Charlotte Heinrich, features writer

Waiting to find a date. Trying on countless outfits in search of the perfect one. Contemplating which corsage to order. All sounds familiar, right? These moments encompass the American teenage rite of passage: the homecoming dance. Since 1939, KHS has teamed with our age-old rival Webster Groves High School (WGHS) for the annual Friendship Dance. The schools switch as the host of the dance each year based on whoever does not host the Turkey Day football game. This year’s dance is at WGHS Nov. 4. Although the tradition is a unique quirk of the community, it no longer fits what students want today. The time has come to stomp out tradition and create a true Kirkwood homecoming.

Supporters of the Friendship Dance argue that changing the annual event would throw out more than 75 years of tradition. Today, the rivalry off the football field consists of friendly jeering and light banter. However, before the tradition began, it wasn’t this friendly. An article published in The Kirkwood Patch detailed that a 1923 Kirkwood-Webster game ended with a brawl on the field. With the exception of occasional social media smacktalk, our generation of rivals are decent to one another. Although the Friendship Dance was put into place for a number of solid reasons at the time, it now stands solely out of habit.

From the moment each teenager-packed, speaker-blaring car pulls up to the event, many issues arise, the first being parking. Although both WGHS and KHS sell 1,000 tickets to students, parking is consistently a problem. This is because each campus is built for the parking of one student body. It is hard to find parking on typical school days, so nearly doubling the load of students in search of parking leaves many homecoming-goers stranded. Sure, many students are dropped off by a parent or carpool with friends, but not enough to make up for the considerable difference.

Once students finally find parking, wait in line and enter the roaring gymnasium, more issues surface. A mix of students from WGHS, KHS and guests from other schools fill the dance floor. With KHS students making up less than half of the crowd, it becomes extremely difficult to find fellow Pioneers. Only one out of every eight dancers I see in the crowd will graduate with me in May of 2020. Out of that fraction, even fewer will be friends or acquaintances. When a dance makes it a challenge to find friends, classmates and even familiar faces from the halls, it loses momentum. It’s like a football game with students dispersed through the stands, not rallied together in the student section. Overall, dances are not as meaningful without a feeling of community, without our famous Pioneer pride.

When the KHS Snowcoming dance was canceled last year, our school was left with only two dances: The Friendship Dance and Prom. Unless invited by an upperclassmen, Prom is attended by solely juniors and seniors. This is significant because half of our student population cannot experience a dance with an all-Pioneer crowd each year. With a student body as lively as ours, I can only imagine how animated the dance floor would be if we had our own dance. A KHS homecoming would evoke memories of dancing besides classmates they’ve known since kindergarten. The Friendship Dance creates memories of weaving in and out of strangers who are all waiting to leave.

“Changing the Friendship Dance is not as easy as changing a hat rule,” Dr. Michael Havener, principal, said. “Is it a possibility? Yes. It is something that is not going to happen overnight. It is a process if that is a direction the school and community wanted to go towards.”

Through the latest TKC poll, it is apparent that having separate dances is the direction Kirkwood students are leaning. Nearly 65 percent of students (135/208) indicated that they would prefer a homecoming dance without WGHS students. To uphold the Friendship Dance out of tradition’s sake undermines the preferences of the modern student body. After all, isn’t the purpose of any school dance for students to enjoy themselves? It’s time to waltz Friendship out and swing in a new tradition of our own.