Dante’s Disco Inferno

Counting the proms I went to in high school, I’ve probably been to something like 20 proms at this point in my teaching career.

Expert prom level? Yes.

At this time of year, prom coincides with reading The Great Gatsby.  I tell THE PROM STORY with Gatsby and advice to the children in mind.

Do they want my advice? Absolutely not. But it’s there anyway.

  • It’s still just a high school dance. Stop getting involved in drama and have fun.
  • Don’t go to a strange and “fancy” restaurant. It will take too long, cost too much, and maybe the night when you’re all wound up and in formal wear is not the night to experiment with foreign foods.
  • Let’s be real. You’re going to take off the 6 inch, sparkly, hooker heels five minutes in to wearing them. They’re a trap.
  • Don’t do anything that you couldn’t take a picture of for Grandma. (That one actually came from a student)
  • Occasionally you might want to check behind you to see who is actually touching you on the dance floor.

If you haven’t been to a high school dance in a  while, they are a festival of humpage. A couple may never actually make eye contact once they hit the dance floor. Perhaps it’s a symptom of social media and an inability to communicate to a human face to face versus texting or tweeting at them. Or perhaps it’s just hormonal teenagers getting their rocks off.

When my students asked  how we danced when I was I high school, I stated that when I got off of my Brontosaurus and clubbed my prom date over the head, I damned well knew who he was.

We danced, facing the people we were dancing with whether that was the circle of friends- usually girls- or the actual date. Maybe it got a little close and grindy sometimes, but it was more akin to Dirty Dancing than Anal Explorers Part 2: The Deuce. (I totally made that up, but feel free to borrow the name, porn industry.)

This year, prom also coincided with a short unit discussing the levels of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. The social structure of the prom dance floor ties in to Dante’s increasingly awful circles of sins and punishments as he travels deeper into Hell.

The First Circle The first circle is the least offensive and is created by the arc of tables outside the dance floor. Logically, these tables are meant as a spot to rest for  a minute, sit and talk with friends, have  a little snack, and generally relax. However the table population is less benign than this.

The tables are typically populated by people with:

a.) someone that they don’t really know or like and probably shouldn’t have agreed to come to the prom with in the first place.

b.) someone that they may or may not be dating, but are for sure totally pissed at. Example: I watched a couple spend the first hour sitting at a table, not touching, body language screaming,” I hate you!”

They then spent the rest of the night in the hallway by the bathrooms doing the “You’re schmoopy. No, you’re schmoopy. I FUCKING HATE YOU!” thing. Money well spent, idiots.

c.) someone who absolutely refuses to dance except maybe once, but then THAT’S IT!

Overall the eternal punishment is that they all spent a ton of money and got dressed up to be at this event, but are completely wasting their time while there.

First Circle: We came here for the drama


The Second Circle Dancing fools make up the next circle that wraps around the very border of the dance floor. These are the groups of girlfriends who came to prom together without dates,and/or possibly with dates here and there in the group, but nothing serious. They immediately form the ring of dancing friends shrieking, singing, and constantly tugging up their strapless gowns.

Also in this circle of the inferno are the long term couples who don’t feel a pressing need (Get it? PRESSING need?!) to dry hump. They prefer to make eye contact, smile at each other, and bust out some actual dance moves and spins.

I guess the punishment here is that the rest of the student population thinks that these kids are being total dorks, but the teachers think that these students are the ones having the most fun.

Second Circle: Actual dancing


The Third Circle One step further into the dance floor begins the thick layer of drones. These can be a mix of long term couples and couples who are just a prom “thang.” The couples pack themselves in side by side making the dance floor impassable to adults. They tend to angle towards whatever staging area houses the DJ or band and commence to humping.

Pinned together like Siamese twins: male groin to female buttocks, male chest to female back and shoulders, they spend hour after hour gazing off in to space, swaying back and forth slightly.

Mindlessly rubbing. Mindlessly rubbing.

In photographs most of the females look dazed and vaguely frightened and the males have the same facial expression that  dogs make when they’re pooping, but make eye contact with their human.

I’m not sure what the drones are punished by other than looking boring and ridiculous. The punishment is probably more for whoever has to scrape the inside of the tuxedo pants at the rental place. Crusty.

Third Circle: No thought process needed.


The Fourth Circle: The Pit However the circle of drones serves  a purpose in the inferno. Their impenetrable wall of swaying, rubbing bodies blocks the path and direct eyeline into what would be Dante’s deepest “Special Hell” : The “We’re full on gettin’ pregnant in here” circle.

This circle is more raucous and energetic than the drones,as they interact with friends and the other couples in the area. The groin to buttocks connection remains the same, but in this case the female bends from the waist at a 90 degree angle or, depending on space and flexibility, plants her hands on the floor. The male firmly grips her hips and basically goes to town on that. The gleam in his eye is not the mindless stare of the drone, but something more enthusiastically “rapey.”

There’s nothing more charming than watching children simulate sex acts in expensive formal wear.

This level of the inferno is the hottest and swampiest. An incident one year illustrates the amount of sweat and rate of humpage plus potential for drama. A young man wearing white tuxedo pants came busting out into the much cooler lobby for a break. The crotch-ular area of his pants was a vibrant orange, a popular color for the females that year. However his date’s dress was purple. A loud conversation was had.

All the attention to details, the hair, the jewelry etc… degrades as the night progresses and the final circle succumbs to animal instinct instead of the logic that says, “Hey, there’s like 400 people watching me do this.” In the last moments of one prom, I glimpsed a pair of black Spanx through the still swaying drones. One girl had basically flipped the diaphanous mint cream skirt of her gown over her head as she bent forward. In fact, her date, ever the gentleman, was helping to make sure she got it just right so he could really get in there.

A beautiful prom moment that I can never unsee.

Fourth Circle: This is where babies come from.


I just have to go with Dante’s punishment for Pimps and Seducers who are “whipped by demons while marching.” It seems hard to otherwise punish or shame someone who has, in the moment, lost all capacity for shame.

And so we beat on, groins to the buttocks, borne back ceaselessly into the past when the adults in the room knew how to dance in public.




6 thoughts on “Dante’s Disco Inferno

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