Monday, April 29, 2013

Nurse the Hate: The Dance Lesson

When I was in ninth grade our gym teachers had the big idea that they should teach us all how to dance.  I have no idea how this idea came to pass, or why they thought that this lacking knowledge in ballroom and square dancing was creating a void in our young lives.  Perhaps they thought a square dance would bust out somewhere in northwestern Pennsylvania, and we would be left in the lurch.  With the exception of participants in musicals and people in the Great Plains in the 1930s, has anyone ever square danced in normal life?  Have you or anyone you’ve known stood around with a bandana tied around your neck in a barn, and then did the doe-si-doe with some young chippie?  What was the purpose of this besides creating an hour a day where young people could embarrass themselves in front of their schoolmates?

These dance classes would be held in lieu of our regular gym class.  My gym class was already a horrible place to be, as it was a mixed class affair.  Because I was in ninth grade and had my schedule created randomly, I was placed in a gym class containing most of the varsity football team seniors, the juniors from the wrestling team, and one other ninth grader, a social pariah named Dennis.  I was small for my age and horribly shy.  I really didn’t have much going for me socially.  OK, I didn't have much going for me period.  I was a mess.  I spent an hour each day overwhelmed in a group of powerful strange men I had to play sports against.  I was a hundred pounds, and some of these guys had full beards.  It was Darwinism at its finest.  This gym class was like a prison yard, and I would have been better off sticking a shiv in one of the big football players to gain respect.  God knows my track and volleyball skills weren't getting it done.  My attempts to be a normal person had also gained me nothing in the way of social status, and I was essentially invisible.  I was just doing my time trying to make it to 10th grade.

The girl’s gym class was made up of all the varsity cheerleaders and their minions at the “hot girl lunch table”.  No one is more vicious than a high school girl, and these were the ones that had scratched and clawed their way to the top of the social totem pole.  Now in their senior year, they enjoyed this final victory lap as Queens of the School.  They were like women for God’s sake, and had actual breasts and hips and asses.  They were as aware of my existence as much as they were the janitors and bus drivers.  We were all just extras in the dramas of their much more exciting lives, people there to provide backdrop as they did fabulous things. I’m not really sure what these girls did, but it seemed to be much cooler and grown up than what I was involved in.  These would be my potential dance partners.  This was a bad match.  These were not “my people”.

I was concerned about how the logistics of this thing would play out.  If we were assigned partners randomly, this could be a big win for me.  Quiet unassuming young freshman dances with head cheerleader and wins her admiration?  OK… I could get behind that.  Granted I had a hard time picturing how I would go from point A to B in that scenario, but it happened in movies all the time, so why couldn’t that play out in the gymnasium of Fairview High School?  Maybe I had an untapped natural ability that would assert itself when the time came…  “Greg, I never knew you existed, but now after dancing with you I would like you to rub your hands over my nubile body while I later tell the older guys how cool you are!  You take my breath away!”  That would be good.

Unfortunately what happened can be only described as “The Doomsday Scenario”.  Why gym teachers love to divide up the class by having captains “pick” the sides, I’ll never know.  How could they be so far removed from being 14 and knowing the horror of being essentially ranked by your peers in front of your peers?  The first day the girls picked the boys.  So here I am, a 14-year-old freshman that is firmly ensconced in “an awkward stage” that lasted well until my mid-thirties.  I then stand in a line while the girls in alphabetical order take their pick of the males standing across from them.  There is no better way to have your social standing with the opposite sex cemented firmly on your psyche than to enjoy that experience.  The popular older girls picked the popular older boys, with most of the choices having been decided well ahead of the actual event.  The game was rigged.  Notes must have flown around in Algebra III in an earlier period that locked up all the top football and wrestling team guys.  As the boys were slowly picked around me, I quickly did the numbers and ran potential scenarios around my head.  I was fairly certain I had more juice than Dennis the Pariah, and there was a sophomore that rarely showered and smelled like a diaper.  I figured I had them both beat.  That would set me up with either the Indian exchange student that somehow already looked like a fifty year old banged up housewife, or the really big girl with the greasy hair that looked like a city bus driver.  I was wrong.  Dennis went before me.  That hurt.  The diaper-smelling guy went last.  I went with the Indian exchange student; both of us embarrassed at being even near the other.

I don’t really remember the class itself.  There is a memory of a cloud of shame.  Late at night, when the winds are blowing in from the lake just right, that cloud of shame can still be seen hanging over Fairview High School.  I don’t recall learning the fox trot however.  I do remember the poor Indian girl looking at me with a “what the hell are you doing” look in her eyes.  It was a disaster.  By the time lunch rolled around word of my public humiliation had spread like wild fire around the freshman class. The inevitable "I hear you have a new girlfriend" gags were bad, but the imitations of my poor dancing had already created quite a buzz.  Of course, I didn’t really even think about the fact that the poor Indian girl was probably taking a razzing for being stuck with me.  That would have been way too much to get my head wrapped around for sure.  “Wait!  I’m the Bobo partner?  It’s me?  I’m the loser.  Oh fuck!  I am the loser…  Oh no…”  In another gym class I would have blended into the herd.  Not this one.  

The next day the gym teachers threw in a twist.  The guys would choose the girls.  Now on the surface this sounds better.  In theory, I could go strut over and take one of the women from the Hot Girl Lunch Table.  This was only an illusion of course.  The price to be paid for taking the starting middle linebackers girlfriend would be severe.  To even be seen considering one of those girls would have guaranteed a kickball to the face at 90 mph in an upcoming battle ball game.  Plus, think about the public humiliation for walking over to one of these girls and then having them turn to the gym teacher and saying, “No fucking way!  No way!”.  There would be no coming back from that one.  You would be known as "Gym Class No Fucking Way Dance Partner Guy" forever.  This situation was a real sticky wicket.  It had to be handled delicately.  Each girl's social standing had to be considered.  Who was she linked to on the boy's side?  What side deals had been arranged in an upper level science class periods earlier that I wasn't privy to?  What was my play?

I looked over the group and tried to figure out how I could trade up somehow, but not overshoot my social standing.  I figured I needed to stay in my class, or maybe go one year up tops.  If this were a car deal, it would be like getting out of my Ford Focus and getting a Taurus.  You don’t trade in a Focus and hop into a Porsche 911 Targa.  That would be just plain crazy.  Get a car payment you can afford Miller.  Make a good choice… 

I tried to nonchalantly saunter over and pick my target, as if I had given it no thought.  “Oh, that’s right I was walking over here for something.  What was it?  Oh yes.  A dance partner.  Hmm…  I suppose you will do.  Since I am standing nearby, I will select you though I don’t find you that interesting.  Though I could have selected anyone, the wheels of fate have spun me in your direction.  The whole thing is such a small trivial matter, I have given it but barely a thought.  Now let us dance!”

What everyone else probably saw was that I walked over slowly with obvious anxiety.  We picked one by one with the entire class of boys and girls watching each selection.  Honestly, could they have designed this thing to create any more anxiety in a 14 year old?  I walked over feeling the eyes of the entire class on me.  All of the girls probably had the thought of “not me not me not me not me” running in their heads like a mantra.  I made my choice.  When the others realized they had dodged the bullet, the line of girls audibly exhaled and got back to hoping that the starting QB or School President would somehow choose them.  I then stumbled around with this “lucky” lady to pre-recorded music played on a horrible turntable, and we made an agreement with each other to choose one another in the future and avoid the horrible potential pitfalls of future selections.  I don’t remember who that girl was, but I will always have a special place in my heart for her act of kindness, even if it was motivated by her desire to cut her own losses in this horrifying social experiment.

I did not retain any dance steps from this experience.  I do not know how to square dance, and I do not understand why anyone would do that for fun.  Sure, maybe if it was 1847 and your entertainment options were limited to hanging some criminal in the town square or galavanting around to fiddle tunes, I can see why there was some appeal.  In a bleak high school gym in the 80s?  The whole thing was crazy.  Let this stand as a warning to any woman that ever wants to dance with me in the future.  I have received no effective training in this area.  I have only memories.  Terrible, terrible memories...  



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