Saturday, May 16, 2009

Save the Last Dance for Me

Where I grew up in the south, we didn't have lots of school dances. There might've been one in junior high. But I was so shy and short, it rendered me practically invisible. Then again, if some poor little boy had asked, I probably would've blushed to death and he'd have given up before an answer escaped my lips.

By the time I got to high school, I was dating hubby. Neither of us really cared about dancing that much, although he was the more "experienced" at it. You see, his Dad was an Air Force pilot and his Mom had done lots of entertaining. Therefore he attended dances growing up and probably had to dance with an aunt or two along the way. We skipped our senior proms [he was a year older, so I missed that opportunity twice I suppose] for two reasons. My graduating class consisted of 720 people. Even half of that, with dates, was more than the gym could handle. Although dressing up wasn't as out of hand as it is now [can't imagine my parents allowing me to go to a hotel for an after party!] it was bad enough. And besides, there was that other reason.

We grew up in the age of...cough, sputter.....DISCO!

Although Disco conveniently meant no dance partner necessary, or at least not one within 10 feet of you, it just wasn't all that appealing. Especially in a crowded gym which had been decorated with lots of crepe paper and bad lighting. Yes, I did learn to do the "Hustle" one year but the shy in me refused to get up in a crowd where people might stare. And gawk. And laugh. Loudly. At me.

Most people find it sad, if not odd, that I had no yearning to have Senior Prom memories. And yet I lived. I even married the high school sweetheart. Still have him. But last night, something odd happened.

I went to my first Senior Prom.

Last year the staff decided all our energy is focused on the kids and none on the "big kids". Well, except for me. My center is for senior citizens only. I'm usually the one who sighs during planning sessions, "Okay, what about the adults? After all, they pay the taxes to fund all this stuff." At which point everyone rolls their eyes at me before going back to plan how to spend hard won budget dollars on kids who couldn't care less about making a craft during the summer program...unless they can figure out how to use it as a weapon on a sibling.

Last evening we had our 2nd Annual Senior Prom for in the gray headed kind. I'll admit it, I dreaded it. At first I thought this was due to the fact I would be working from 8:3o a.m. until 9:00 p.m. with a 30 minute commute home on dark country roads, dodging deer and trying to convince possums that becoming roadkill was a dead end job. Last year, I was on vacation and didn't have to attend. This year it was mandatory. So with a sigh I pulled up to the building, ran a comb through my gee-I've-been-at-work-all-day hair and stepped out of my jeep.

The wind immediately rearranged my hair. I wondered if it was a sign.

When I walked in, I was more than a little pleased to hear a song being played by the DJ which had a melody. And words you could sing. In public. Sure, some of the music that evening I recall from Mom and Dad's era courtesy of the records they played. [Translation for young whippersnappers: records were REALLY BIG CDs which you played on top of a machine while a little needle at the end of a move able arm made the music come to life]. How can your spirits not lift when you hear Otis Redding singing, "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay"?

So although I was there as the hired help and had the department's battery challenged digital camera thrust in my hands to document the fun, it wasn't so bad. Why? Because there was something so life affirming about watching a group of people in their 70s [and older] having fun. Together. Holding hands. Laughing. Winking at a spouse as if to say,"You remember the first time we danced to this?"

So what if the King and Queen of the Prom were selected by pulling their names out of a hat. Everyone knew they had a shot at being in the spotlight, which was fine with them. They all cheered like crazy as the newly crowned royalty took a stroll around the room, the "Queen" being 5 inches taller than the "King" and probably 10 years younger to boot.

Ah, the fun without the melodrama of teenage hormones.

In this crowd of about 70, where woman outnumbered men about five to one, we only had 2 male staff members present. After dinner, when it was apparent the only people dancing were the couples, one of my male co-workers did a nice thing. He went to the middle of the room and said,"Would all the gentlemen please come to the center of the room." It took a few minutes and a little cajoling. One group of ladies said to the single man in their group, "Go on Lawrence. Get up," and he looked confused for a moment, as if being asked to leave the table because they had tired of his company. When one of the women told him to listen to the man on the floor, this gentleman, who I've seen at events for the past 10 years, got a big grin on his face as he rose and announced, "Oh yeah. I am a man, aren't I."

As all the men assembled in a nervous knot, I could see in some of their faces the expressions of teenage boys. Who's idea was this anyway? What had they done? their faces read. When would this be over? Where was the lady they'd come with? Why were they in the spotlight?

And then my co-worker said, ever so softly with arms open wide,"Ladies, you say we're hard to find. Here we are. Come to us."

I think half the women in the room teared up. The other half ran onto the dance floor and grabbed a man.

You know, the fun part was watching these Big Kids dance. Trying to envision them as the teenagers and young adults there were years ago. Wondering if time, which had stolen some of their mobility, had also rendered being shy and hesitant immobile. These folks were having a ball! Some of the married couples could've taught those reality t.v. dance people a thing or two. Their moves were often playful, illustrating the silent communication of people who knew each other oh so well. One man was so smooth that women of ALL ages sighed when he went by. He gallantly danced with many of them, but when he took the floor with his wife, I kept hearing that old southern adage about, "dance with the one what brung ya."

Watching them, I suddenly realized why I never wanted to go to my prom. I was born in the wrong era. I was witnessing courtship through dance, an institution as old as time. Until my time. Okay, so Disco may not have killed dancing-this-close but is sure wounded it. Severely.

Although the dance had opened with the obligatory, for this age group, "Electric Slide", towards the end when everyone was a little um...looser, they played it again. Just so you can get a vivid imagine of this dance, there's something you should know. I consider myself color blind when it comes to race. Intellectually I know all the other center directors were born darker than lily white me but I don't see people according to color. Actions, sure. Pigment, not so much a factor. And yet last evening, I was the token. The little island of white in a sea of browns and bronzes.

So when they called for the "Electric Slide" for a final time, people rose from their chairs and began trickling onto the floor, easily sliding into step. A lady from another agency rose, looked at me and said, "Oh, I guess you don't know this dance." One of my senior ladies looked at me, as if insulted on my behalf. I still have no idea which part of me stood up with a firm, "Sure I do". Coaxing my senior to go with me, we all went onto the dance floor. Whatever part of me had said, "Sure!" also blocked out the portion of my brain which was cringing in the corner, whimpering, "There are people watching!"

It was interesting to slide into place and have people greet me by name. Smiling. Like my own personal cheerleaders. Encouraging me to have fun, not be the "employee". The Line Dance instructor at my center would've been so proud. You see it was she, about three years ago, who convinced me that people born with two left feet and a fear of public humiliation could be cured. It was known as, "learning the steps."

When I returned to my seat at song's end, one of the inmates [yes, we use help from the jail] looked at me oddly and said, "Oh. I didn't know you could do that."

Neither did I, was my silent reply.

Instead I replied, "Well they say white men can't jump. I guess they think white women can't dance."

He burst out laughing. So did I.

On the way out to the car, it hit me. I've just been to my first Senior Prom. And I danced. And I didn't die of embarrassment.

Perhaps that wind which initially messed up my hair was just whispering at me to loosen up. You never know where you'll find a good time. Or have fun. In spite of yourself.


Poetikat said...

Hope, I so enjoyed this account of your finally emerging from beneath the weight of fear (I'm exactly like you in this regard). I kept to the safety of disco dancing with girlfriends, but would rather die than put myself in a position where someone might laugh at me.
Your descriptions of the joy that this "prom" brought to the seniors - and the little nuances between partners as they cut a rug as in days of old was priceless. I wish I could see the pictures.
Great bits about your hair, the possums and the songs you can sing in public. Great post all around.


Susan said...

You make me wish I was there! Loved the women who ran to the dance floor to grab a man LOL.

I have a friend whose high school class restages their senior prom every year (they're now in their fifties), bringing in new friends or spouses once in awhile, but every year dressing a big room up in school colours and crepe paper and hiring a band. I didn't go to any prom either, but I thought that sounded sweet. It *is* nice to go back and have a second chance at something, even if it is only the Electric Slide LOL

Titus said...

A really enchanting read.

hope said...

Kat, as I wrote this I was still shaking my head thinking, "How COULD you get up there and dance?!" I'm thinking it was the crowd I was hanging out with...their fun was contagious. :)

Susan, I feared the men would be trampled. Some of the wives cringed a little, as if worried they'd be widows before evening's end. ;)

Thanks come back.

And welcome to Magdalena and Mapstew! The more the merrier.

mapstew said...

Dance. Please dance whenever, wherever, whatever! It's never too late, it's never the wrong time, it's now or never, or if there's still time, tomorrow. But dance, sing, jump around, jump around, jump up and down!

hope said...

Well now that I've viewed the fine example you set [Right Said Fred], how can I resist? :)

Dave King said...

I enjoyed this account in spite of myself. I never did dance - NEVER. No one was ever able to persuade me. I am the inconvetrable. I enjoy watching ballet, but that is IT! I did enjoy your post, though, so that's a real feather in your hat.