Behind the Scenes of a Pause Dance

At 9:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the beginning of the homecoming Pause dance, the Pause Mane Stage was mostly vacant save for paper decorations bearing the names of various St. Olaf landmarks. James Wheeler ’18, one of the night’s DJs, bounced behind his turntable underneath a huge pair of hanging dice. Swirling, bright lights spun from the stage to the floor as Pause security assembled chain-link guards that blocked entrance to the stage from the floor.

“Oles come excited for Friday and Saturday nights, and no matter what they are always excited to dance,” Wheeler said. “It takes the pressure off planning your night.”

Wheeler’s DJ group, Dangerous Volcano, was formed with his roommate Cosi Pori ’18 out of a mutual desire to share their love of dance with the St. Olaf campus. The position of Pause DJ is unpaid, and Wheeler commented on the lack of transparency in the DJ selection process. He noted that a fair number of students wanted to win the spot, “but it is not very well advertised how to get it.” He expressed a desire for more students to begin DJing.

Clad in a pair of overall-shorts, Wheeler affirmed the performative aspect of his role.

“I can move my hips in ways you can’t even imagine,” he said. “It’s fun to get up wearing something that is loose and dancing in front of a lot of people.”

Around 10:00 p.m. a line began to form around the dance entrance, but otherwise students went about their business watching TV, playing pool or conversing over pizza. Deep End APO, a theater organization, sat at a table by the dance entrance, organizing pizza deliveries.

Two members of the Student Activities Committee (SAC) sat at the table in front of the dance, turning away enthusiastic dance-goers who had arrived too early.

Morgan Turk ’18, one of the SAC members, expressed her excitement to work the dance.

“I always take this shift. People are really excited to see you, and so friendly,” Turk said.

She enjoys working the early shift so that she can leave at 11 and go back into the dance. She and her partner for the night recalled some problems in the past, such as individuals being turned away for being belligerently drunk, but clarified that Pause security is responsible for handling such issues.

Being inclusive and making attendants comfortable were clear goals of the dance. Non-St. Olaf students could enter by showing a photo ID. Turk and her partner also noted a change in the pat-down lines. Where previously there were separate lines for men and women, now there is one line where attendants can choose to be patted down by either a male or female security worker.

Directly outside the dance stood a table occupied by Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), on hand in case someone in the dance needed medical attention. One of the EMTs, Madeline Wagner Sherer ’18, described the funding process.

“SGA contracts out our club,” she said. “They pay our club money per event that we staff as EMTs and we use that money to buy medical supplies, new radios, jackets – stuff like that.”

Inside the dance, SAC member Jeremy Storvick ’18 sat behind a table with huge bowls of pretzels, goldfish and other snacks.

“We just make it a little more hospitable for people who aren’t super into the dancing, or want to take a break,” he said, noting that the food was also useful for attendants who consumed alcohol before the event.

Around 10:45 p.m. the dance started to fill up and Pause security stood at every exit to make sure that dancers didn’t leave through the wrong door. Sam Caspar ’18, security manager, described the role of Pause Security.

“[We watch] for people who aren’t being safe in terms of too much drinking. If they need an EMT we look out for that, we look on the floors if there is a potential liability they could hurt themselves,” Caspar said.

In addition to student-run Pause security, the Student Government Association (SGA) contracts security from private firms for big ticket events such as dances or concerts. According to Director of Student Activities Kris Vatter, SGA began hiring outside security for Pause dances during the 2011-2012 academic year, a practice which constitutes 0.3 percent of SGA’s annual allocation.

The outside firm is used to help enforce rules that may be difficult for student security workers, Vatter noted, referencing a situation within the last three years where a member of outside security had to “restrain a student in handcuffs for a significant amount of time to get the situation resolved.” At the homecoming dance, guards from Asia Security scanned the Pause for signs of danger.

Around 11:30 p.m. the dance was at peak popularity and the entry line extended well beyond the Pause doors, up the main Buntrock stairs and past the Cage. Those waiting in line excitedly chatted and Vatter stopped one student as he carried two others down the stairs on his back.

She offered a warning while heading back to the Pause floor.

“When we go back in there will be a distinctive smell. Are you ready for it?”

Back on the dance floor the air was damp and the floor was covered in the dust of crushed pretzel pieces and scattered chunks of salt. The cups were running low and workers scrambled to find new ones. Vatter opened a side door and placed a fan in front of it, letting in a cool breeze from outside that stopped multiple transfixed dancers, fatigued from the tightly-knit floor.

The dance was more brightly lit than in years past, for the sake of security.

“The light deters people from doing what they wouldn’t do in public,” Assistant Director of Student Activities Catherine Paro said.

Still, many of the dancers danced very intimately and one couple shared a prolonged kiss as they swayed to a slow ballad.

Outside, the Pause was mostly occupied by those who had recently left the dance and Deep End APO had relocated their pizza delivery operation to the Lair. They cited the harsh reverberations of the bass against the wall as their reason for moving.

One student in the group expressed that she felt less safe delivering pizzas on the night of the Pause dance, noting that there were more raucous individuals out on campus grounds than usual.

Starting around 12:40 a.m., the dance began to wind down. The previously packed floor began to show gaps, and many of those dancing started to scan the room until locking eyes with a familiar face. Some of those dancing with a partner left quietly together, while others split up to go their separate ways.

At 12:56 a.m., Pori grabbed the microphone and exclaimed “everybody go home,” leaving those remaining to exit through the now propped-open Mane stage doors. There was a clear sense of relief running through Pause security as the last stragglers left. Many of them stared down at their phones as they trekked out into the Pause while others carried out containers of food not consumed during the night.

“Come on, let’s get this place cleaned up,” Vatter said while workers stowed away unused cups and swept crushed animal crackers off the sweat-slick floor.