While sitting at the family dining table one evening, anxiously awaiting another big helping of meatloaf and gravy, my mother casually mentioned, "By the way, your Dad signed you up this afternoon for dance lessons." After nearly choking on my buttered hot roll, I replied in no uncertain terms, "Well, I am definitely NOT going to take any STUPID dance lessons!"
After a few seconds of silence, my Dad stared at me and stated, "Yes, you are. I have already paid the money, and you ARE going to learn how to dance . . . Do you UNDERSTAND that, young man?"
And then Mom chimed in, "Just about all of the other kids in your class are taking the dance lessons . . . you will enjoy it once you start."
Well, that was that. I was stuck. Mickey Mantle didn't dance . . . or Eddie Mathews . . . or Willie Mays . . . and I was pretty sure Wyatt Earp didn't dance . . . unless some bad guy was shooting at his feet. No true REAL MAN would dance. But then I thought of the boys that danced on American Bandstand, and yes, President Kennedy had danced at his inauguration ball. And then I thought of the girls in our class who had blossomed over the past summer, like the daffodils in spring. Girls . . . one girl from Bowers in particular, had definitely become more interesting in my seventh year of classes at good ol' Darlington school. I had also watched the sock hops after some of the high school basketball games. The high school ball players seemed to ENJOY dancing with girls.
That next week, my classmates and I showed up at the school cafeteria for our dance lesson given by instructors from the Arthur Murray studio. Two teachers and a few parents stood by the door as we entered . . . to supervise, and also block the doorway if anyone tried to escape. Of course, the boys, with sad looks on their faces, lined up on one side of the room, and the girls, mostly excited and giggling, lined up on the other side. It was us against them. My hands were already getting sweaty.
After informing everyone how the lesson would proceed, the instructors demonstrated the box step waltz. We were all paired up, and the boys were told where to place their hands on the girl's shoulder, and which hand to hold. My Lord, I was now touching the opposite sex! Up next were the dance steps, which we were to replicate in slow motion, counting to ourselves. The succeeding 15 minutes consisted of boys watching their feet and counting out loud, girls trying to not grimace in pain as their toes were stepped on, couples wiping off their sweaty hands, and instructors coming around to offer suggestions and encourage the new dancers. For me, it was challenging, aggravating, and embarrassing. But as I got the dance steps down, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, although I did not want to let anyone else know that. I was getting the hang of it . . . I knew I could do it.
Well, the hour was over. I had made it through the dance lesson and survived. Thank God. But wait . . . what did they just say? The lesson NEXT week was the foxtrot . . . and then on to the cha-cha and Lindy hop! That's right . . . FOUR WEEKS of dance lessons . . . and then the school was sponsoring a Sunshine Society dance? Not for me though . . .
For the next few days I tried to avoid all girls, but one caught me in the lunch line one day, and invited me to the dance . . . and of course my parents made me go. The dance was typical of most junior high dances. The boys soon congregated on one side of the gym, joking around and trying to think of some excuse why they couldn't dance . . . the girls on the opposite side, chattering and praying that some dorky boy did not ask them to dance. After a half hour, the teachers made everyone hit the floor. During the slow dances, the boys looked like robots dancing inside a box. The exasperated girls tried to help them, without much luck. During the fast dances, the boys appeared to be doing an impersonation of the scarecrow dancing in the Wizard of Oz. After the ordeal was over, my Dad was waiting outside . . . "How did it go, Twinkle-Toes?" I would never admit that it was kind of fun . . . "OK . . . I guess."
When I reached high school age, I discovered that many dances required no instruction. Anyone could do the "twist" or the "stroll." But for me, and I know for most boys, the BEST dance was the "foot shuffle" in which you hold your girlfriend close, with your arm wrapped tightly around her waist, her head on your shoulder . . . smelling her Aqua-Net poofed-up hair and her intoxicating perfume . . . and shifting your feet back and forth to the slow rhythms of a great love song. And the FUN part of a high school dance was . . . you guessed it . . . watching our teachers do the "bunny hop" . . . HILARIOUS!

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history. He writes a general column that appears in The Paper on Fridays and a local sports column on Tuesdays.