Looking Back

Dancing through the years

All girls probably remember the first time they danced with a boy. And all boys probably remember the first time they danced with a girl. How could one forget? The adjective “awkward” is probably an accurate way to describe the event.

My first dancing experience occurred in the basement/auditorium of Christ the King School. I was in the seventh grade. The girls were on one side of the room and the boys were on the other. We sat in our chairs just waiting for a boy to cross the room and ask us to dance.

Refusing wasn’t really an option even if we didn’t care for the boy who did the asking! With nuns as our educators, being judgmental or rude was not the way to handle a situation like that.

Looking back I view school dances as learning experiences. Nobody knew how to dance so we were teaching one another as we put our sweaty palms together and moved stiffly around the floor.

For those of us who wanted help with our dance moves we had the opportunity to take lessons from Miss Irene. Her studio was on the second floor of a downtown building in Rutland. The arrangement was just like the school hall . . . boys on one side and girls on the other. Dance lessons gave us a chance to meet other young people who were not our classmates. We learned some much-needed skills and by eighth grade those of us who took lessons danced a whole lot better.

One memory that stands out from that time is a Halloween dance at Miss Irene’s. We were told to wear costumes. This meant that we had no idea who was asking us to dance. This worked in favor of a boy who would have been our last choice as a partner. All the girls welcomed an opportunity to dance with the boy who wore a jack o’ lantern over his head. He was such a smooth dancer. We were all quite surprised when we left to go home and he removed his “pumpkin head.” The least popular boy had suddenly become a lot more appealing!

In the eighth grade there was a big dance toward the end of the school year. All the girls wanted to go with an escort. My date and I decided to dress in the same colors. He wore charcoal pants and a light pink shirt. I chose a gray skirt with an appliquéd poodle and wore a pink blouse. I am sure we thought that we were the cutest couple there. Deciding what to wear to that dance was probably one of the bigger decisions a 13-year-old had to make. Wouldn’t such an insignificant worry be a nice replacement for the decisions we now face in life?

And then there were the high school dances. Those were held in the Mount St. Joseph Academy gym. One of the most popular dances in the 60s was “The Twist,” which was the name of a song by Chubby Checker. It blared from the record player as we twisted our hips, propelled our bodies toward the floor and then twisted our way to an upright position so we could do it all over again.

My high school days probably had more dance crazes than any era. In addition to The Twist” we also learned how to do such crazes as: Mashed Potatoes, The Stroll, The Pony, Hully Gully, Wahtusi, The Swim and The Monkey.

How did teenagers from little ol’ Rutland learn all these? The TV show “American Bandstand,” which was on every day after school, kept us up to date on the latest dance moves. The show was filmed in Philadelphia and many local teens were regulars. Dick Clark hosted the show and often chatted with the dancers. One of my classmates who had moved here from the Philadelphia area had visited the show and met some of the dancers. That was celebrity status in my book! She told me to pay attention to such dancers as: Franny Giordano, Carmen Jimenez and her sister Yvette. We would practice the dances in front of the TV when the show was on. I have no idea how the boys learned . . . probably from us!

In my college days, the biggest dance took place on “Junior Weekend”. Long gowns were worn to the formal event. Being dressed in such attire meant wearing high-heeled shoes. As we were leaving the dorm, my heel got stuck in the mat just outside the door and down I went . . . slowly but somewhat gracefully. I leaned on my date as a friend pulled my shoe out of the mat. I bet my date had second thoughts about leading me around the dance floor. Just call me clumsy!

I managed to dance at my wedding 40 years ago with no mishaps and to this day I will head to a dance floor at every opportunity. Must be my days with Miss Irene brought out the dancer in me.

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