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Dancing and dreaming

Food for Thought

I remember when dancing used to be something people did for exercise and recreation, not just a spectator sport as it appears to be rapidly turning into. My parents went out in the evening occasionally for dinner and, for many years, to dance afterward. By the time I was a young adult, people went out to hear bands, and dancing was mostly reserved for special occasions such as proms, wedding receptions, anniversary parties and New Year’s Eve. It used to be a New Year’s Eve tradition to watch Guy Lombardo and his orchestra on television broadcasting from New York City. For a time, I even daydreamed about actually celebrating the occasion by being there in person at least once in my life.
Maybe it was those television broadcasts, and the show “American Bandstand” that put it into America’s collective head that dancing could be enjoyed by watching rather than by participation. Or, it might have had something to do with the changes in America’s taste in music. We fell for modern jazz and musical stage plays where participation was not required. I was always an enthusiastic Louis Armstrong fan, but it would never have occurred to me to dance to his Dixieland music.
And Lawrence Welk’s champagne music kept us glued to our TV sets on many a Saturday night instead of going out dancing. How many of us, I wonder, still enjoy seeing those old programs on public television? Now that the Guy Lombardo programs have been dropped, I wonder how long it will be before Welk’s orchestra follows. I always wonder if any of those dancing audience members are still watching themselves, at a younger age, dancing to his very danceable music. And I even wonder if I know anyone who actually attended those shows and got to dance on television– or better still, got to dance with Lawrence himself.
I confess to being a non-dancer, even though, as a child, I often dreamed of someday being a ballerina. This improbable daydream was not based on any natural talent or even the slightest knowledge of what ballet was all about. I was in love with the tutus and other pretty costumes I saw on the ballerinas and skating star Sonja Heine in movies that were popular then. My plump little body and short, sturdy legs were hardly designed for such disciplined grace, and it never occurred to me that one had to have grown up dancing practically from the cradle. I assumed that one simply got a job as a ballerina and they would teach you to do all that stuff, sort of like the way they taught my big sister how to find things in the files and what to say on the telephone when she got her first job at the courthouse.
This is not to say that I never tried my hand (or feet) on the dance floor. My class put on an operetta one year– either in eighth grade or our freshman year in high school– that involved a dance scene with several girls (I was one of eight) in lovely ball gowns doing some sort of group dance not unlike a sedate square-dance. And, during the first week of my freshman year in college, I attended a party for Merit scholarship students that included square-dancing. I did pretty well at that, but when it came to regular ballroom dance, I was a total flop. I think it began with one of the gym teachers we had in high school.
As boys’ and girls’ gym classes were separated, when the teacher decided she would do us the great favor of teaching us all to dance, some of us girls had to play the part of the boys. This distinction was marked by paper painters’ caps that the “boys” were required to wear. That role was not voluntary– the teacher designated who were to be accorded this honor at the beginning of each class and, for some reason, I always ended up wearing one of the paper caps. For some reason that I’ve never discovered, caps and hats will not stay on my head. Either my head is an odd shape or my hair is too slippery, but even headscarves slide off and must be adjusted frequently. Imagine me, naturally shy and self-conscious, hating having to play the role of a boy, battling to keep that stupid paper cap in place, trying to “lead” my partner who always seemed to already know as much about dancing as the teacher did. The whole experience turned me off ballroom dancing forever.
I met my husband at a wedding reception. There was dancing. He was a good dancer and I seemed to be able to follow his lead pretty well. Maybe there was hope for me after all. The next time we went dancing was on our honeymoon in Colorado Springs. The ballroom was crowded. We danced once. In a straight line across the room to the nearest exit. My last dance.