We Were Here: An Ode to the Wannabe Dance in One Tree Hill

By Claire White | September 21, 2021

To say the first four seasons of One Tree Hill had an impact on my life is an understatement. Although I was definitely way too young to be watching, the melodramatic lives of the residents of Tree Hill, North Carolina mesmerised me. The show was introduced to me by my older sister and her friends. Coincidentally, one of my sister’s best friends had a younger sister my age, and we instantly became best friends, too. This meant that at some school musical or band rehearsals, we would form one big group of sisters and friends, and talk about the show. Who was our favourite Scott brother (the broody and literary Lucas, played by the Chad Michael Murray, or Bad Boy Tamed Nathan, played by the tall, dark and handsome James Lafferty — both of whom were also star basketballers); whether we were a Brooke (captain of the cheerleading team, fashion designer, hot), a Peyton (brooding tortured artist, reluctant cheerleader, epitome of “music is my life”) or Hayley (aka Tutor Girl, honour student, teen wife); swapping mp3 files of the songs we found on one tree hill music dot com and downloaded off limewire; and quoting our favourite memorable lines (“Alright, are you guys all ready for Fall Down Boy?” / “Fall Out Boy!”). 

When I think about party episodes in teen television — of which there are many — I always come back to One Tree Hill, and the graduation party at the end of season 4. Actually, not the party, but a particular moment of it. Spilling out the doorways and empty window frames of an abandoned two-story brick mansion, complete with large white pillars (honestly, how do party scenes find such large places?), the stone cold classic Wannabe by the Spice Girls starts playing. Immediately, at the sound of the iconic “dun, duh duhn” recognition sets in and one of the cheerleaders, Bevin, jumps into frame, pulling Brooke along with her. Peyton joins in, and everyone around them clears the way as the three start to dance: in formation, and fully choreographed. The three laugh and sing along, as if they are in their own personal music video. Soon, Hayley is pulled in, too. Rachel and Shelley join in, and suddenly all six girls are singing and dancing along to the same choreography like it’s their song, and they are the stars. The crowd around them watches and cheers. It’s a little messy, and full of laughter, but as in sync as they can be. 

“… and suddenly all six girls are singing and dancing along to the same choreography like it’s their song, and they are the stars.”

Whenever moments like this pop up, I always think about the history of it: when did they learn the dance? How long have they been doing it? And though most of them were members of the Tree Hill Ravens cheerleading squad, Shelley wasn’t, so it can’t be a cheerleader thing. All these questions aside, what matters most about this moment is the carefree joy, which is not exactly rare for them, but after the year they had (grief, heartbreak, pregnancy, psycho stalkers), they more than deserve it. There’s also something about the togetherness of it: Shelley’s inclusion is a bit of a wild card as she had disappeared for a while, but beyond that, all jealousies and anger from the past are forgotten. 

The scene is only about a minute long, but it was enough to make an impact, and it’s stuck with me. For a while I didn’t know why, but after all this time I realised it’s because I know how that moment feels. 

My sisters, our friends, and I were no stranger to this feeling of what it means to dance as one, and just have fun with it. When Taylor Swift released her album Fearless (Taylor’s Version) earlier this year, listening to ‘You Belong With Me’ again came with a vivid memory. We had created our own dance to go with the song, and in my mind it was not only the memory of doing the dance moves together, but the feeling that it came with. It’s like being in a secret club, a dance only we knew and got to be a part of. It was laughing along, and feeling like I belonged somewhere, because I knew the moves. It was something we shared together. 

Recently, when I rewatched the episode with the ‘Wannabe’ dance, I was surprised to remember it happened during the season finale. A graduation party always conjures up the same feelings: excitement and anticipation for the future, with some sadness, too, because it is one of the last times everyone will be together in the same way. It is apt then, that this episode is titled ‘All Of a Sudden I Miss Everyone.’

“We Were Here.” One Tree Hill, 4×21 (2007).

Earlier, I mentioned it was the first four seasons of One Tree Hill’s nine season run that impacted my life. This is because eventually, my sister and her friends graduated, my best friend moved schools, and the later seasons weren’t able to capture my attention as they once had. That time in our life was over. But I will always hold the show close to my heart and be grateful for the impact it has had on my life. Starting with my professional interest and love for teen drama’s, and least of all on my music taste, which, as you can imagine, made me insufferable as a teen. I’ll always want to return to these early seasons in an effort to remember what it felt to be that young and together with everyone again. There’s nothing quite like the high school years. 

The episode ends with the Tree Hill teens all standing together on the river court, a basketball court which had become important to them. And as they stand there reflecting on the closing of this chapter, their freshly painted names dry on the pavement surrounding the bold red words: “We Were Here.” The last time my sister and our friends all saw each other was four years ago. The second last time was two years before that. People move apart, you grow up, and once in a lifetime, pandemics happen. It has been a while since I’ve been able to party and dance with my friends. I sometimes worry I’ve forgotten how. And although I no longer remember the moves for all the dances we’ve made over the years, I know it’s not the choreography that made these moments special, but the people I was with, and the memories they make. Once upon a time we danced together. And all of a sudden, I miss everyone.

Claire White is a writer, bookseller and teen film tragic from Naarm (Melbourne), Australia. She is a Co-Founder of Grow Up, a founding member of online film journal Rough Cut, and Greta Gerwig Scholar. You can follow her on Twitter @theclairencew.

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