They emerge from the darkness like a scene out of Night of the Living Dead, boys in tee shirts and girls in skintight halter tops. You can see the girls from the far end of the parking lot, with their sparkly earrings and glitter-smeared skin already glistening in the hot August night. It may only be a Wednesday, but you won't catch these kids at home watching West Wing reruns. This is their Saturday night -- at least for a couple of hours -- and no self-respecting teenager is going to start her evening by letting you see her step out of mom's minivan in her platform flip-flops.
It's hard to imagine that any parent with a clear conscience would let her kid out the car door with an exposed thong and push-up bra, but that's just the look of the day -- or at least the look of the evening.
It might resemble MTV, but this place is right here in Scottsdale. It's teen night at The Buzz, a sleek club that hosts a weekly underage dance party all summer long. Over the past four years, the high-end nightspot has become a destination during summers and school breaks for hordes of bored Valley kids who can afford a $10 cover and bottled water at beer prices. Many of them attend Scottsdale high schools like Chaparral and Desert Mountain, or private Phoenix schools like Xavier and Brophy, but some come from as far away as Fountain Hills or Queen Creek. Aside from the club staff, nobody over 20 or under 15 is allowed inside on Wednesdays. But this summer, management gave a New Times reporter and photographer a rare chance to hang out inside the teen mecca.
Photography by Jackie Mercandetti
Kids come for a taste of grown-up (albeit smoke- and booze-free) nightlife, and for a few sweaty hours of parent-free freak dancing -- the new millennium's answer to dirty dancing. Ever since cave men banged rocks together to make music, people have been rubbing up against each other and calling it dancing. Patrick Swayze had a hit movie in the '80s with the '50s-era Dirty Dancing, and who could forget Lambada: The Forbidden Dance, in the early '90s? Don't be surprised if "Freak Dance" is next summer's blockbuster. The bump and grind style has swept American high schools -- and some have even banned it. (Despite rumors to the contrary, local school district officials say it hasn't been a problem.)
Teen nightclubbers at The Buzz say they come less to hook up than to dance -- and with the exception of a handful of obviously drunk or high kids, music is the most intoxicating thing in the place. Watching a guy smack a girl's ass in the name of self-expression, you do have to wonder where the dancing stops and the sexing begins. But if a Wednesday night in Scottsdale is any indication, music is all these kids need to get off.
Freak dancing would make real grown-ups blush.
Every time someone opens the glass front door at The Buzz, there's a blast of cold air conditioning and loud Justin Timberlake. A persistent beat shakes the sidewalk as kids line up at the velvet rope. The dress code isn't strict -- just about any kid with 10 bucks can get in. And you're more likely to get carded if you look too old rather than too young.
Inside, the club's been open for half an hour. Half a dozen guys and girls amble onto the dance floor to stand around and talk, occasionally glancing across the room in anticipation of actually seeing somebody dance. But in spite of catchy hip-hop songs vibrating out of huge speakers, no one's worked up the nerve yet. Look past the upscale club decor and the girls' provocative dress, and this place has all the tension of a junior high dance.
This early in the night, the glossy gray floor is just a blank canvas. The kids approach it with awe, swerving away to perch on stools, or people-watch from protective clusters of tables and chairs. Lasers flash and high-tech beams in acid-bright colors scan the empty dance floor for bodies, like searchlights.
One girl in a skimpy white tank top and tight, low-cut jeans chats with two guys. She moves impatiently to the rhythm, eager to dance.
Suddenly, she busts a move.
Arms in the air, hips gyrating, she twists her knees from side to side as she shimmies down into a squat. For just a few seconds, she's low to the ground, wiggling like a stripper at an imaginary pole. Heads turn. The boys stare in amazement. Then, just as quickly, the girl is still, slightly sheepish because no one else gave in to the beat.
But that lone dancer breaks the tension.
A few girls begin to move together in the corner (it's not odd at all to see girls dance with one another), and then a couple more join in. Kids are now streaming in from outside, and there's no room for them to avoid the dance floor. As you'd expect from the Scottsdale-and-Shea neighborhood, this place is pretty white. Most common? White girls dancing with white boys, seconded by white girls and black boys. But there's a little of everything -- black girls and Latino kids. Boys join in when they hear Nelly's popular song "Hot in Herre."
It's gettin' hot in here
So take off all your clothes
I am gettin' so hot, I wanna take my clothes off.
Couples hold each other, boys embracing girls from behind, and rock back and forth to the beat.
Within minutes, the crowd swells to hundreds of dancers when the opening beats to Sean Paul's Jamaican dance-hall hit "Get Busy" grab everyone's attention:
Shake that thing Miss Kana Kana
Shake that thing Miss Annabella.
The song has an electrifying effect on the kids. They all know the words.
Woman get busy, just shake that booty
Nonstop when the beat drops
Just keep swinging it.
This song is made for freak dancing.
Small groups of uninhibited young ladies straddle one another's thighs and bounce along to the music as shy guys gawk from the sidelines. Bolder boys approach potential female partners by grabbing them at the waist, usually from behind, and grinding into the girls' closest body parts. Sometimes the gals bend over and shake their hips, or they swivel down to a crouching position. If a guy's lucky, he could wind up with two or more partners at once.
That's strictly up to the girls. Girls rule teen night.
These girls have a surprising level of confidence, or at least bravado -- something far beyond what teenagers had even a decade ago. They usually show up in packs, but they're not afraid to come alone, because they expect to run into friends. If that doesn't happen, it's no big deal -- girls just strut into the crowd and start dancing. They definitely outnumber guys in this sweaty mass, but they have no problem finding dance partners.
One night, a pair of petite, glammed-up girls dominate the far end of the dance floor, wearing identical caps, tube tops and hot pants in opposite black-and-white color combinations. When their song starts booming through the sound system, they stride onto the floor together and start shaking it. Almost immediately, two guys swoop in to freak dance with them, and the girls put on an energetic show with their new partners. As soon as the song ends, the girls saunter away, barely acknowledging the boys' existence. One gives her guy a farewell high-five.
Used to be, a kid couldn't wait to creep past mom and dad, get a fake ID and slip into a real nightclub. That rite of passage isn't extinct, but many kids who frequent The Buzz say they usually prefer to hang out with other teens.
Shouting over the booming hip-hop music or chattering in the rest room, these teens say sneaking out of the house isn't necessary. Their parents are happy to drop them off at a place where there's plenty of supervision, even with the occasional parking-lot fight after the club closes. Along with security guards stationed throughout the building, The Buzz has three off-duty Maricopa County sheriff's deputies manning the front door and parking lot. The Scottsdale police say they didn't get any calls to The Buzz on a Wednesday night this summer.
Also, girls in particular cite the appeal of being with their peers. At the mall, on Mill Avenue or at all-ages events, teenage girls get hit on by men, not boys. While they might dress to look older, it's still to attract other teens.
Diana Forte, 17, says she's been to Level, another local club that lets teens mix with adults, but prohibits the kids from buying alcohol. She didn't like it. "We've been to Level, but it's all-ages, that's the thing," she says. "You go in there and there's like really old guys. It's gross."
"That's why The Buzz is fun -- because it's people your own age," adds Lauren Anderson, 16.
And of course, music is the biggest lure of The Buzz. They might be wearing micro-minis instead of poodle skirts these days, but what still gets kids out on the dance floor is a hit song.
At one point, about a dozen kids are lounging around at the back of the club, slouching in chairs at cafe-style tables, sipping sodas, and checking their cell phones. They almost look bored. And then 50 Cent's hit "In Da Club" comes on. In a matter of seconds, they've all jumped up from their seats to head back to the action.
You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub
Look mami I got the X if you into taking drugs
I'm into having sex, I ain't into making love
So come give me a hug if you into getting rubbed.
When it comes to dressing up, girls easily outdo the boys. They also try hard to outdo each other. As a result, every other 16-year-old girl looks like she just stepped off the set of a video shoot.
Tight tank tops or cropped, shrunken tee shirts, low-riding hip huggers or mini-skirts occasionally exposing thong straps, and chunky platform sandals make up the look of the night. Cleavage is unabashedly abundant. And although many girls pull back their hair in simple ponytails, they make up their faces with elaborate cosmetics that make some of them look years older. With pop culture role models like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, the girls have had plenty of instruction on looking seductive.
No matter what their age, girls are girls -- they like to hang out in the rest room. At The Buzz, the ladies' room is so lively it's a club unto itself. There are plenty of stalls, so the line is mercifully short. But in the adjoining lounge, where there are lots of mirrors, girls take their time to fix their hair, apply lipstick and cool off after dancing. This is the only place in the club where they can chat without shouting, so they gossip about friends, evaluate boys and discuss the events of the night. And they're more than happy to talk about themselves.
"We dress the way we want to," says Crystal Henning, 17, who's wearing a low-cut white top, black hip huggers and sparkly lip gloss. "We never dress because of what people will think about us, because if we did, you know, she definitely wouldn't look like that," Henning says, gesturing toward her friend Stephanie Marema, who looks much older than 16 with streaked blond hair, shiny red lips, a tan, bare midriff and high heels. "Tonight we walked in and all these girls were just like --"
"Dirty looks," says Marema, finishing her friend's sentence. "Catty, you know?"
And, it's pretty obvious -- despite their comments -- just the desired effect. So what will happen when their own kids want to go out dancing?
"Well, if I have kids, I'm not gonna have daughters," says Henning.
The two girls crack up.
"I'm not gonna let 'em dress like I am now," Marema adds. "No way! They're not going out of the house!"
Unlike the girls, who put so much effort into making themselves sexy that they wind up looking like Lil' Kim or Pamela Anderson, the guys here -- clad in baggy button-down shirts or tee shirts over baggy pants or shorts, and often sporting baseball caps -- still look like the teenage boys they are, maybe cleaner than usual. Sure, a few tower over the others, but they're the ones pushing 21.
A couple unfortunate ones still look 12.
Frankly, a decent-looking boy doesn't have to do much to have a good time at teen night. The boys don't have to muster up the nerve to ask girls to dance, or even really know any moves. All they need to do is start swinging their hips in the general direction of the closest girl, who takes over from there.
"I just go up to girls and start dancing -- that's how I always do it," says Brad Guthrie, 17, an athletic boy with short, dark brown hair and a light blue polo shirt. "Most of them are into it."
When the song's over, dancers switch partners. "It's more just like the moment kind of thing," he says.
Guthrie admits, though, that he doesn't come to The Buzz all the way from Fountain Hills for nothing. "I get some phone numbers, usually."
Megan Wallace, 16, who wears a short, punky kilt, black boots and a mischievous smile, describes the female perspective. "Mostly, the guys come up to us, but if you're hyper and cool, you can just walk right up to them."
Although girls generally don't take the initiative to approach guys, it's still clear that they're in control of the situation. Proof is everywhere you look in The Buzz.
Plenty of boys get blown off. Girls will either dance along if they're interested, or just move away if they're not. Guys just keep trying again and again until they find a receptive partner.
One boy's partner leaves him, midsong, to grab onto a different guy in the crowd. The first boy looks stunned for a moment, but then simply shrugs his shoulders and turns toward another attractive girl nearby, who lets him grab her by the butt and sway her to the rhythm.
Surprisingly, The Buzz isn't much of a make-out den. Aside from the occasional couple kissing on the edge of the dance floor or snuggling in the upstairs lounge, the sexual energy is concentrated in the crowd. And freak dancing is undeniably sexy. Most of the rhythmic moves imitate acts that are somewhere between foreplay and rather acrobatic bedroom antics. What makes it dancing is that clothes stay on.
But because pop culture is so saturated with sexual images, the teenagers see nothing outrageous in it. They approach it with a joyful naiveté, heading onto the dance floor to do what all of their friends are doing. To thousands of teens across the country, freak dancing is simply the latest dance craze.
In fact, lots of these kids will insist that it's just clean fun. One 17-year-old who gives only his first name, Jeff, a skinny, dark-haired boy in a green shirt, says he doesn't mind if his girlfriend Karly (who's 15 going on 19) dances with other guys, because he dances with random girls. "That's just what happens. You dance one song and move on," he says matter-of-factly.
Brittanie Kissinger, 15, says going to The Buzz isn't really even about meeting guys. Getting dressed up and simply having a destination is a bigger thrill. "I just come for fun. We all dance together -- it's just dancing," she says.
With about 30 teens lined up around the corner, the wait outside The Buzz is longer than ever at 10 p.m. The place is already packed, but more kids keep showing up. Many of them come for only two hours. At a regular nightclub, people come and go throughout the evening. But the kids stay here right up until the party ends at 12. Besides -- where else do they have to go?
Inside, the dance floor is sea of moving bodies that's nearly impossible to cross, except for a conga line of pretty girls that somehow snakes its way through the frenzy. The girls turn heads the whole way. Music keeps pumping until the stroke of midnight.
As soon as closing time comes, the teens are ushered right out of the building. Hundreds of them linger out front, giddy from the action, and bouncers tell them to keep moving. They move about 15 feet, and end up blocking traffic in front of the club.
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A fistfight between two boys breaks out in the middle of the parking lot, and suddenly dozens of kids scramble to watch. But within seconds, security guards rush in to break things up. It's like the bubble of energy that's built up over the course of the night -- jealousy, aggression, anxiety, sexual tension -- has finally burst. After that, the guards wander around the lot to shine flashlights on kids, telling them to go home.
The teens exchange phone numbers, chat, and laugh uncontrollably. They're finished dancing, but for a while they just keep on mingling. Sweaty and exhausted, they chug bottled water and wipe their faces. Some who've already hopped in their cars drive up to say hi to friends. Others stand around in full view of a line of waiting vehicles, gabbing like there's no hurry to leave.
Then someone's mom honks. Nearby, girls standing in a huddle look around, embarrassed. Finally they prance over, high heels clicking on the pavement, pile into a plain white minivan, and head home.
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