... ballroom dancing lessons - first venture into the "dating scene".
It was the rite of passage of suburban life, junior high dancing school. The only reason one would subject oneself to this two-hour torture was that it was held at night, Friday from seven until nine, to be exact. Our first venture into the "dating scene" we thought, although dates had nothing to do with it.
To an eighth grader, Melrose was a society divided into three junior highs, although our schools were really one-through-eights. The Highlands was a world unto its own and everyone who attended Roosevelt went to Mrs. McInneny's dance class. The East Side held the largest population of suburban society, clustered around two golf courses, and thus the largest school, Coolidge, was located on the east side of Main Street. Wyoming was the smallest section including Cork City where the more modest homes were, and the children attended the smallest school, Lincoln. Coolidge and Lincoln students all went to Mrs. Hess' dancing class to learn etiquette and how to travel around the floor of the Legion Bungalow counterclockwise.
When it came to junior highs, smallest was not bad. It was cozy. We knew one another quite thoroughly -- no secrets here. But when we dressed up in our best taffeta with stockings and garter belts, we didn't even recognize ourselves. The boys donned jackets and ties, a source of comparison and of recognition. After the first lesson we identified people by their clothing: the boy in the green tie, the girl with the black plaid skirt. If, by chance, anyone had a second or even third outfit, identification got confusing. And we from Little Lincoln needed some kind of code for all those new acquaintances from Coolidge, previously hidden from our sight and knowledge.
Each Friday evening began with parental transportation. The Legion Bungalow was near the High School which was nowhere near our neighborhood. In order to arrive on time, our parents carpooled us. One Friday we waited outside Claire's house until we were nearly late. Finally her very imposing father came to the door and announced, "Claire will not be going to dancing school tonight. She would not eat her peas." That's how life was in the late forties.
Upon arrival at Legion Bungalow, a very fancy name for open space with piano, we went to the cloak room to leave our coats and inspect one another's outfit. At the stroke of seven, the pianist (whose name I forget) began the grand march. If you knew a boy and had previously discussed this activity, you took his arm and marched into the hall in a line of couples. The girls who didn't know any boy well enough or just didn't care lined up at the end in female couples. The boy across the street always marched me in although we never acknowledged one another the rest of the evening. I think this was a parent arrangement. After saying, "Good evening, Mrs. Hess," in our most polite tones, the couples assembled around the periphery of the hall for the grand march, consisting of joining couple to couple in a formal way and then disjoining them. This was never done again in my lifetime except for my college senior prom as a joke.
I have neglected the funniest part of the dancing school experience. Each boy had to wear white gloves to protect the delicate fabrics on the girls' party dresses. The first week the gloves were brand new. At the end of the evening the gloves got jammed into suit pockets, to emerge a week later in the cloak room before grand marching. Woe to the mother who had cleaned out those pockets, because her son had to borrow a pair from the spare glove box before he could be admitted to the hall.
Week after week our hardy band met. We forged new friendships. We danced with partners who we only saw for two hours on a Friday night. And we learned the steps that took a couple around a hall holding on to one another. Mrs. Hess really was talented. We got to like parts of the experience, but the regimentation of the clock was unbearable. The walk home with a stop off at the downtown soda shop was the highlight of the evening, and we were not dismissed until the clock struck nine.
Our time piece was a lovely clock placed on the mantel of a huge stone fireplace. Wooden scrolls flowed from the round face, blending in with the rough hewn mantel board. Some people began peeking at the clock from 7:05 on, but by 8:40 everyone was giving it a look as we danced by. One evening Bob K. had exhausted his patience. With a group of conspirators shielding him from Mrs. Hess' all-seeing eyes, Bob turned the clock onto its side and attempted to move the hands. Now this clock was much older than Mrs. Hess. It probably came with the ancient fireplace. And it did not take to a cheeky eighth grader poking around in its innards. I remember the sight of disassembled gears and springs piled up on a pair of white gloves before they were jammed into the empty cavity behind the face of the beautiful antique timepiece.
What happened next? I think we just continued guiltily along until "Good Night Ladies" signaled our departure. Our last dance partner escorted us to Mrs. Hess for a hurried "Good Night"; we retrieved our coats, and walked home. I was always sorry that this was our last evening, because we never had a chance to make it up to the teacher who helped us into our teens so patiently.
July 1, 2005