Dry Humping to the Beat: A Meditation on GrindingS

"Grinding: to rotate hips in an erotic manner," explains the always helpful WikiHow in a guide that teaches teenage girls how to "be the best grinder at any party." But I know firsthand that grinding is too complicated to be illustrated in five simple steps.

My co-worker Erin was kidding around when she IMed me a Wikihow article on "How to Grind (for Girls)" earlier today — I wrote a post on ridiculous Wikihow guides a few weeks ago, so she thought I'd get a kick out of it. But the truth is that I would've given up my most beloved RENT poster for a detailed instruction manual on "something most adolescents do at parties" (gee thanks, Wikihow; I'm sure that makes all of the losers following these steps feel a lot better) when I was in middle school. Grinding — or freak dancing, as we called it — was the first risque activity that I felt pressured to participate in, before cigarettes, pot, alcohol, or even french kissing. It's not that I wasn't ready to get my freak on; it was that it takes two to grind, and no one ever wanted to grind with me.

1. On the dance floor, move towards the middle of a big group of people. Usually that's where a lot of the grinding is but it doesn't always have to be.

I received my first bar mitzvah invitation the summer before starting 7th grade at a new school. I didn't know the soon-to-be "man" in question, but his mother had invited all of the new students as a welcoming gesture. I showed up expecting to make new friends that liked Troop Beverly Hills as much as I did, but I was completely unprepared for the barrage of girls with sleek hair, spaghetti-strap skintight black dresses and a do-or-die attitude towards dry-humping their male peers on the middle of the dance floor. It wasn't as much that I wasn't game as I had literally no idea what was happening. I was supposed to press my hip bones into a strange boy's crotch? And then wiggle back and forth in tune to rap music, in front of other people's adult relatives? I had so many questions: Was it cooler to freak doggy-style or face-to-face? What type of facial expression did one adopt while freaking? (Euphoric? Smug?) How did you know when to stop? More importantly, how did you know when to start?

Most of the kids in my grade were Jewish, so I had a bar or bat mitzvah to attend almost every weekend. Our grade divided into two types of kids that year: those who freak danced, and those who did not. More and more kids joined the former group as the luckier ones among us grew breasts and hair in new places and — most importantly — gained self-confidence. Over and over, it was inevitable: the DJ would play "Back That Ass Up" or "Baby Got Back" and the popular kids would stream out onto the dance floor to grope each other.

No one ever tried to freak with me, which in hindsight wasn't particularly shocking, really, given that I was often still mistaken for a elementary-schooler and my favorite bar mitzvah outfit was a two piece getup: a floor-length taffeta skirt from Rampage and a furry electric blue leopard-print tube top from Contempo Casuals. "Make the first move," a friend encouraged. "Just go up to a guy and start freaking with him. They're shy, too!" But asking me to initiate a freak session was like asking me to drive a car or solve a geometry proof; it did not compute whatsoever. I wasn't the only girl who didn't have hips to shake or hair to toss or any of the other qualities that make growing thirteen-year-olds feel (or at least look like) sexual beings. But so many of the other girls somehow felt secure in the knowledge that they were freak-danceable. I did not, so I would wander around the bathroom or dessert table during any songs with the word "Ass" in the title, wishing I knew the secret to grinding.

2. Find one of your girlfriends and begin to dance with her. Dance with her normally as if no one was watching. This doesn't have to be sexually. A guy will soon notice you, mainly because you're dancing and having fun with your best friend. Most likely a guy won't say anything when he wants to grind, but instead will give you subtle signals.

I finally asked Elizabeth, my oldest friend, to teach me how to freak dance. Elizabeth had always been my wisest, most knowledgeable pal — I still remember asking her what sex was when we were in kindergarten during a pretend tea party ("You should probably ask your parents about that," she told me tactfully over plastic cups of fake tea) — and she had freak danced with practically every eligible guy in our grade. "Don't tell anyone we did this," she warned me before showing me how to grind during one of our sleepovers. I appreciated her support, but it turned out that grinding with my best friend didn't prepare me for grinding with an actual boy. I began to think my aspirations were futile: I would never be able to freak dance.

3. Act normally, as if you don't even realize that they're coming. Guys can sense fear, so make sure you don't give off any.

I decided that I just had to give it time; eventually, some boy would try to publicly dry-hump me. He had to, right? Weren't all teenage boys supposed to be sex-crazed maniacs? Sure, I got carded at PG-13 movies and had hair the consistency of cotton candy, but it wasn't like I was disfigured. One day, my grinding prince would come.

But no. The months passed and I remained a freak dancing virgin. I couldn't even catch a break at sleepaway camp, where "dirty dancing" was banned during dances but the kids that got in trouble for dancing too close were the kids we all aspired to be. The only punishment they ever got for grinding was a snarky comment and knowing glance from a counselor who was only a few years older than we were. I started attending drama camp, where kids are more interested in writing one-woman plays about bisexuality and practicing kick-ball-changes than grinding, and waited the bat mitzvah years out.

4. Grind dance like you mean it:
• Move your hips with the guy. Make it noticeable that you want to be with him. Put your hands on him, like in his pockets or on his chest.
• Press yourself into him. Move your hips in sync with his. Most guys aren't that great at dancing, so you might be the one who sets the pace and motion.
• Try this tip from lap dancing: Move your butt from side to side, up and down, at a pace you both desire. Be sure to vary your movements, try not to do the same thing all the time.
• If you don't want to grind as "intensely" just put your hips together facing the same direction and bend your knees a little bit. Sway your hips side to side. Place your hands on his when their around your hips, or around his neck, or over your own head.
• Know what kind of grinding you're doing. When you feel a guy grab you around the hips he can either be facing you or facing your back. If he's facing your back this is normal grinding and more popular. Front grinding is more risky and sexy! Most people don't do front grinding their first time.

I became more grindable as I got older — which is to say I lost my baby fat and became more comfortable with my sexuality — but I also started hanging out with people who would rather have died than grind in public. I, too, preferred to hang out at house parties rather than cheesy teen clubs during high school, and during college I stayed away from frat parties (pro tip: they're freak dancing hotspots). But part of me still wanted to see if boys would finally choose me to freak dance with now that I felt attractive.

I got my chance to find out when I studied abroad in Buenos Aires. My college friends liked dive bars, but my friends abroad liked multi-floor dance clubs that stayed open until 8 a.m. Guess what, you guys: people wanted to grind with me! I could do it! Sure, I was letting strangers with mullets (which, at the time, were very big in Argentina) invade my personal space, but no one was pointing at me and saying I looked like an idiot. I felt kind of silly, but I also felt kind of awesome, like I was finally taking control of my sexuality, one hip swivel at a time.

But then I took my boyfriend out dancing when he came to visit near the end of my program. We had been on and off while I was abroad and were testing out our renewed relationship. I thought he would find my new dance moves sexy, but he looked at me suspiciously when I led him onto the boliche floor and moved his thigh between my legs. "What the fuck?" he said. "Who have you been dancing with?" That's when I realized that — duh — it wasn't grinding I craved. It was feeling wanted.

5. Be ready for the song to end. Usually, the guy will walk away. Sometimes he'll say something and sometimes not. Don't be offended if he just walks away in the middle of the song. Don't let that get to you. Just quickly find that friend you were dancing with before. But usually, since he realizes that you didn't really mind, he will most likely come back and grind harder than before! :)

I won't lie and say I don't feel justified that the last step in the WikiHow guide is about being chosen; I guess I'm not the only one who read more into grinding than is probably necessary. For me, freak dancing was never about the actual moves; it was about my need for social acceptance and my fear of rejection. If someone is willing to get up on you in front of a bunch of people, it means you're officially ~~sexy~~ and, therefore, liked. Not everyone wants to be humped in public, but everyone wants to be liked, right? I'm perpetually amazed by how the insecurities you have in middle school stay with you for decades. My grinding days are over, but a part of me will always associate freak dancing with deeper desires.