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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Having a Ball by John von Daler

                I remember it as a series of evenings in a low building on the outskirts of Tulsa, one of those places with a sign lit from within and covered with hand-fixed letters like a movie theater: Ballroom Dancing. From 12 years old to 112. Swing Dance, Foxtrot, Waltz, and Mambo! Every Day from 12 to 12.

                My class started at 7:30 and lasted an hour. I remember a huge, empty room with a wooden floor and benches around the edges where girls my age sat and waited for me and the other 13 year-olds to get up the courage to ask them to dance. We were supposed to bow and they were supposed to say yes. Nobody was to be left out.
                Then while we stood in pairs the little woman with a great coiffure like Louis XIV danced a few steps in high heels with her silent husband and asked us to copy what she had done. Her husband would put on a record with Guy Lombardo or Pat Boone and then we would maneuver our partners through that permanent backwards movement that somehow summed up a woman's lot in the 1950's.
                Sometimes there would be formal dances at school and then we would preen our common knowledge of the twenty or so steps that we had learned, the girls crinolined and corsaged, their hair piled up towards the heavens and we jacketed in white with bow ties, reeking of purposeless aftershave, our hair oiled and teased upwards in front and cut like a ducktail in the back (unless of course that stylish trend had been forbidden by our tasteless parents).
                These evenings, the lessons or the dances, always ended with the rows of parent-driven cars, one per child for the evening classes and one per couple for the saturday night dances. The fathers in the front would watch the road through the dark, flat land as we sat primly in the back, not a couple, but not separate either, as if we were in a three-legged race with a chance acquaintance, awkwardly but inescapably together.
                At that point in life I never knew that we also were running a three-legged race with our culture and that later on the possibility of other songs, other steps, or other words might arise like the chalky, mottled, full moon high above the prairy - distant, but nevertheless there for the reaching.
                These many years later the not knowing has faded and I see clearly that startling white line emitted from the moon and unwaveringly, unavoidably pointing at me.

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