Sunday, October 28, 2007
I was the king of disco, in seventh grade. I had a pair of cream-colored Angel's Flight polyester slacks, a matching vest, and two shiny shirts, one red and one blue, all from Sears. Hush Puppies were my boogie shoes.
I could not wait to dance. My younger sister and I had already been practicing at home, in front of the television, copying the intricate moves of dancing couples on "American Bandstand" and "Dance Fever." We had no idea what the names of the steps were, so we just made up our own: 'jelly-roll kick' and 'drop-catch-kick & bounce.' We practiced the same routine over and over. We were well-rehearsed, and we would show off at wedding receptions.
Until school dances started in junior high, I was mostly a loner. Part of being a seventh grade boy meant having to prove yourself out on the field, in a kickball game during recess. I opted out. Instead, I usually sat by myself at an outdoor lunch table, reading a library book. I was content in my solitary, peaceful shell.
I was anxious, though, at that first seventh grade dance, anxious to get moving to the music! My desire to dance was greater than my shyness or any potential embarrassment from others watching me dance. I went around the cafeteria/multipurpose room and asked every seventh grade girl in attendance to dance with me. Most of them simply said no. Some of them replied, "Not yet. Not until someone else starts dancing."
Mrs. Strozier, one of the school teachers chaperoning the dance, helped me to break the ice. With me as her dance partner, she taught us how to do a "snowball"--a dance that started with one couple dancing together for a few seconds before splitting apart to find new partners. After dancing with Mrs. Strozier for a few seconds, and feeling only slightly awkward, she yelled, "Snowball!"
My second partner was Debbie. I could always count on Debbie to be my first dance partner at every seventh grade dance, after that first one. Debbie was friendly enough, but she was not the kind of girl that boys asked to dance. Her mother was the lunch room monitor, but that was among the least of her social worries. There were several hard-to-articulate reasons why Debbie did not get asked to dance. Sometimes, while dancing, Debbie would drop to the floor, squatting briefly in a frog-like position. I'm not sure if she had seen that move somewhere, or if she just came up with it on her own.
Selena was a cool, confident girl. She was the one that I immediately made a beeline toward as soon as I heard the opening notes of Chic's "Le Freak," or Foxy's "Get Off." She could dance to those hot hits of the late seventies.
But I saved the slow dances for Erin. Erin had been interested in Japan and its culture before our family moved back to California from the Tokyo area, so I practically had an instant 'in' with her. She and I both enjoyed drawing, and we both loved reading. Erin had won the school district story writing contest two years in a row. She was a girl that I admired and respected enough to want to slow dance with.
We were comfortable slow dancing with each other, arms almost fully extended, with about two feet of air between us. We would sway to the relaxed tempo of "Lady" by the Little River Band, or Rex Smith's "You Take My Breath Away."
A year later, in eighth grade, Erin became my first girlfriend. We 'went around' as a couple for a full sixteen weeks before breaking up. I never kissed her once. I knew, even at that early age, that I wanted to kiss boys. For the rest of my life, though, I will always enjoy dancing closely, even romantically, with women.