I hated school dances.
I tried to like them. I did. I went to the first dance of the year in Junior High School. We boys clustered along the south wall of our multipurpose room. The girls clustered along the north wall. We stared across the vast gulf between us while the vice principal played the popular hits of the day.
“Go on, guys,” he urged us. “Go ask a girl to dance.”
To us guys, that gulf was as wide as the Pacific ocean. After repeated appeals, the vice principal tried a new tactic. “Girls,” he pleaded, “go ask a guy to dance.”
We guys flinched, horror-stricken that some girl would single one of us out, drag us out to the middle of the room–most likely after clubbing us over the head–and make us embarrass ourselves trying to dance.
Then came relief. Not one girl crossed the gulf.
By eighth grade we had crossed that gulf. We danced, flailing our arms about and gyrating our legs. I danced about as smoothly as a sack of potatoes mounted on toothpicks. I’ll take that back. A sack of potatoes mounted on toothpicks would have looked graceful compared to me.
In High School, hoping to dispel such a rational diagnosis of my dancing skills, I continued going to school dances–Sadie Hawkins, Winter Balls, Homecoming, Latin Club dances, and all the rest. I struggled to improve my abilities. I saw the winces of the girls I asked to dance. They were kind enough to never say no, but the wince told me being seen dancing with me was a major faux-pas on the social register. Early in my sophomore year I recognized my dancing–which never came close to anything one could consider actual dancing–was simply an exercise in making a fool of myself.
Thus, in rapid succession, I absented myself from the homecoming dance that fall all the way through to the Junior Prom the following year. My self-esteem soared. Life was once again good.
For some unremembered reason, I had remained in my fifth period class through the passing period. My teacher gave me a late pass and I headed off to my next class across campus. As I turned down the first hallway I met up with Jutta, a fellow member of the speech team who had also been in the fall production of The Crucible where I had portrayed Ezekiel Cheever.
“Hello, Jutta. Late for class?”
She nodded, holding up her late pass. As we were both heading to the same class, we walked the rest of the way together. I searched for some topic to help pass the time.
“Are you going to the Junior Prom?” asked Jutta before I could settle on a safe topic.
“No,” I replied. Then, because the subject had been raised, I said, “I suppose you are going.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Why not?” I asked curious to hear her response.
“Because no gentleman has asked me.”
Then, because I have always enjoyed a wise crack, I replied, “Well, if I was a gentleman, I would ask you.”
“I accept,” she replied, as serious as I had not been.
“Mom,” I called as I entered the house after school. “I have a problem. I have a date for the Junior Prom and I need to rent a tux, buy tickets for the dance, and make a dinner reservation, and the prom is in six days!”
“What?” Mom asked.
“I wasn’t planning on going, but…it’s a long story, Mom.”
All that week my anxiety grew. Jutta was a friend. We had been in classes together. We had gone to speech competitions together, often spending downtime at those events with the same group of friends. We had been in the school play together. However, I had never danced with her. Now I was about to make a spectacle of myself before her.
I had done that once before, at the dress up, end of the year, speech team awards banquet. I got up to refill my glass at the punch bowl. As I poured my glass, Jutta arrived to refill her glass. She was beautiful in her gown and full length satin gloves. Wishing to do that gentlemanly thing, I offered to pour the punch for her.
She hesitated, for I had teased and pranked her mercilessly that year. “Please,” I asked, “to make up for all the teasing, allow me to be a gentleman and refill your glass.”
Accepting my offer, she held out her glass. I filled the scoop and raised it. Then, as I poured, my hand mysteriously jerked just enough to spill half the contents over her beautiful gloves. “Oh, Jutta,” I wailed. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. It was an accident.”
It took a while, but my profuse contrition and apologies convinced her it had been an accident. Now I was stewing over what unintended jerk act I would commit at the dance that would forever classify me as an idiot in Jutta’s mind. By the time I arrived at her door I was shaking worse than an Aspen leaf.
Jutta was glorious. Her hair was styled in a becoming manner. Her gown was simple but striking. I presented the orchid corsage to her but passed on pinning it on for fear of drawing blood.
Dinner was at a high-class Chinese restaurant where we recognized several other couples from our school. Eating by candlelight was glamorous and all was going well. Yet all too soon it was time to head to the dance.
All our dances were held in the school gym. We arrived, Jutta checking in her cloak before we joined our classmates. The music began. The moment of doom had finally arrived.
As we walked out onto the dance flour, I felt my anxiety fade. Jutta and I were friends. We weren’t romantically involved. I didn’t need to impress her. We were here to have fun. “I am going to do just that,” I decided. “I am going to have fun.”
And that is just what I did. I had fun. Did I dance well? Please! I will always be inept on the dance floor. I danced with far less grace than that of a terrier shaking a rat. It didn’t matter. We were having fun without concern for what others thought.
When I walked Jutta to her door, I thanked her for a most wonderful time–the only fun dance I had ever attended. And in memory of that night, I have never attended another dance. Who wants to mess with perfection, even if it was the perfection of a sack of potatoes attempting to dance while mounted on toothpicks?