Learning how to not dance

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

“Watch this,” Mr. Olson beamed. He opened the wide little wooden door of the new table top record player. He slipped in one of the 33 1/3 r.p.m. long playing records which were just appearing on the market. Music poured from the box, but not for long. Mr. Olson stopped the record, opened the door, and slid the record out to show us again how it worked. School had not yet taken up, and he soon had a gathering of teachers and a few students admiring the handsome mahogany box.

Mr. Olson was the suave, handsome heartthrob of the girls in his sixth grade class. He was a fine teacher, and also the principal of our school. This demonstration was to demonstrate this amazing and mysterious new record player he had purchased for the school. The cutting edge music technology could stack several records on a thin .spindle, from which they would drop one by one on to a pile on to the turntable. This record player didn’t do that, but it had another amazing trick of the modern age.

“It only plays one at a time, but look.” Mr. Olson pulled out the record, slipped another one into wide dark hole and shut the door. It immediately began playing.

“I’ll be darned. You don’t even have to put it on the hole,” someone said. Surrounding teachers joined in similar murmerings of approval.

I still think it was a good trick. Despite numerous peerings in, we sixth grade boys could never figure out how the record got centered on the turntable. We would try to confuse the machine and slide the record over to one side. But when you shut the little door the music came out with no wobbles. This was a deep disappointment to us. Part of the problem in figuring it out was the same one we faced trying to check out if the light in the refrigerator really did go out. It didn’t happen until you shut the door, and then you couldn’t see. We talked about drilling a hole in the record player’s door, but Mr. Olson kept it locked in the closet by his desk.

It was the right purchase for Peteetneet School. The multi disk players might be all right safe on the top shelf of somebody’s fancy home, but not in the hands of the sixth grade boys. The skinny spindle in the middle with its trick release lever for dropping records would have been a lightening rod to our curiosity. A crystal goblet in an elephant corral had a better chance of surviving. Besides we didn’t have the patience to sit through one long playing record. We’d be graduated before the thing worked through a stack of them.

The trick door caught our attention, and the music coming out held it for a few moments of interested silence. Then the youthful energy kicked in.

“Can I have this dance?” Monte Montegue said to me in his most courtly manner.

Usually we boys misused that grammar rule. We always said “can” when we were supposed to say “may.” As our English teachers unsuccessfully reminded us, “May means ‘do I have permission. Can means, ‘Am I able.’”

But may was so prissy to our ears. You say, “May I have a glass of water” in our crowd you’d probably get it—smack  in the face. So we settled for can. As the saying goes, sometimes even a blind pig roots up an acorn. And this time my grammatically blind pig friend Monte got it right. “Can I have this dance?” was the correct question. The right answer was no he couldn’t; any more than a herd of wild horses in hobbles could dance. Actually Monte wasn’t the most club footed among us. He had even taken some tap dance lessons as a little boy. I remember, because I asked my mom if I could take with him. She assured me that tap dancing was for girls. I lost track of the tap part, but buried the rest of her message deep into my subconscious. “Dancing is for girls.” It would rise from there at inappropriate occasions and haunt me the rest of my life.

But just because we couldn’t dance didn’t mean we wouldn’t dance. That lunch hour the baseball field was empty and the back of Mr. Olson’s room was pumping with sweaty boy bodies “dancing” in the style of an Old West saloon brawl.

“What a wonderful educational moment to teach the beauties and grace of ballroom dancing,” Mr. Olson and the lady teachers decided. In a day or two they had moved the magic record player into the little commons area and set up a dance class. Two problems; First we were supposed to learn the proper steps, and second we were supposed to do it with girls. Fortunately I found I was a natural born graceful creative dancer. Unfortunately I was the only one who thought so.

Among those who didn’t think so, and strongly, was Mr. Olson. He tailed me and my unfortunate partner around and around the room chanting, “One, two, three, one two, three.” He claimed he was trying to help me keep the beat, but I suspected ulterior motives. Maybe it was because I beat him in one-on-one recess basketball games one too many times. Or could it be when he had the distasteful task of announcing to the class, “The highest score on the I.Q. test we recently took was earned by one of the silliest acting boys in our class, Duane Hiatt.” Since I certainly never got the highest grades in any class, this was a bitter pill for the educational establishment I’m thinking. Maybe the I.Q. test wasn’t measuring intelligence at all. Maybe it was measuring silliness. Mr. Olson’s revenge also might have been for that awkward moment in a previous class when he was explaining the functions of parts of the human body; always a potential land mine with students moving into maturity. He said, “The brain is the center of our intelligence. No person can live without a brain.” Monte Montegue’s hand shot up. He asked, “How come Duane is alive?” The embarrassing part for Mr. Olson was he couldn’t come up with a convincing explanation.

Probably his tailgating me around the dance floor was for none of the above reasons. He sincerely wanted to help me, but I freaked out when he started using numbers such as one, two, three. Math was never my strong suit. Whatever factors, the experience of being singled out and stalked around the dance floor was half the reason I still fear and dislike (those two emotions usually go together) dancing.

The other reason for my danceaphobia I blame on a church M.I.A. square dance years later. To those not acquainted with Mormon acronyms, MIA stands for Mutual Improvement Association, not Missing in Action, though when referring to my dancing either definition is appropriate. Square dancing was different from Mr. Olson’s 1,2,3 drill; lots of jumping twirling girls around, stomping and clapping. I said to myself, “Now this is my kind of dancing.”

Suddenly, a heavy hand gripped my shoulder, and a stern woman’s voice commanded, “If you can’t act your age go home.”

I don’t remember what my age was, (more number phobia), but apparently I was mentally younger than my chronology. My dancing career ended that night. I did try “tripping the light fantastic” off and on, but always with much more tripping than fantastic. Years later at Brigham Young University I even took private dancing lessons so I wouldn’t ruin the evening of the young woman who had invited me to her social unit’s formal dance. No better. I panicked and froze. Her big night was a disaster. My dancing lessons practice partner, my little sister Diane, fared better. Her toes eventually rehabilitated.

It is possible to go through the youth and adolescent passages with little or no dancing. I know because I did. It requires that you be sometimes ingenious and sometimes embarrassed, but it is doable. It also deprives you of lots of good times I am told.

Along the way I gathered reinforcements for my anti dance campaign. This is the natural way of the unconscious mind. Once we set the sails on the direction we want it to take us, it will not only catch the winds that are headed that way, it will find winds, sometimes create winds to fill its own sails. Since I was convinced that: 1. Dancing was a primitive, exhibitionistic, effeminate art form, and 2. I was no good at it anyway; I found evidence to support my position where others might not have.

Once I was mumbling about my negative views of dancing in general, and my dancing in particular. My mother leaped up into one of her characteristic calls to action, and said, “We’ll show you how easy it is.”

She called upon my father. He was willing. In fact I think I saw his mind sail back to Arrowhead Dance Hall courting Mom, and sometimes being invited up to sing with the dance band.

Unfortunately I didn’t share the memories. Doubly unfortunately Dad said he was doing the Foxtrot. Mom insisted he was slipping into the Two Step. Trebly unfortunately, for a teen age boy, watching your parents dance is not the way to be convinced that dancing is cool. It was another dancing experience more embarrassing than inspiring. One, two, and three reasons not to do the Mr. Olson 1,2,3, 1,2,3, 1,2,3.

What do you think about this part of the book?

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Your next installment is: Pining for the Boy Scouts