The first dance I recall learning was the Twist. It was 1960, I was five-years-old, and I was told I did it well. It reminded me of hula-hooping — something else I was good at. I never had a doubt I could dance.
My mother begged me to take ballet, but I had no desire. I wanted to be a Girl Scout. She wasn’t interested. We had a stand-off. As an adult, I did take a ballet class one summer, as well at tap. Might have been nice to do it when I was young, but, oh well.
Pop and rock music exploded in the sixties, and one of my favorite shows to watch was called “Upbeat” (Later known as The Big Five Show.) It came on channel five at five o’clock on Saturday and featured current national acts along with local teens dancing to the music. This is where I watched and learned the dances that I would practice in my bedroom. This was my ordinary life.
[Side note: the famous Otis Redding made his last appearance on Upbeat before he was killed in a plane crash.]
I also learned dances from friends and family. I distinctly remember my cousin Joni teaching me to dance “the Skate” to “Daydream Believer” which is what Davy Jones is doing in this video:
I remember my friends and I dancing for what seemed hours the same line dance to “Wedding Bell Blues.” But truly my favorite dance was the Pony, seen here at the beginning of this video:
The Pony could be danced to a lot of different songs, which is why I loved it so much.
This was my ordinary life — dancing — by myself or with others.
I spent my entire high school years going to every dance available, as well as going to a dance club called Cyrus Erie. I had all my favorite bands: The Raspberries, Circus, Reign. They could be relied on to provide great dancing music. When the band took a break, then the popular music would come on, along with strobe lights. There are certain songs I hear that take me back…
And it was dancing that made me fall in love with Jim. He, unlike most of the other young men I knew, actually knew how to dance. He taught me how to jitterbug and two-step. I know I fell in love with him when we danced that two-step to Johnny Lee singing “Looking for Love.”
Which reminds me of something else — with all the dancing in my life, I never cared for disco. Yes, I did learn the Hustle once. Yes, I probably did the Bump. But in general I was a disco hater, and felt it ruined modern music for a while, as it seeped in everywhere.
The problem with disco was that it was a lifestyle — and expensive one. I know at least one young lady who was ruined in debt trying to keep up buying the dresses, the shoes, the expensive drinks, not to mention the questionable sexual stuff that went with the scene. I simply could not relate. I listened to Neil Young and the Eagles and Hall and Oates. No disco-ing for this girl.
When I think of the night I fell in love with Jim, it was at a country bar. But this country bar, located in a south suburb of Cleveland, had many incarnations. It started as a dinner theater, then was a disco, then when the Urban Cowboy zeitgeist hit, it became a boot-scootin place. Later it would become a video bar. In the 1980’s when MTV erupted, bars inserted large screens and played videos for music. It was an exciting time, although it didn’t last. Eventually, D.J.’s became the way to go. Much more variety.
I still dance today — mostly at home in the kitchen while making dinner and listening to Miranda Lambert sing “Little Red Wagon.” I 100% relate to Tom Cruise’s character in Risky Business. Leave me alone in the house, and I will probably be dancing.
[Side note: when my nephew Ricky got old enough to stay home alone, the first thing I asked him is if he danced around in his underwear when no one was home. He said, nnnnnnooooooooooo. Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about.]
So even though my dancing seemed like something everyone did, I learned this was not necessarily true. In my 7th and 8th grade year I attended a Catholic school in a new city. I had friends, but definitely was not on the radar of anyone known as popular. In 7th I had spent a lot of time at the home of this girl Cathy. Her dad was a major player in a local grocery chain, and they had a beautiful huge house and always tons of great food. Although Cathy and I didn’t hang out much in 8th grade, at the end of the year she hosted a party and I think every 8th grade girl was invited. It was that night I got the attention of the popular girls.
I could dance.
They were shocked. When the music came on and I did my thing, it was like they saw me in an entirely new light. Of course, we had already graduated by this point, and I never saw most of those girls again. But it was a moment.
I would revisit that moment in high school the first time I smoked pot around some popular girls. But that’s another story.