Monday, February 16, 2015

Slow Dancing with Boys at Washington Junior High

Rock Island, September 1972

When I was in 6th and 7th grades, I was told incessantly about my upcoming "discovery of girls."  No matter that I thought "girls are yucky!" now.  One day soon, very soon, I would awaken changed, my body and my mind aching to kiss, hold, hug, and have sex with girls.

My parents, my teachers, Brother Reno, Grandma Davis, my cousin Joe -- they all insisted that it would happen, it was a fact of life, universal human experience, as inevitable as sunrise. As the days and months of 6th and 7th grade passed, they became more insistent, constantly interrogating me: "Do you like girls yet?  What about now?  Now?  Now?"

Meanwhile, the school kept trying to jump-start my "discovery."

One Friday afternoon shortly the beginning of 7th grade at Washington Junior High, we were all herded into a gymnasium decorated with red and gold streamers, the boys and girls on separate sides. A table on the north side had rows of paper cups full of beet-red punch and piles of sugar cookies that looked like they had been sitting around since Christmas.

“What’s going on?” I asked my friends (my boyfriend Bill wasn't there; he had football practice). They didn’t know, so I approached a hulking Ninth Grader.

"It’s the canteen,” he grunted.  "It's to teach all you Spazzes how to dance with girls."
"I'm not dancing with any girls!"

He laughed, a short derisive laugh.  “That’s what you think, Gomer! Nobody gets out of here alive unless you ask a little cutie pie if you can drag her, and she says ‘Oh, yes, please do!’”  The last came in a squealing falsetto.

"My church doesn't allow dancing.  It's a sin in the eyes of God.  I can get an excuse from the Preacher."

Soon a teacher walked onto the stage and announced that it was “time to dance.” He put a single on the record player: "Song Sung Blue," by Neil Diamond.  A few boys crossed the wilderness of tan, gleaming boards and dragged girls onto the dance floor. Others followed, until eventually most Ninth Graders and quite a few younger boys made the trek.

My friends and I stood our ground.  No one tried to force us, though once a teacher clomped over and announced with a grin that we couldn't hold out forever – in a matter of days or weeks, or months at the most, our ache of desire would overpower our shyness, and we would cross the wilderness of tan, gleaming boards, and approach the Girl of our Dreams, and become men.

That's never going to happen!  I thought savagely.

I noticed a few boys, maybe a dozen, on the east side of the gym, mixed in with the girls, chatting casually.

“Why don’t they have to drag girls?” I wondered aloud. “Are they already men?”

“Man, you got fruit-loops for brains?” my Ninth Grade informant exclaimed. “They’re the exact diametric opposite of men. They’re Fairies!”

“Like. . .um. . .in Mother Goose?” I asked, perplexed.

“Naw, Gomer...remember Acting like a Girl, the stuff that got Mean Boys on your case in diaper school?  Fairies are like that, but tons worse – they pretend they really are girls! So they hang out with girls instead of hugging and kissing them!  But they can't hold out forever!  Watch this!"

He suddenly vaulted across the gym to the girls' side, grabbed a seventh-grade Fairy, and dragged him out onto the dance floor.  They slow danced until two teachers rushed in and pulled them apart.  Everyone laughed.

"He was too obvious," I thought, not realizing that he intended to humiliate the younger boy.  "I can hide it, I bet."

I scanned the girls' side of the room.  I saw Dan, who would become my second boyfriend, but for some reason I decided on a cute dark-haired 7th grader named Brett, who was engrossed in a conversation with a girl.  I tromped over and asked "Wanna dance?" with a friendly, non-threatening smile.

Brett stepped aside, thinking I meant his friend.


He stared, his eyes wide with suspicion.

"Not a slow dance, a regular modern dance," I explained, "Where you don't touch each other."


"It's crowded...who will know?"

He looked to his friend for advice.  "Oh, go on," she said, pushing him toward me.

I took Brett's hand -- warm, damp with embarrassment -- and led him onto the dance floor.  We danced to "Knock Three Times" and "I Feel the Earth Move," careful to always have a girl nearby and constantly move across the dance floor to avoid discovery.

It worked wonderfully!  I was dancing, laughing and joyous, with a boy.

I kept it up for several weeks, dancing with Brett or other from the girls' side of the gym.

Then, like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun.  One afternoon Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" came on, a slow dance. Most of the kids on the dance floor fled to their respective sides of the gym.

Brett looked at me quizzically.  "It's ok," I said.  We began to dance, slowly, not touching, but close, gazing into each other's eyes.  I wanted to hold him in my arms, I wanted to kiss him.  So I reached out and took both of his hands.

Then someone grabbed me and jerked me roughly backwards.  It was a teacher.  "Picking on a kid, just because he's smaller than you!" he snarled.  "A week's detention!  Brett, you can go home."

After that, I got an excuse from my Preacher to sit out the canteens.

Brett and I stayed friends, but we never danced again.

See also: Why Corpses are Called Stiffs

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