Thursday, October 11, 2012

Just Dance

The other night, after a particularly frustrating day, I sat down on the living room couch after dinner, clearly bothered. My 9-year old, who had prepared the living room for some scheduled Wii dancing time after dinner, noticed my expression and and said, “Come on, Mommy, let’s just dance it out.”

I didn't agree to participate immediately, offering up several excuses. I was tired. I had been sick for the past two weeks and my lungs weren't ready for the cardio. I had dishes to tackle. But most of all, I offered up excuses because I’m a terrible dancer.

To clarify, I’m not a terrible dancer if a partner is there to help me. I can waltz like nobody’s business. I’m also fairly good at the two-step, but that comes naturally to most native Texans. And even though I have a tendency to try and lead, a good, solid partner can set me straight pretty easily.

On the other hand, if a fast song comes on and I’m supposed to dance by myself without assistance, it’s a pretty tragic scene. Part of the problem is that I dance from the waist up, while my bottom half steps gingerly from side to side in a weak attempt to join the party. While that odd situation is happening, I become extremely self-conscious and fret over what my dance face should look like. Should I try a serious, somewhat sexy expression? Can I even get by with that? Or, should I flash a big, toothy grin like Julia Roberts when she’s laughing obnoxiously? After all, shouldn't dancing be fun? I try to radiate confidence, hoping when people observe my paralyzed hips and gentle side to side stepping that they will find my dancing acceptable, or, at the very least, resist the temptation to point and laugh.

Lucky for me, my husband offers the male equivalent to my dancing style, so we’re a good pair, especially at weddings, where we get a few drinks in us and dance waist up while the rest of the young kids grind around on each other like feral cats.

My issues with dancing started early, but became most prominent at 7th grade Social Dancing. For those of you who grew up outside of Tyler, Texas, let me tell you about Social Dancing.

Social Dancing was an extracurricular series of evening classes for 7th and 8th grade students designed to teach the basic concepts of boy-girl dancing, but its secondary and less obvious mission was to teach the kids some basic etiquette. It was a brilliant business plan. On Friday nights, delighted parents dropped off carloads of giggly girls in dresses and uncomfortable boys wearing jackets and ties to the dance studio at Green Acres Plaza. Looking back, I'm sure these delighted parents all met for stiff drinks at Bennigan's across the street to celebrate two hours of teen-free  fellowship. While the parents relaxed, the kids were left in the care of Carolyn Hardiman, a small, feisty Southern woman who deserves sainthood for devoting decades of her life to working with scores of kids in that horrendously awkward age group.

Back when I took Social Dancing, we learned partner dance classics like the box step, the waltz, and something very basic I only remember as the “forward, back, side together.” We also had many opportunities to do freestyle dancing to the fast songs, causing some of my earliest anxiety attacks. Imagine, if you will, a roomful of sweat-soaked 12 and 13-year-old kids dancing the box step to such classics as Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love for You,” and transitioning into freestyle dancing to Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.” There was some serious preteen jamming out going down in that dance studio thanks to Ms. Hardiman’s rather unique taste in music. Given that Tyler was almost 100% segregated by race (and still is), it’s pretty ironic that on Friday nights, Ms. Hardiman's dance studio was nothing short of a Soul Train dance party featuring skinny white kids, many of them Southern Baptist. It was a little shocking, really.

The partnering of boys and girls was heavily orchestrated because Ms. Hardiman sincerely wanted to make things fair. She we would divide us up, girls on one side of the room, boys on the other, and instruct the boys to go over and ask a girl to dance. But because there were always more girls than boys, some of the taller, more awkward girls -- yours truly and a few other poor ostriches—had to dance with the other tall and awkward girls left over after the boys picked everyone else. I must admit that I found some solace in the arms of those girls, not because they were great dancers, but because unlike the short boys I danced with on rare occasion, the girls didn't spend an entire Pointer Sisters ballad staring at my chest.

Ms. Hardiman had all sorts of rules she took very seriously. The rule I remember most was her cardinal rule: Never, under any circumstances, do you say no when someone asks you to dance. Always say yes.

I didn't really understand her rule at the time, given that I was thrilled beyond words just to be asked to dance by a member of the opposite sex. Saying no wasn't really an option for me. In 7th grade, I was as tall as I am now, only I weighed about 62 pounds. Add to it the situation that happens when I dance, and let’s just say Social Dancing was a bit of a nightmare.

I would wait, sweating buckets, while the short boys passed me by. Eventually one of the two boys who was taller than me would come over and ask me to dance. The boys were taught to extend an arm, and we would grab onto their blazers as they hurled us onto the dance floor. One of those boys was a handsome boy who was blessed with grace and some mad dancing skills. He had a twin sister, so I assumed he could dance well because they practiced at home. This kind, shy boy helped me feel somewhat graceful as I clomped around, stepping on his feet to the seductive strains of Whitney Houston. But as soon as I let my guard down and began to enjoy the mere act of dancing, the song would change, and the other boy who was taller than me would arrive, and I would spend the next excruciating 80's ballad trying not to bump into the frightening condition that was taking place in that poor boy's pants.

The seemingly endless Friday nights of Social Dancing culminated into a Spring Formal held at our local convention center, Harvey Hall. I have a few distinct and gut-wrenching memories from that event. The first is that my mother gave me $20 to pay for dinner after the dance. My BFF Christi Cole’s very cool parents had offered to take a carload of the girls to dinner afterwards at Chili’s. Chili's was a big deal in 1980's Tyler. We loved the low lights, the giant glass mugs of Cokes, and the cheerful waiters who split our checks 25 ways to accommodate a gaggle of preteen social dancers. 

The night of the Spring Formal, I wore a pale blue taffeta dress with the tell-tale puffy 80’s sleeves. The dress was tea length and had some tasteful lace embellishment on the torso. I felt awesome in it, and wore it with a completely unnecessary bra. Because I couldn't be bothered with a purse, I shoved the $20 in my bra and went off to the dance, ready to bust out my best box step.

Thanks to my BFF Christi Cole's dedicated parents, I own photographic evidence of this event. It's blurry, but you get the idea. I believe that's Michael Horsley getting a nice shot of my non-existent cleavage. Either that, or he's concentrating fully on not getting stepped on by my gigantic white shoes.

The highlight of the night was the awards portion, when Ms. Hardiman announced the winners for Best Dancer. There were several winners in the category, and I clapped and cheered as my graceful friends stepped up for their awards.

So you can imagine my surprise when Ms. Hardiman announced my name. In a blur, I walked up to accept the award, and stood frozen as friends clapped and clapped. Part of the honor was a feature dance with the small group of Best Dancers. Ms. Hardiman turned on a Motown hit, and our small group danced, showing off our sidestepping skills while the others looked on in awe. I should have enjoyed it. But the entire time, I was completely and fully mortified, not believing for a second that my award was real.

I hope you can see the sheer misery in my face as James Greer gets down in his khakis and country club blazer, while I dance waist up while fighting back tears. Also notice the girl in the pink dress, my gorgeous friend Anna Taylor, who, in 7th grade, already looked like a young Marilyn Monroe.

There’s a reason preteen girls are drama queens. Combine all of the hormones with a tight taffeta dress, and drama is bound to take place. As the applause died down, I made a hysterical beeline to the bathroom of Harvey Hall, where I burst into sensitive, self-absorbed tears.

“This is all a big joke! They’re making fun of me!” I wailed, as mildly concerned girlfriends tried to console me while looking at themselves in the mirrors, puffing up their 80's bangs and reapplying blue eyeliner. “It’s because I can’t dance!”

As preteen dramas go, the tears didn't last very long. After all, a piping hot plate of mozzarella sticks was on the evening's agenda. Before I knew it, I was enjoying the evening over a late-night dinner at Chili's, somewhat convinced that I wasn't such a terrible dancer after all. I even manged to convince myself that I’d probably won the award because of my personality. All in all, the night was a success, at least until the bill came, and I realized that the $20 that was supposed to be resting in my non-existent cleavage had made a great escape, more than likely while I was dancing. After another dramatic bathroom scene, my BFF Christi Cole’s father bailed me out and paid my share, saving the night from being a complete disaster.

So let’s go back to the other night when my lovely 9-year old offered me a chance to dance out the drama. I thought about Ms. Hardiman, and how you can never, ever say no when someone asks you to dance. So of course I said yes. I got up off my miserable butt, grabbed a Wii controller, and shook it waist up like nobody was watching. And even though my daughter was watching, and was laughing at me instead of with me, I learned another valuable lesson: dancing it out works. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad I discovered your blog today. I've already read the whole thing, so please write more! :) I'm a fellow mom also in Texas and you've made my morning sitting in this cubicle a little more bearable. Thanks funny lady!