s disgusting. There are many different smells and body odors to experience.”

As the night winds down, Sophomore Jenny Arteaga steals away to the food table, where she grabs a chunk of pineapple. Her friends have left to an afterparty, leaving her to reminisce about the night’s festivities with a few strangers. Of all the dancing and romance that has swept through the cafeterias tonight, when it comes to her favorite part of homecoming, she motions to the fruit sitting on her paper napkin.

“I really like the pineapple,” Arteaga said. “The pineapple is great because it’s sweet.”

* This interviewee requested to remain anonymous. Accordingly, a pseudonym has been used.

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Every person has a story.
Students dance night away at homecoming