About a year ago, I posted an excerpt from my second book Always a Little Heathen, coming out the summer of 2014, that I titled “Darlin, save the last dance for me”. The story was a humorous look at my first school dance, when I was in eighth grade and only twelve years old. At the time, and for much of my remaining school years, I was very shy, but usually went to whatever school events my friends attended. I didn’t go to participate necessarily, but rather, I had in mind to be an observer. Well, it so happens that while I was observing what was transpiring out on the dance floor, my good friend was conspiring with one of our female classmates to embarrass me.
I don’t believe they intended to embarrass me, but that was the end result nonetheless. He must have seen me on the sidelines, all alone, and felt sorry for me. His solution was to have the cute girl grab me by both hands and drag me out on the dance floor. What he didn’t realize is, his blessing ended up being a curse and he should have left well enough alone. I was perfectly content to stay on the sidelines, pouting and brooding, and occasionally make fun of some of the other guys while they made fools of themselves, trying to impress the girls and one another. I ended up being the fool, and the entire time I was on the floor I imagined every kid in the building, doubled over and laughing at me, as I attempted to dance but, due to nerves, looked more like an old man who had recently undergone back surgery. When the evening was over, I vowed to never attend another dance until I was much older, and much older from the mind of a twelve-year-old would be approximately three years hence. That fateful day arrived and my experience was not too dissimilar to the first dance. I should have listened to my own advice.
When my friend Jim approached me, I should have known that trouble was in the offing. “Hey Ronnie, there’s a school dance in the gym this weekend. You want to go?” Suspicious at first I asked, “Who’s going besides us?” “It’ll be the usual guys; Gerald, Andy, John, Jimmy and a bunch of others. And there’ll be plenty of good-looking girls there too.” Although the “good looking girls” part was intriguing, I knew that for him, that fact presented a great opportunity, but for me, it didn’t mean a lot. Although they were nice to look at, I knew from experience that observation from a distance was as close as I would get. I agreed to go and went through all the usual rituals prior to Jim picking me up. My hair was combed in such a fashion that I could have been a model for the Dutch Boy paint cans. I applied Sure antiperspirant/deodorant in the appropriate places. A generous splashing of Brut cologne was applied to my peach fuzz covered cheeks. I wore a cool, multi-striped tank top (I would refer to it as a muscle shirt, but in my case…), and flair bottomed Levi’s jeans. Tennis shoes rounded out my attire.
Once we arrived in the gymnasium at the high school, we all climbed up in the bleachers to observe what was going on down on the floor below. At this point in my teen years I was cocky and smug, so I sat in the bleachers, leaning back on the seat behind me with both arms spread out; my intention being that of detached observer. I would look for opportunities to make fun of those on the dance floor; either keeping my thoughts to myself, or occasionally, making snide comments to a friend. “Look at that guy! Man, he looks like Pigpen on the Peanuts cartoon. What a squirrel.” You have to admit that most people look pretty funny out on a dance floor. I was determined to stay in the stands and avoid the kind of abuse that I was so fond of dishing out.
As is the case in most of these school dances, the floor was empty for most of the early part of the evening. Eventually couples would ease out on the floor, and once a few of the popular kids were seen, others felt more relaxed and joined them. There were the usual girls dancing with other girls (I’ve always thought that peculiar). And sometimes there was the odd case of someone dancing alone. I guess the music moved them enough that they just couldn’t keep their feet from, “Dance, dance, dance, dance, dancing machine.”
We all noticed her at the same time, but I was the first to comment, “Hey guys, look at that fat girl out on the floor. Look at her, she’s dancing all over the place, but no one’s dancing with her. Ha, ha.”
“Ronnie, sometimes you can be a real dope. She’s not fat. She’s pregnant. And so what if she’s dancing by herself. It looks like she’s having fun to me.”
None of us recognized her as a classmate, and when the novelty of the event finally died down, we moved on to other distractions. The next thing I knew, the pregnant girl was climbing up the bleachers and heading straight toward me. She was definitely pregnant, third trimester was my guess, and as far as the rest of her appearance, she wasn’t pretty and wore a ponytail and glasses; with the rest of her features being nondescript. All I know is that she was headed straight for me. When she stood in front of me and grabbed both of my hands, the cockiness that usually accompanied me was no longer evident. I looked around for a place to hide, but there were no avenues of escape. I was trapped.
“Come dance with me” she purred.
“Uh, I don’t really feel like dancing. In fact, I’m a lousy dancer.”
“Come on. You’ll have fun.”
“Nah, I really don’t know how.”
“Come on. I’ll show you how. All you have to do is follow my lead.”
By then, my friends, or so I thought, were egging me on.
“Go on Bay, go out there and show her how to dance.” The snickers were loud and each “friend” could barely contain himself. “Go on chicken.” “Yeah, Bay. Show us all how it’s done.”
Eventually with all of the prodding, I acquiesced. She pulled me down to the floor with her, leading me by both hands, and at first I actually attempted to dance; for a brief moment. I was concentrating on my every move, trying to look as cool as possible, but my dancing partner had other ideas. She started dancing around me like I was standing still. Around and around she went with knees, feet, arms, and ponytail flying in all directions. I stopped dancing altogether when I realized that the two of us had become the center of attention, and unlike the earlier dance back in eighth grade, where I imagined the other guys laughing at me, this time I could hear them laughing out loud and occasionally I would glance up in the stands and see all of them rolling around in utter hilarity. By all appearances they were cracking up and near the point of madness. I just stood there. She continued circling me, but unlike the tigers in Little Black Sambo, she didn’t turn into a pool of butter.
I can understand why they thought it was so funny, even though at the time I didn’t get the joke. I finally realized that she was so engrossed in her dancing, that what I did or didn’t do really didn’t matter. She was a whirling dervish, and reminded me of the Warner Brothers character the Tasmanian Devil. I saw my opportunity and slowly began to shuffle off the gymnasium floor and back to my original spot, halfway up the bleachers. Even though the teasing was relentless, it was still better than being humiliated down on the dance floor. I pouted for a while and threatened to beat up anyone that continued teasing me, but eventually the furor died down. The only other dance I ever attended in school was the Junior/Senior Prom.
Today when the opportunity presents itself, mainly at weddings, I turn into a “Dancing Machine,” and when I elicit howls of laughter from those who know me, but prefer to stand on the sidelines and watch, I just ignore them. Like the pregnant girl with the ponytail, I put on my boogie shoes, escape into a world of my own, and keep on dancin’.