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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "Stumbling Forward"

Dancing around a problem

by John Gosselink
Alfred. E. Newmanlink
The wife wants to go dancing.

At least I think that's what she wants. When she really wants something, she slips into her sugary East Texas drawl and gives me her best Scarlet O'Hara look. She starts batting those eyes and Scarletting me and my resolve melts in about two seconds. But sometimes I misunderstand the Southern belle pronunciation. For instance, the word "Bassett Hound" is pronounced "Strom Thurmond."

So when she cuddled up to me last week and told me she "would surely enjoy some dansin," I knew however it was pronounced, I was in a kind of trouble I wouldn't be able to dance my way out of.

99% of men can be put into one of two categories when it comes to dancing: those who hate dancing and those who hate dancing but pretend to like it to keep their wives happy. I fluctuate between the two depending on the circumstances. Most of the time, if we are at a wedding or other mandatory dancing event, I'll pretend a couple of dances with the wife are not the equivalent of dental surgery or a Amway presentation from a supposed close friend.

But if we are leaving our friendly confines with the sole purpose of dancing, I draw the line. My personal dancing history and place in American history precludes me such activities. I believe my dancing experience is pretty standard for men of my generation, which, if you are scoring at home, has been tagged Gen X. I don't know why my generation's name sounds like a prescription drug for baldness advertised on TV, but I'm thinking it's not a good sign of what's to come.

Our only formal training with the distasteful art came back in the 7th grade when a bunch of moms came up with this nefarious plan to make us normally happy, well-adjusted children devastatingly miserable by organizing a formal dancing class. The fellas weren't sure what we were in for, but when we found out it involved wearing our itchy church clothes on Tuesday nights and contact with girls, we were calling the ACLU and seeing if we had a "cruel and unusual" case.

After hours of heartfelt and slobbery pleading, begging, and screaming, "Why are you doing this me? You don't love me anymore!", my Mom tells me this dancing class will help my social skills.

Social skills…what social skills? 12 year old boys don't need no stinkin' social skills. We socially relate by punching each other, laughing maniacally at any bodily function, and teasing the girls we secretly liked. At our formal dancing class, these important skills were not only neglected, they were noisily frowned upon.

I have a sneaky suspicion that my mom thought this class would be a good character building experience. I still haven't figured out how one actually builds character. Or even what character is. But if spending 3 months of Tuesdays in a musty church gym with an unruly mob of punching, obnoxious noise making boys while trying to stay as far away as possible from the blushing, giggling group of girls on the other end of the basketball court builds character, we built it in spades.

When we stopped punching each other long enough to actually dance, we learned the waltz, the box-step, and a bunch of other dances I've never attempted since. I pitched for us learning the Watusi; I don't know what it is, but it sounded like it would be good to list on a resume.

This class had about as much real world relevance as the three years of Latin I took in high school. There was that one waltz I danced with my grandmother at a cousin's wedding and I think I almost got an analogy question right on the SAT using Latinate root clues. In both cases, my time would have been better served learning a skill I could actually use, like crocheting, or maybe phrenology.

There was one little glimmer of joy in this dancing darkness. Dancing in high school and college was so informal it was actually fun. For the last 30 or so years, dancing for young folks meant doing anything you want. Put on something with a good beat and then flop around like a fish in the bottom of a flat bottom boat.

Since there are no predetermined steps, there is no way to say if one is a good or bad dancer. It's impossible to flop and/or wiggle poorly. Sure, your average high school gym on prom night may look like the student body is having a mass epileptic fit, but it sure is fun, especially if you don't swallow your tongue.

Even when the DJ slowed the music down, it was the same philosophy, except with touching. You find a willing girl, wrap your arms around each, and then rock back and forth hoping to brush against as many reproductive body parts, even the cursory ones, as possible.

But these salad days of no pressure dancing are short lived. Once you reach a certain age, the flopping around the dance floor just looks silly, and way too many parts jiggling.

That's where I'm at now, basically untrained, jiggly, and looking for someone to punch in the arm for old times sake. Which brings us back to that 1 percent of men who actually enjoy dancing. Not only do they like it, they're good at it, and they make life miserable for the other 99%.

What makes it tough is that these good dancers are the unusual suspects. The wife and I will be at a 2-steppin' bar and I'll see a guy sitting on a bar stool who looks like he enjoys beer, I mean REALLY likes beer, if you know what I mean. This guy who looks like he'd have trouble getting off the barstool is suddenly floating across the dance like a Soviet ballet dancer seeking asylum.

Then the sighing starts. She doesn't say it, but I can tell from the way the wife looks at me as I bounce off other couples and my lips move as I have to count "1-2, 1-2," she's thinking, "Tiny over there is tripping the light fantastic and I'm stumbling around with Mr. New Born Colt with Arthritic Hips."

I have a plan this time; I'm going to use my lack of fluency in Belle talk to my advantage. When Saturday evening rolls around, I'm going to walk into the house with a wiener dog.

"What do you mean, you didn't want another dog? You just told me last week you wanted a dachshund. Oh, dan-sin means 'dancing,' not 'dachshund.' I'll be darned. Well, at least now our Strom Thurmond will have someone to play with."

©John Gosselink
March 12 , 2004
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