Music with a strong bass beat is pumping out of speakers, played by a DJ with crooked headphones. A few hundred Lodi and Tokay high school students are packed inside a dimly lit hall. Girls are dressed in neon sports bras or tank tops and bright spandex shorts. Guys are sporting bright T-shirts and jeans. People are sweating in the heat from so many bodies and the fierce movement.
One difference between this scene and a clip from a music video by Rihanna is the parents scattered along the walls, keeping an eye on their charges.
This is a high school dance.
But don't call up Lodi or Tokay high schools for more information. It's all organized by students through Facebook.
High-schoolers, frustrated with the dated music and strict rules at schooland community-sponsored dances, have taken matters into their own hands.
School administrators don't like the dances, and parents are concerned about security. But students say they're doing nothing wrong.
Making it happen
Tonight, Lodi High student Morgan Walding is working with her aunt Kelly Broderick to host Insanity.
It's a neon-themed dance party at the National Guard Armory Building with about 3,000 people invited on the public Facebook page. The pair have sunk more than $2,600 into the venture to cover tickets, the DJ, and the location.
"It's a big risk, but I hope it'll turn out to be good," said Walding, who plans to add the event to her resume if all goes well.
It's a major undertaking, but students make it happen about two or three times a year.
"It seems another one comes up every time I come home," said former Lodi High student Thomas Carli, who hosted a dance called Tarantism with Tokay High student Sebastien Valdez for their Senior Projects in 2010.
In exchange for using the armory building, he offered to donate the proceeds to the Boosters of Boys and Girls Sports Organization (BOBS). The pair hand delivered letters to local businesses to gather sponsors and set up a hotline to sell tickets.
"I wanted to do something memorable, so a lot of people in Lodi would have a good time," he said.
On the night of that dance, a line of kids waiting to get in stretched around the building. Some of them even brought their parents.
"I think it's a big deal for parents," said Carli, adding that dozens of parents called the hotline with questions about security. "You have to be careful so things don't get out of hand. Sometimes you just can't stop everything."
Carli and Valdez spent months planning Tarantism, but sometimes it can come together in a few weeks.
Illumination 2: Limitless, a recent dance party, was planned on a whim by a Lodi High School junior. Cole Range was hanging out with some friends when he realized there was nothing planned for New Year's Eve. He asked his mom to put up the money and spent his winter break getting the word out on Facebook, then driving around Lodi to deliver tickets and collect the $10 for each.
"These are a little more fun. There's less to worry about," he said.
Range was primed for the job after helping a former student host a dance in 2010. Most students are willing to use their experience to help the next guy or girl survive the stress of planning.
Range said only one student had to be asked to leave the New Year's Eve dance, and they went without incident.
But three patrol cars were outside Legion Hall when the dance let out, and a few fights had to be broken up.
Keeping it friendly
But the tradition of formal dances still holds. Range has fond memories of meeting up with friends for dinner and photos before prom. Once they hit the dance floor, however, the excitement fades. Music the schools are willing to play isn't the kind kids have learned to dance to.
Michael Jackson is unquestionably a classic, but no one wants to dance to "Smooth Criminal" when Nicki Minaj's "Superbass" is an option.
School administrators aren't keen on today's dance trends, especially anything that's oversexualized and inappropriate for school.
"We try to make our dances friendly to the most naive, most sheltered students," said Bob Lofstead, Lodi High School principal. At the few dances the school does hold, Lofstead spends most of the evening throwing kids out, he said. Students know the staff are tough on enforcing the rules, so fewer attend school dances.
"That kind of behavior is not conducive to what we're after, so they can go elsewhere for that," he said, adding that the school is in no way connected with dances hosted by students.
Traditionally, the Lodi Youth Commission and local high schools host dances. The commission plans four events a year, including Pigskin Prom, a Valentine's dance, and Gingham in the spring. Each is open to all Lodi Unified high schools and bids run between $20 and $50, depending on whether or not the dance is formal.
Printed on each bid is an agreement listing the rules, including a school-appropriate dress code and how not to dance. Both feet must remain on the floor, no inappropriate touching and no "moshing" all make the list.
Students must sign the agreement to get in.
Dances are supervised by school officials, Lodi police and hired security.
Jennifer Winn advises the commission, and says students are generally pretty respectful. In her year of experience, there's been only one or two problems at each dance.
Students taking school dances into their own hands don't hurt attendance at her events, Winn said.
"It's great they're showing unity," she said. Her main concern is whether the dances are supervised correctly.
Similar rules are in place for the annual prom hosted by each high school. The dances are planned and executed by the student government. Parents and school officials attend as chaperones. Students must sign dance contracts. If the rules are violated, students are subject to a 45-day social suspension.
That's not a risk at Insanity, the dance happening tonight.
Walding's biggest concern is getting her security deposit back.
Rental of the Armory Building is supervised by Mike Reese with Lodi Parks and Recreation. The space can hold about 500 people and costs $100 an hour to rent, plus a deposit to reserve, he said. Security is required and must be provided by the renters. For tonight's dance, Reese has required that six security guards be working.
Walding plans to round up a few friends to stick around after the dance to help clean up, adding that gum stuck to the floor is a major worry.
Another challenge was scheduling the event around calendars from four different schools. If it lands on the same night as even one other dance or game, attendance could flop.
The event's public Facebook page describes the party as high school-only, though many graduates also received an invite. High school ID cards will be required at the door.
It's up to the handful of kids designated as ticket sellers to ensure only high school students can buy a ticket to get in.
A small group of students at Lodi High, Tokay High, Lincoln High School and St. Mary's High School hold that responsibility. As a precaution, they are instructed to only sell tickets on campus. But if there are any left over, they go for $15 at the door.
Kim Hester, a senior at Lodi High School, is one of them. She got involved with this event after attending Range's event in January.
"It was really fun. It gave us something to do for New Year's. I feel like there's not much to do for kids our age," said Hester.
Aside from security, parent volunteers will be present to supervise. Walding says the crowd is mostly sophomores and older.
There are no rules on what students wear or how they dance. Students say the atmosphere is less strict. The music will be what they listen to on the radio or online, instead of throwbacks from the '80s or '90s.
"They don't want any of that," said Broderick, adding that Walding gave the DJ a playlist straight from her iPod.
Broderick hasn't fielded many questions from parents yet, but she's anticipating their concerns. Providing a safe space for the kids is at the top of her checklist.
"I can't guarantee what they've done before they get there," she said. "I'm not naive, I know there's a lot of kids who drink."
If the event feels different from a traditional high school dance, that's intentional. These kids still want to make those prom night memories, from dress shopping to being picked up in a limo. But sometimes, they just want to dance.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.