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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Shall We Dance?

Just recently, several friends who are roughly my age told me that they'd never learned to waltz. I don't know why but it really surprised me. I guess I just figured that everyone was put through some excruciating hours in their home with an older family member teaching the steps over and over until you stopped stepping on their feet. I knew some kids who had to go to real social and dancing lessons. They were taught table manners, how to curtsy, walking with a book on their heads and other civilising graces. Then they'd come to school and share the torture with us in the schoolyard. Fortunately we weren't wealthy enough for me to suffer that.

Our lessons were at home, in the dining room or wherever there was floorspace. It all started when you were very young, too. My Father let me stand on top of his feet 'til I began to learn how my feet were supposed to move. There were plenty of dances to go to in those days, too. You were often pushed out onto the floor to dance with some little boy who was as miserable as you and from whom you ran as soon as the music ended. Years later, my Stepfather taught me the fancier steps. Foxtrot, Lindy, the Big Apple, the full Charleston, , the Jitterbug, the polka variations, the Stroll. He was an Arthur Murray instructor and I still recall polka-ing in platform shoes with him at a dangerously fast rate in 1975. I refused to disco. The disco culture skeeved me. That's when my dancehall days ended, until I met my husband and we went clubbing in the 80s.

Of course by then nobody was dancing those old dances. We were doing strange "new wave" moves, or slam-dancing, or what had become a generic two-step "slow dance" at the end of the night. He and I would waltz now and then at home, or when we went out for New Year's Eve. I last danced a waltz with a guy who'd apparently never learned how. I think that was 1994. I can't dance these days, my shoes are bronzed and permanently hung. Figuratively, anyway.

So who among us was taught to dance those standard dances? I'm curious to know if it was only a regional or maybe just an inner-city thing to teach kids to dance back in those '50s-'60s days.

14 comments:

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

No...there was no charm school lessons for me at home or elsewhere...I can't dance. Years ago my husbands aunts new spouse who was a dance instructor in Scotland tried to take me under his wing. He soon found out it was like trying to dance with a concrete sculpture.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I am not sure how I was taught but I knew them all. My teenage years were spent watching American Bandstand and I went to two or three record hops/dances until I graduated high school. I caught on to all the fad dances at clubs after that, but when I started to have children, my social life changed. I can still dance though and even attempted gagnum style and the Harlem shake at my son's wedding a few weeks ago. I was ok then but two days later, I could harly walk. It was worth it though.

Austan said...

Lawless- well I'm thinking it was a NYC thing now. I wonder how much Charm School costed? It would've been wasted on me anyway, I was a Tom Boy and thought all that stuff was ridiculous.

Austan said...

Arleen- Ah, the Bandstand! Good show, I give it a 98. :) I picked up moves there, and Soul Train too.

Good for you! I really want to try Gangnam Style but I'd die. I bet you hurt after all that! Man!

Lisa said...

I've been to one dance - Jr. Prom in '88. Took tap/jazz/ballet lessons in '81 (we were Rainbow Trout for the recital). Now, I guess I'll have to learn the S.C. Shag!?!? :(

Austan said...

Rainbow trout? Hahahahahah!!! Susan put up the Carolina Shag vid and I've been so wishing to do it!!! What an excellent dance!

Geo. said...

My formal dance training was in 9th grade P.E. and consisted of squaredance steps, Teton Mountain Stomp and Virginia Reel. 40 years later I danced with the Sufis and the steps were identical but no fiddler. With minor variations in timing this instruction served me also at my son's wedding, so I guess a little goes a long way.

Elephant's Child said...

We were taught barn dances at school. The only one I can remember at all rejoiced in the name 'The pride of Erin'. Waltzing? No. Probably thought it was too intimate.

Austan said...

Geo.- Adaptability is key to keeping dancing around. I'll never see square dancing in the same light again. :D

Austan said...

EC- It seems a lot of folks were taught some sort of group dancing at school. We weren't, unless you can count the little May Day dances we did in grade school every year.

klahanie said...

Hi Laura,

I especially remember dance lessons during P.E. That would be when the girls from their P.E. class would dance with us to all sorts of stuff. It was the one time a nerd like me got to dance and hold hands with one of those really cute gals :)

I remember doing the "Bunny hop" in Elementary school!

Hope you have a peaceful Easter, Laura.

Gary
x

Austan said...

Well then Gary, you had real dance lessons in school, properly and all. I guess it just depended on your school's whim what sort you got.

We did "Bluebird thru My Windows" a lot in 1st grade. :)

Happy Easter, dear Gary, and to Tristan and Penny, too.
Laura
x

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Sorry I'm so late at this party - I read this post just after it was published but didn't have the time to respond. Now it's old news. For what it's worth, in my little (population under 2,000) town in the southern part of New Jersey in the late 1950's, dance lessons were given for free to youngsters. During the 30's and 40's, dances had been the main social events of my hometown's life - you needed to be able to dance if you were going to get along in life. Classes were in the large hall that made up the second (and top) floor of the Post Office. The Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, etc. all met there. We learned the basics of the foxtrot, a little cha-cha, a little of the square dance. Sadly, waltzing was not on the menu. Dances for us young folk were held at the old and battered American Legion (which would be closed as unsafe in the early to mid 1960's). There were no lessons for the new dances - the twist, the stroll, the frug, and etc. I lost my ability to keep up when the mashed potato proved too much for my extreme lack of coordination. After the dances, most of us headed to "the Greek's", a diner shoehorned into a storefront on Main Street. I don't remember it's real name or if it even had one - everyone called it "the Greek's". It still had a soda fountain (the one at the Rexall had just closed down and been removed in a remodeling) where we could finish our evening with cherry cokes. I would have loved to have learned to waltz. Still would.

Austan said...

Well you had the best set up of all, Stevil. How cool would that have been, to go to free and socialized dancing lessons! We gotta find someone to teach you to waltz.