Every Friday morning, when Director of Student Activities Sam Bicknell sends out “The Weekend!” email, a few students eagerly await news of Interscholastic Dances. These dances have a long history within the world of New England boarding schools.
Jared Armes ’15 remembers his freshman year at DA, when “[students] talked about ‘Pearl Street,’” a nightclub in Northampton, which supposedly hosted “wild nights of dancing [for various] New England Prep Schools.”
Pearl Street is one of several clubs in Northampton owned by Deerfield alumnus Eric Suher and used to have high school nights for just students in the surrounding area. Although the administration stopped trips to Pearl Street five years ago—the year before Armes entered Deerfield—Armes believes Interscholastic Dances act as a replacement, and he values them as a “great way to meet kids from other schools.”
Melanie Diaz ’17 said that the dances “mainly consist of minorities,” and “they play a lot of rap, reggae, and reggaeton.”
Armes has also noticed the concentration of minorities and added, “It is interesting to see that those attending are almost entirely black, Latino or Asian.”
Zakiya Newman ’17 thinks the Interscholastic Dances are important events, because “they allow the racial minority students to gather in a setting where they are the majority” and can “feel more comfortable surrounded by people [whom] they look like,” while experiencing “music and dance styles that they are used to.”
Across most prep school campuses, there is a stigma that these events are for the non-white members of the community, but Diaz countered, “I feel that at Interscholastic Dances people feel very comfortable and welcome. Once you’re in there, no one knows where you’re from—they are judgment-free zones.”
The Deerfield students who consistently attend Interscholastic dances have had great experiences, but our community is often not invited to other schools’ events. We have sent out buses to attend Interscholastic Dances on a few weekends this year, and even hosted one last year, but they actually happen more often than most DA students realize..
“Believe it or not,” Armes explained,” among other schools, [we are] not viewed in a very positive light.”
Newman shared a similar opinion: “We do have a reputation for being stuck-up and having too much pride.”
Diaz added, “Deerfield has a reputation of being the ‘typical preppy school.’”
Choate, which often sends large numbers of students to these dances and has hosted many of them before, strongly opposes Deerfield’s attendance at these events. Armes once asked a Choate friend to describe a Deerfield student in a few words, and he responded with: “Rich. White. Preppy. Elitist. No diversity except Asians.”
A student from a different school told Armes, “You guys are so formal. I didn’t think you all went to these type of things.” Another one said, “You have black kids at Deerfield?”
Deerfield attempted to host an Interscholastic Dance last spring. Although we invited “over 10 other New England boarding schools, only one—Dublin Academy—showed up,” Armes said.
The disappointing turnout made it clear that other schools are not interested in coming, but Diaz, along with many other consistent dance-goers, hopes for more success in the future, saying, “Deerfield should try to host more.”
Newman, a Student Planning Committee representative, said, “It’s… hard to get everything planned in time for Deerfield students to go, even if we’ve been invited.” Often problems include no chaperone or bus, a lack of interest, remote host locations and conflicting Deerfield events.
Although DA is often not invited to Interscholastic dances due to stereotyping, these dances have proved to be enjoyable for students who’ve been able to attend. Armes believes these dances serve simply as a great opportunity to have fun and meet new people: “I’ve made a lot of close friends by going [to a] night out in a new place.”