Learning to dance real close

By Bob Huber

When I started high school, no one warned me that students danced cheek to cheek every day during lunch hour in the gymnasium. Had I known, I would have stayed in the eighth grade until Mr. Roosevelt drafted me or Social Security kicked in, whichever came first.

What happened was, I sat one day on the school steps with some other ninth-grade guys, pondering rocket science as I recall, and someone proposed we check out the gym. “What for?” I asked.

A vague answer came back, because my friends had no more idea what went on in the gym than I did. The only clue was a rumor about mystic rites of manhood and wailing primitive music.

The truth was, “noon dancing” was all the rage at my school, a ploy by officials to keep us nailed down each day instead of wandering the city streets. But there was a problem: Nobody reckoned with freshmen who didn’t know how to dance and were not emotionally equipped to be terrorized that way.

You see, back then guys matured slowly and didn’t reach a pinnacle of adolescent tomfoolery until the day their bikes suddenly appeared infantile. When that happened, they reached for the nearest female for support, usually in the ninth grade.

That was when a fellow couldn’t wait to be caught up in weird conventions like ogling girls and talking to them. Holding hands didn’t come until the 10th grade.

So anyway, on that particular day we stalwart guys strolled nonchalantly to the gym where we came face to face with a worst case nightmare — couples dancing there, touching each other, smiling, talking, just like a horror movie. It was gruesome.

I huddled with my friends, our backs to the wall, our hands deep in our pockets, our mouths hanging open and our eyes bugging out. Some upperclassmen role models were actually out there on the gym floor — MAKING OUT!

The term “making out” in those days consisted of finding a girl who would let you take two steps forward and one back while holding her right hand with your left and resting your other hand lightly on her rib cage. What followed was a heady feeling fostered by the lilting refrain from “Chattanooga Choo Choo” mixed with witty remarks such as, “Obviously night crawlers are superior bait over your garden-variety worm.”

So I asked my sister, Gazelda the Fifth Columnist, to teach me to dance. “How much is it worth to you?” she said.
I retreated and sat on the back porch, my genes boiling away. I had the world by the tail, but didn’t know how to tie a knot in it.  My mother took that moment to step around me and said, in her kind Nebraska manner, “What’s eating you, sour puss?”

“I don’t know how to dance,” I said.

“Is that all?” she said. “Follow me to the kitchen, and I’ll show you. But I warn you, there’s more to dancing than moving your feet. You have to learn that on your own.”
The next day at noon I stood anxiously in the gym, my feet tapping to the rhythm of the music, and my eyes taking in the full bloom of Beulah Crotchmire, a girl I’d hunted rats with at the county dump back in the sixth grade. I took a deep breath and approached her.

That night my mother doctored my bruised eye and asked me what I said to warrant my wound.

“Hey, Beulah, want to dance?” I said. “It ain’t as much fun as shooting rats, but it beats standing around looking stupid.”

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales