Column
March 12, 2019

Learning to dance

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Having a sixth grade dance in a strict Catholic school seemed unlikely to happen back in the ’50s. But our principal, Sister Saint Michael, scheduled a Friday night dance for us. She came to the United States from Ireland along with her four Moroney siblings who all entered the Sisters of St Joseph. Perhaps her love for the Irish jig was a reason for wanting us to experience the fun of moving our feet.

As you might guess going to a dance at that age is about as awkward as it gets!

The dance was held in the Christ the King School auditorium which was located in the basement. There were chairs on each side of the room. Girls were on one side and boys were on the other. We sat there nervously waiting for a boy to make his way across the room and say, “Do you want to dance?” Of course we did, or we would have stayed home!

Some girls never got asked, which was embarrassing to say the least. Other girls had numerous guys asking them to dance. They even had guys “cut in” by tapping the shoulder of the male and taking their own turn around the floor.

Toes were stepped on and the rhythm was far from smooth but we had begun our social lives. In the sixth grade it was all about slow dancing. The rock n’ roll dances of the ’60s had yet to happen.

If slow dancing wasn’t for you, you could take square dance lessons after school. I don’t remember how we got paired up but you had the same partner for the entire lesson. We learned to “dosey-do” and “swing your partner.” Some of us got dizzy from an overly zealous swing. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this type of dancing was not for me.

Some of us wanted to learn ballroom dancing. We went to night classes in a studio downtown with Miss Irene and Miss Violet. The layout was the same…girls on one side…boys on the other. I think it was more fun to be out on a school night than it was to learn ballroom dancing. The best part was going to Seward’s after with our friends for ice cream sundaes. Of course, the parent who picked us up had to bring everyone home. It’s hard to believe that a restaurant from my youth can still be enjoyed by young people today. What a great thing!

By the ’60s the appeal of attending dance classes had ended. Television sets became our teachers. After school we hurried home to watch “American Bandstand.” There were guys and gals who were regulars on this Philadelphia based show. We knew them by name and had our favorites. We watched as they danced to: the Pony, the Twist, the Watusi, Mashed Potato and the Monkey. Most of us only had a small black and white TV in our living room. It was much more fun to watch the show with a friend than alone. This was handy when you needed a partner! Our living room rugs probably got a little worn as we kept pace with the music.

Apparently most of the United States watched “American Bandstand” as the regular dancers got over 100 fan letters a day. Since we live in the era where anything can be Googled, I searched for stories of the regulars. For those of you who watched the show you can take a trip down Memory Lane on a YouTube video. It is a “then and now” segment with dancers Arlene, Kenny, Frank and Carole. Even if this show was way before your time I think you will enjoy seeing the dance moves that were popular back then. As one of the dancers said, “We were a reality show. Fans wanted to know about our lives and they chased after us.”

Dancing doesn’t seem to be in the spotlight today like it was in yesteryear. Times change and that is what makes looking back so much fun!

One comment on “Learning to dance”

  1. Mark says:

    Well written! I also remember the old days, as they did dancing … Oh, yes, it was fun! Now my daughter goes to learn ballroom dancing at the NS Dancing studio in the Orange County. She really likes. I do envy her, but I’m already old for dancing

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