The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

August 27, 2011

As Time Goes by: Dance class taught more than to move the other left foot

Daily Star

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When I was a kid, I was not very coordinated. If I wanted to turn left, my brain would send the message, but along the way to my feet the message was interrupted. Consequently you never could rely on my sense of direction.

Being 6 foot, 4 inches, tall friends found me useful as either a watch tower in a snowball fight or a bean pole, the choice being seasonally dictated.

However, in seventh-grade my nerve receptors started communicating, and I was able to walk without stumbling. (I still couldn't chew gum.)

Mrs. Whitcomb, who was the music teacher, also instructed a "Learn How to Dance" class so there I was with the rest of my seventh-grade chums learning the Fox Trot, without doing permanent damage to our partners.

Mrs. Whitcomb was a teacher in every sense of the word, and the knowledge she imparted has been useful throughout my life.

Choosing a partner was simple _ boys in a line at one end of the gym, girls on the other and at the command "choose your partner," the lines converged, and the person who was facing you became your partner. Simple? Yes. Disastrous? Definitely!

After one or two times of this process, you came to realize that some girls were very graceful and as light as a feather in your arms. They could make dancing with a wood fence post look good. Conversely, there were also girls who had trouble moving the barn boots they were wearing in time to the music and would have brought Fred Astaire to his knees begging for mercy.

There is a great deal of psychology that goes into choosing a partner using this system. First, you wanted to find a girl who would enhance what little grace you had. Secondly, you wanted to get a girl that smelled good. If she used "toilet water" you wanted it to be the cologne derivative and not the real thing. Finally you wanted to be facing a girl who odds-on would say "yes," to your request, "Would you care to dance with me?"

This led to a system where you kept watching out of the corner of your eye as the girls lined up to make sure to place yourself "in the running" so at the end when you faced your partner for the next 40 minutes it was "Ginger Rogers" and not Fred Flintstone's sister, "Crusher Sue," (the one who shaved every day.) Needless to say there was a great deal of pushing and shoving as the lines converged.

The music would start and one, two, three, four, step, slide, step-step we moved out into traffic. This was a critical time, for it required an ability of "small talk," coupled with four legs desperately trying to stay apart plus an awareness of the traffic flow. After a few minutes we were ready to shout, "Look, Ma, I'm dancing like a fox trots."

There was one other benefit of learning how to dance, and that was the introductory to a Biology 101 course. For a lot of farm boys, girls were just "chums." However, dancing almost cheek-to-cheek and almost leg-to-leg awakened all those hormones carousing through your blood stream. The first time this happened to me it was like 220 volts of power had just shot through my body. If your partner felt the same jolt, she would give you a knowing smile.

This potential hazard was filed away with the small talk, manners, four beats to a measure, and "Pardon me for stepping on your foot." (You really didn't need to worry the steel toe-caps in her barn boots prevented any damage.)

Not wishing to be the source of dance jokes for the next six years, I tried to keep my mind gainfully employed thinking of anything else but the possibility of seeking professional help if my embarrassment lasted longer than four hours.

As we danced I kept reciting the multiplication tables over and over in my head. Five times seven saved my neck many a time.

You may wonder about the necessity of having seventh-graders learn how to dance. If you looked at "the dance" as a microcosm of society, it was the "melting pot" for soon-to-be men and women.

"The dance" was the largest social networking system for a teenager. It was like Facebook without graphic pictures. It was a time for boys to start the process of respect for women and understanding the value of social graces.

There were two big events regarding dance _ the Junior Prom and the Senior Prom. Not only did you have to save money for your ticket, but for her ticket as well as a corsage. (Wrist if the gown was too low and normal if she had a "Victorian" collar.

The only problem was if you were too young to drive, you had to include your father or worse yet, her father.

So here I sit with two bum knees, and as Jay Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby" would lament, "Just a faded photograph to tell my troubles to."

Mrs. Whitcomb, I salute you _ you did a great job. "What's that? There are three beats to a measure in a waltz? I'm sorry; I hope that toe nail doesn't turn black."

Does anybody recall how to do "The Grapevine Waltz"?

Henry Geerken is a three-time NYSUT award-winner writing humorous articles addressing retiree and senior citizen concerns. Geerken also writes for Sail-World, World Cruising Newsletter, regarding his many humorous sailing episodes through the years. He can be reached by e-mail at 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at