Winterfest dance has surprising twists

IMG_3430By Staff Writer: Rachel Cichon

On Saturday, Feb. 8, Howell High School’s student council class of 2015 put together the annual Winterfest dance. The dance was held in the school’s commons area from 8-11 that night, where a large collection of Highlanders gathered for music, friends and fun.

With smoke from the DJ’s equipment filling the room and disco lights illuminating the stairs, the commons were transformed, Cinderella style. Where usually a collection of kids hang around, talking, playing hacky sack or plucking at guitars, students danced happily with each other, some one-on-one, some in huge groups, but everyone enjoying themselves.

“I had a fantastic time! Everyone was having fun and the overall vibe was great! I made some new friends too,” says Hailey Merritt, a junior and relatively new HHS student.

Winterfest is often considered the black sheep of dances, as it never has as great a turnout as Homecoming, but some students felt they enjoyed Winterfest more this year. The behavior of students at Winterfest was generally nicer, with less people awkwardly standing around the edges of the crowd and more groups of friends dancing wildly, unconcerned with appearances. Most notably, Winterfest was practically devoid of the lewd dancing, or “grinding”, that is essentially all that occurs at Homecoming.

“I mean, Homecoming has always been my favorite dance out of the two, but compared to previous Winterfests, this was a good last dance,” says senior Lauren Bryne. “I’ll never forget that dance.”

The money earned from Winterfest goes to the junior class student council, and so the organization put weeks of effort and planning into the dance in order to gather the largest crowd possible. Winterfest isn’t as popular as the Homecoming dance, often labeled “lame” and “boring” by the students. To remedy this, the student council class worked tirelessly to create an entertaining dance that would be remembered fondly by the attendees.

“We were well aware that Winterfest isn’t a favorite among the student body compared to Homecoming, but we were really hoping to turn that around this year,” says Kaitlin Rolli, president of the class of 2015 student council.

After many meetings full of discussion and speculation on why Winterfest is often a let-down, student council decided that the key to Winterfest success was its environment. A common complaint about Winterfest is that it is held in the commons, not the field house, and is thus in a smaller, more contained atmosphere.

“I feel like if Winterfest was at the field house, more people would go. It’s weird dancing where you normally eat your lunch,” says Merritt.

Although Winterfest stayed in the commons again this year, student council worked tirelessly to make it an exciting place to hold the dance. They spent an entire day creating a lively and likeable 90’s themed playlist and planning the decorations, resulting in many enormous and intricate paper snowflakes that hung from the ceiling over the dance floor.

“We spent a day all together a few weeks before the dance to make all the decorations, and that’s when I really started to get excited because I saw it all coming together. I’m so happy with how the decorations turned out. It was awesome seeing everyone’s hard work come together,” says Rolli.

The snowflakes were not the only decoration that filled the commons that night. Vending machines and windows were covered in paper and sprayed with fake snow. White lights lined the pillars and illuminated the hallway leading to the bathroom, and balloons – hundreds of black, white and silver balloons – covered the dance floor, a decoration inspired by the movie Footloose.  In the center of the room, a disco ball hung over the heads of dancing students.

“Blowing  up like, 200 and more balloons sucked! But it was way worth it, I feel that the dance turned out perfectly,” says junior Kinzie Baad, a student council member.

To further improve the Winterfest experience, other luxuries were provided. No student has ever looked forward to waiting in line to enter a dance, Winterfest in particular, as it has always required students – most of whom are wearing dresses and heels – to wait outside in the cold. This year, students were allowed to wait inside the warm auditorium, and if they brought a coat, these were checked and stored in the auditorium seats. In years past, personal belongings such as coats have simply been stuffed into corners of the commons where dance attendees hoped they would not be found or stolen, so often students have elected to not even bring coats regardless of the cold weather.

Students also could have their hands stamped to receive a free water bottle while they were at the dance, and though they were only allowed one, there were two drinking fountains in the vicinity where the bottles could be refilled.

The biggest luxury of all, however, may have been the addition of a photo booth where friends, couples or even singles could pose for pictures that were later posted on Facebook so that students could tag themselves. The booth was located beside the cafeteria, where there was a black backdrop and a variety of props. Ninety-three pictures were edited by Gabriel Seck, vice president of the junior student council, and colored in black and white to reflect the theme of the dance.

“It’s really weird being the photographer and looking through all those pictures. I mean, I’m at every moment but I live it through pictures of others. Going though the pictures, this is really stupid, I started to get happy tears because I knew how happy this would make people. The memory of taking those pictures – the shots I got of people mid-laugh, of couples just looking at their significant other, just capturing that look was perfect,” says Seck.

Originally, student council planned to charge students for pictures in order to make some extra money from the event, but after considering that few students bring money into the dance, they decided against the idea. Seck was especially opposed.

“Pictures are memories; I wanted to make sure they were captured forever.”

A major challenge faced the student council students, however, and that was dispelling the bad rumors about Winterfest that had turned so many off to it. A common belief, for example, is that Winterfest is a couple’s dance, and while many couples were present, arms only for each other, singles also thrived, dancing in large groups and grabbing a friend to jokingly waltz with when the rare slow song came on. Other students fretted that Winterfest was a major formal event and that they had nothing to wear, but this was also not the case. Winterfest was a casual experience, many students electing not to wear dresses at all – some arrived in shorts or rompers.

The student council was also aware that the freshmen are a major key to earning funds at any school event, and decided to put extra effort into advertising at the Freshman Campus. A group of members went around the school, putting up posters and stopping into classes to promote Winterfest and encourage them to go.

“Going to the Freshman Campus was fun, I was pumped full of spirit and ready to get the freshmen wanting to go to Winterfest,” says Baad, one of four students who had gone. “I feel we needed to advertise a little more for them. I think they needed more explanation about Winterfest and more excitement about it.”

Student council also stressed the importance of crafting a good playlist, one that was lively, likeable and included both modern hits as well as ‘90’s throwbacks. Since this year’s Winterfest was the final dance for the graduating class of 2014, they arranged for final song of the evening to be their class song, “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons.

“I had a great time at Winterfest! The music was definitely better than last year,” says Bryne.

An unexpected change to the playlist occurred, however, when HHS junior Luke Harwood approached Mr. Eric Schrock, the DJ, and requested he play a rap that Harwood had recorded earlier that week. Harwood was even allowed to take the microphone and introduce himself as an aspiring rapper called “Ice Tripp” before playing his song.

“I’m trying to get my name out there, get people to dig my music,” says Harwood, who considers rapping more than just a hobby and never shies away from an opportunity to advertise his music. He has been rapping since he was thirteen and sometimes performs at local concerts, but this was his first chance to perform in front of the school.

“I thought it was really cool that they allowed him to play his music,” says Merritt.

Harwood also produces mix tapes, which are not like the mix tapes of the past, but are songs written and performed by Harwood over beats created by famous artists. His first mix-tape, called “Only Starting” was, according to him, “terrible”, but he’s pleased with his antecessor, “Cold Front” which gave him some fans, and feels he has made his raps top notch with his newest mix-tape, “Inception” which includes “Get it All“, the song played at Winterfest.

“I had quite a few people tell me it was one of the best songs there,” says Harwood proudly. “There were tweets afterwards. One said, ‘Luke Harwood has some serious talents’ and it got like fifteen retweets.”

Harwood’s performance was not the only unplanned event of the evening. Students were enjoying themselves, dancing wildly (and surprisingly appropriately) to the music and singing along so loudly that at first most did not hear the fire alarm go off. Gradually, they became aware of an incessant beeping in the background of the music and froze, unsure what to do.

“Is that the fire alarm?”

“Is this supposed to happen?”

“Someone just said that this is for real!”

“There is no way I’m going outside without shoes on!”

All around pandemonium ensued as students began to file outside and head for the field house at the urging of administrators. It was snowing lightly that night, resulting in freezing temperatures. Shards of ice littered the sidewalk, delivering sharp stabs to the feet of girls who were forced to run barefoot, shrieking the entire way.

Most girls were spared this fate, however, as almost every boy in the gym delivered a gentlemanly display that proved chivalry isn’t dead – they scooped girls up into their arms and ran with them or carried them on their backs. It didn’t matter if they were dating, if they were friends, or if they knew each other at all, everyone simply felt a sense of kinship and wanted to help their fellow Highlanders out.

Upon arrival in the field house, most students went into the gym, but the girls forced to run barefoot surrounded the bathroom sinks, carefully holding down their dresses as several of them at a time stuck their foot under the warm water. In the gym, students milled around, some angry about the fire alarm, some laughing, and some declaring that it made this year’s Winterfest the most memorable they had ever had. They stayed for about three minutes and then made the trek back.

“The fire alarm situation took me by surprise, but I think the school did a good job handling the situation. However, a lot of students received colds from having to leave the building shoeless and coatless,” says Merritt.

Winterfest this year was certainly a different experience from anything it has ever been before, considering the care put into decorating, the surprise performance of Luke Harwood, and the freezing, fire-alarm induced trek to the field house. It seemed to be better received than any Winterfest in years past, and many students admitted that it had been a lot more fun than they had expected.

“I was happy with the turnout and even happier when I saw everyone having such a great time and hearing all of the positive feedback,” says Rolli about the student body’s general reception.