My junior high was grades six through eight, and every now and then there would be a dance during the last period of the day. The seventh and eighth graders would go to the cafeteria and stand in a huge circle around the edge of the room, and they would listen to music, and nobody would dance. For some reason, the sixth graders were not invited.
Sixth graders would go to their home rooms and have individual room parties. My home room teacher thought there was no reason we should be missing out on the fun, so he arranged for there to be music, and we moved all the desks out of the way, and everyone stood around in a circle around the edge of the room, and we listened to music, and nobody danced.
This was 1979. We all knew what dancing looked like. American Bandstand and Soul Train were on TV every weekend. Saturday Night Fever and Grease were in the theaters. The bar was set high. And these 12-14 year olds knew darn well that they didn’t know how to do what those people on TV and in the movies were doing.
Except me. I knew.
My eldest sister was born just a little too late to be a real child of the ’60s, but she did her best. She dressed the part. Spoke the part. Listened to the Beatles (and notably, George Harrison’s horrible electronic solo stuff, because she was that cool). And she knew how to dance. ’60s style. She knew how to close her eyes and feel the music and move with it, and use her whole body. Like in the movie “Hair.” And she taught me how to do that. I have a clear recollection of me standing in the living room, and my sister on the couch coaching me. Close your eyes. Listen. Move your feet. Move your hips. Move your arms. Feel the music.
So, on that fateful day in sixth grade, I did something a little bit crazy. I left the circle, and I went to the middle of the room, and I danced.
I was an extremely ordinary 12-year-old. My only claims to fame were that I was the shortest boy in class, and I was the best saxophone player because my parents thought I should start taking lessons a year before everyone else started. But I wasn’t the “smart kid” yet. And I wasn’t the teacher’s favorite. And I wasn’t athletic. Like most everyone else, I was nothing.
But that day, I became “the kid who knows how to dance.” My classmates were awed. Boys and girls, without exception, told me I was a great dancer, and not a single one of them made fun of me. They wanted to know how I learned to do that. They wanted me to teach them. It was a good day. A very good day.
Those basic skills served me well through my junior high and high school years. I was the boy at the summer camp mixer who would dance with the girls. I was the boyfriend who did not make a fuss about going to the high school dance, and who would actually stay with my girlfriend during the whole thing.
Ah, high school dances. They were like orgies, except without the sex and nudity. My hands on her hips when there was a chaperone around, my hands on her ass when there wasn’t. Not so much dancing, as swaying and moving in little circles. Touching and grinding when the music sped up.
This may come as a surprise, but I like girls.
Girls are soft and they smell good.
And if you are willing to dance with them, you get to be really close, and you can feel their softness and smell their goodness. I cannot fathom why any man would resist learning to dance. Women don’t even care if you are any good. They just want you out there with them. Apparently men are, for the most part, stupid.
After college, my live-in girlfriend decided we should take ballroom dancing classes. She was 5’10” and 110 lbs. Graceful. Elegant. When we would walk into a dress store, the owners would give her a standing ovation, because she was the exact person all their clothes were actually designed to fit. Ballroom dancing suited us. We learned the basics: box step, swing, waltz. We learned how to hold each other, how to lead and follow.
We both enjoyed it so much, we continued practicing outside class. We got a book and taught ourselves Merengue and Tango and Samba and Polka. We eventually got married, and danced at our own wedding, and then at all the weddings of all her relatives as they got married. She was Lithuanian, so I got very good at the Polka.
Combining the innate, visceral dancing my sister had evoked back in sixth grade with the formal ballroom styles I learned has made me a very good dancer. It also helps that I’m a jazz musician, so I am practiced at working with complicated rhythms.
My current wife is also a very good dancer, but she denies it. I see her dancing in the kitchen now and then, and she has excellent rhythm and grace and beauty. Of course, I melt if she just walks across the room, so she doesn’t believe me. If we are at an event with dancing, like a wedding reception or a company party, she will grudgingly join me on the dance floor for a song or two. She follows beautifully, and moves so well, but a few songs are enough for her.
However, she knows I like to dance, and I think maybe she even likes to watch me dance. So I get to dance with all the single women, and with the unfortunate women who coupled with non-dancing men. There was a period, early in our marriage, when all her college friends were getting married, and I got to dance with all the single girls. Soft, good smelling, single girls. Sigh. My dance card was always full.
You know what else are soft and smell wonderful? Babies. And babies love to dance. So I’ve also done my fair share of dancing with babies over the years. It’s a different sort of dance, but the fundamentals of rhythm and movement are the same. There’s some indication in my children that the dancing as infants has led to a proclivity for dancing as they grow. Let’s hope so.
Earlier this year, I was at a small party with some of my wife’s relatives. One of my kids was sick, so my wife stayed home with her, and I went on my own with the other two. And there was wonderful jazz playing, and a lot of alcohol, and open space, so I swept up my sister-in-law (my wife’s sister) and danced with her. She is a very good dancer, but untrained. She was not inclined to follow, but I am a very strong lead on the dance floor. There is a magic point, where the resistance to my leading melts away, and she starts to follow, and we become one. And then I have the freedom to dance however I want, and she follows, and we look like we’ve danced together forever.