If you didn’t hear on your AESOP that Bates is a “clothing-optional campus,” then your leaders were kinder than most. Although the Residence Life staff has taken time this year to put an end to the student body’s scantily-clad dreams, the spirit behind this cherished Bates rumor perks up every spring in the days leading up to Lick-It. Sponsored by OutFront, Lick-It is a nineteen-year old tradition that asks Batesies to let loose, in direct contrast to how they will behave the following night at the All-College Gala.
This year, OutFront Coordinator Jarron Brady ’15 decided that Lick-It’s reputation needed a facelift. He stumbled across the famous Rolling Stone photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which inspired him to launch a new advertising campaign for the dance. OutFront had promoted Lick-It with scandalous posters in the past, according to Dean Keith Tannenbaum, but Brady was ready to take it to the next level. With the help of some friends, Brady recreated several famous Rolling Stone covers and plastered the photographs across campus and on Facebook. “You can be as sexy as John and Yoko or as studly as Patrick Dempsey,” said Brady. “It’s all about showing Bates students in a different light.”
So what is the purpose of Lick-It? Brady resents the colloquial designation of the event as “the naked dance”. Instead, Lick-It is about pushing boundaries. “The message that I inherited from past years is that this is a dance at which to be sexually expressive without worrying too much about it,” Brady said. “If that means wearing a lot of clothes or getting down to lingerie, do whatever you want.”
Some Bates students seemed perplexed by the advertising and the message behind the event. Was nudity encouraged? Brady explained that since our campus does mandate clothing, and since the Mays Center is a small venue, some form of clothing was necessary for entrance. The purpose of the dance was, as Brady put it, to be safe, be smart, and have fun. While Lick-It was certainly meant to push some boundaries, no one should feel unsafe or uncomfortable, and public nudity tends to have that effect.
While the dance was sponsored by OutFront, not every member of the LGBT community was entirely comfortable being associated with the event. “A few people who are out and active around campus were concerned that [the LBGT community] would be judged based solely on their behavior at the dance,” said Brady. He explained that, since Lick-It is a space for sexual expression, it would necessarily challenge heteronormative constructions of the weekend hookup. After some deliberation, however, the club decided not to pass the event on to the Bates DJ Society and continue to host it themselves. “Gay people are just as deserving of a dance floor make out as any other student,” noted Brady.
Fundamentally, Lick-It is meant to challenge the student body’s conception of itself. Brady encouraged students to push the envelope while still remaining true to themselves in terms of dress and behavior. “So many people are not comfortable with expressing themselves in a way other than how they are every single day,” said Brady. Whether this refers to a girl afraid of being called a whore for wearing something risqué or a boy worried about exposing too much upper thigh in those jorts, it comes from a culture that is inherently uncomfortable with sexual expression.
“Bates doesn’t want to be a sexually repressed campus, but it doesn’t really know how to express itself,” noted Brady. Lick-It was meant to be a venue for just that. For the most part, students seemed pleasantly surprised by their experience. It could be because only a handful of students really went wild with their clothing choices, or because Lick-It somehow managed to feel like a departure from typical Bates dances. Brady recalls a first-year student who sought him out, commending him on his ability to make Lick-It feel somehow different from other “Silo” dances, even though the student couldn’t explain why. “People do the most growing when they’re out of their comfort zone,” Brady said. “We don’t know where Lick-It will go on this campus because it’s hard to combat the stigma of ‘the naked dance’, but we want to make people to debate how comfortable they are. The point is to just be expressive.”
Whether or not you went, Lick-It’s message is important. As trite as it sounds, tolerance and self-acceptance are valuable traits, and if it takes a raucous dance party on the evening before Bates’ most classy event to remind us, then here’s hoping for another twenty years of Lick-It.