A preteen rite of passage Mixers: Girls and boys still take their first steps into adolescence in noisy, packed gyms, but the events are now popular with younger students.

October 24, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Jon Freeman, Bryn Mawr English teacher turned disc jockey, surveys the timeless ritual unfolding around him -- another Friday night mixer. "It's like a nature documentary," he says. "There are herds, and they choose up sides or territories."

Even in this post-feminist, dad-cooks-dinner era, boys and girls who go to school apart still take some of their first steps into adolescence in noisy, packed gyms where they come to mix but end up huddling girls with girls and boys with boys.

The desired but dreaded intermingling is a staple of Baltimore's private school social scene, especially for single-sex schools.

The music pounds, the girls shriek and toss their hair, the boys poke each other and take refuge in baseball caps pulled low.

Almost all of them travel in packs, accumulating in fours and fives. Always, they're moving, not dancing much but walking, streaming, coursing up one side of the room and down the other.

"They keep moving, but they don't get anywhere," says Tom Hinkle, a sixth-grade teacher at Loyola Blakefield and one of the chaperons at a recent middle-school mixer there.

They're looking, too, though no one wants anyone else to know who's looking at whom or why. And naturally, how they look to each other is of utmost importance.

Everywhere, it's a khaki extravaganza. The boys go baggy with T-shirts that end at mid-thigh over shorts that brush the bottom of the knee or pants that layer over big sneakers. The girls favor short, swingy skirts and thick-heeled black shoes or loose-fitting pants with short-cropped tops.

And everyone is talking. No, yelling -- because the music's volume prohibits normal conversation. And everyone is posturing and pulling -- one tugging another to move elsewhere in the mix. "All that happens is that everybody stares at each other," says Beth Higbee, a Notre Dame Preparatory School sixth-grader. "Nothing happens."

Social season

Mixers have been around for generations, primarily for single-sex private-school students but also for those who attend co-ed schools. They remain a staple of the social scene, with dozens scheduled every school year and schools coordinating dates to avoid conflicts.

"We want the kids to be kids, to just be in the company of other kids," says Karen Preis, a Loyola middle school teacher and veteran chaperon.

These days, those doing the mixing are getting younger. Mixers, once for high schoolers, are now popular at middle schools. Loyola's middle school sponsors four a year.

At some schools, mixers have become "drop-ins," meaning students can play basketball and charades, along with dancing and eating.

"There should be a little more dancing. It's all basketball," says Wes Wharton, a Gilman School sixth-grader at a recent Bryn Mawr drop-in. Though there was music, the main activity was basketball -- and lobbed volleyballs, not over nets, but randomly among adolescents and adults.

More girls than guys

A recent middle-school mixer at Loyola provided a classic mix -- music and innocent mayhem.

As the first of the school year and the first ever for many middle-schoolers, the Loyola affair drew more than 500 students -- with girls in the clear majority. The boys were Loyola students, but the girls came from schools all over Northeast Baltimore.

"I've never been anywhere where there were so many more girls than guys," says Dominique Robinson, a Loyola teacher and chaperon.

"Yeah, it's nice," says sixth-grader Jimmy Maskell, standing with a group of buddies in a courtyard just outside the ever-warmer mixer hall.

Seventh-grader Patrick Fink, asked whether he meets people at mixers, replies, "You mean like girls?"

Yeah, like girls.

"Yeah," says Fink, who has the phone numbers of two recent acquaintances scribbled on corners of paper and jammed into his pants pockets.

Dancing can be an afterthought, something that happens only after courage builds through much of the evening. Those who do dance frequently do so without partners. When a couple does pair off for a slow dance, the two are likely to stand at the edge of the crowd, his hands on her waist, hers on his shoulders, shy and uninterested looks in their eyes, lead in their feet.

"At mixers, they stand on opposite sides of the room until the last 10 minutes," says Mary Shoemaker, a Bryn Mawr middle-school adviser.

"I'm not dancing because nobody asked me and I had surgery on my knee," says Notre Dame Prep student Alexis Reid, tiny roll-on stars sparkling on her cheeks, sitting out part of the Loyola mixer. "It's all right."

Some hold hands

As the mixer nights wear on, Celine Dion singing "My Heart Will Go On" is frequently the slow song of choice. Around the edges of the room, some of the middle schoolers take seats. Here and there, a couple sit and holds hands.

But along the walls, more than just a guy or two have a "wish-I-was-home-watching-'Homicide' " look in his eyes and a shrug when asked if he's having a good time.

"I don't dance that much," says one of them, Loyola seventh-grader Kevin Morris.

That's not important to Beau Crawley, a Gilman School sixth-grader, at the Bryn Mawr mixer. Taking in the music and the six kinds of chips on a nearby table, he's upbeat: "All I know is it's fun."

Pub Date: 10/24/98

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