All about dancing!

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Although “Dancing with the Rutland Stars” is over for this season, I think that when we watched it the “dancer” in all of us came to life! I was talking to friends about how we were introduced to dancing. The experiences varied. Some of us learned how to dance in elementary school and others didn’t give it a try until high school. Once a person learns how to dance there is an opportunity to do that for the rest of our lives. What may have begun as an awkward attempt in elementary school gets better over time as we dance at social events such as weddings or while listening to music in lounges or night clubs.

If you went to Christ the King School in Rutland back in the 1950s you probably went to your first dance in 6th or 7th grade. It took place in the school auditorium, which was in the basement. The boys were seated on one side and the girls on the other. The music came from a record player…no band or DJs. There was anticipation as you watched a boy come across the room. Who was he going to ask to be his dance partner? Sometimes the boy who wanted to dance with you wasn’t the one you hoped would ask. But courtesy prevailed and you accepted. I have a feeling that the nuns told us that was the “proper” thing to do. Occasionally, while you were dancing there was a tap on the boy’s shoulder as someone “cut in” to dance with you. The boy who had been replaced went back to his seat with a dejected look. The girl, on the other hand, looked quite pleased to have gotten that kind of attention.

Another kind of dancing was also offered at Christ the King School. Square dancing lessons, given by a personable couple, took place in the auditorium after school. We did an “allemande left,” “do-so-do,” “promenade” and danced to other calls as they were made. We also did “swing your partner” often to the point of getting dizzy!

Dancing with a partner went beyond the confines of our school building. Many of us took dancing lessons from “Miss Irene,” who was actually Mrs. Irene Deforge. The lessons were held in the early evening on the second floor of 104 Merchants Row. Another dance instructor by the name of “Miss Violet” was also involved in our lessons. I believe that she really was a “Miss” and her last name was Amidon. It was fun to meet kids our own age from other schools. We learned many different dances from waltzes to polkas and the fox trot. For some of us the best part of the evening was going to Seward’s Dairy for ice cream after our lessons.

By the time we got to high school in the ’60s, dancing was totally different. Popular dance moves such as the twist, mashed potato, hully gully and watusi found their way to little ol’ Rutland. How did we learn them all? Since there were no digital devices or YouTube we watched a TV program called “American Bandstand.” It was on after school and teens in the Philadelphia area danced as we watched and practiced in our living rooms. I vividly recall one of my high school dance partners saying, “Let’s go down” as we did the twist. That move involved bending your knees into a squat position while still twisting your waist. Quite the move!

There were junior proms and senior balls in high school. They were the first occasion for a girl to wear a gown and receive a corsage from her date. The boys were given a boutonnière to wear in the lapel of their jacket. Those events were simple back then compared to today’s formal dances. Ours were held in the school gym that the students decorated according to the theme selected by the students. There was no dinner at a restaurant prior to the dance as is the trend today. In fact many students didn’t have a license or a car back in the ’60s. Either your parents dropped you off or couples were crammed into the car of a fellow student. There were no seatbelts back then so luck had to be on your side!

College dances at Trinity College in Burlington were usually held at the beginning of the school year. It was an all-girls’ school and the guys from St. Michael’s College were invited to a dance on our campus. They also held one later in the year and invited the Trinity girls. We had one formal dance that was part of weekend event that included a concert and a restaurant dinner.

As adults, dancing on a Saturday night was a fun thing to do. My husband, Peter, and I would meet friends at one of our favorite spots such as The Fairmont Restaurant, 19th Green or Holiday Inn. They all had dance floors and the music drew us out of our seats. I was always more ready to dance than Peter, but he always obliged. You know what they say, “Happy wife…happy life!”

So put on your dancing shoes and maybe you can take part in “Dancing with the Rutland Stars” some day. You may not be on national TV but the “locals” will enjoy your moves!

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