Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Modern Dance Class

Another Trip Down Memory Lane...

dancerThere are humiliations, and there are ongoing humiliations. My modern dance class in college was an ongoing humiliation, and I still remember it with some anguish.

I am not a dancer, and there are good reasons for it. My father and mother and every member of our little country church believed that dancing led to trouble. They didn't have to look far to find evidence to support their belief. The occasional Saturday night dances at the local community hall got pretty wild. Much alcohol was consumed and neighbors got in fights with each other about their wives. Or so it was said.

We didn't have a television until I was out of high school, so I didn't store away any mental images of teenagers dancing on American Bandstand or even Lawrence Welk waltzing with his gray-haired lady fans.

I didn't go to any high school dances because I attended a strict parochial boarding school. Dancing was strictly against the rules. Any student who danced would have been counseled and disciplined. If the student had several dancing misdemeanors, I have no doubt that he or she would have been permanently expelled.

Even my contacts with dance as an art were very limited. I saw photographs in Life Magazine and the National Geographic of ballet dancers, but I had no idea of what a performance of ballet was like. I think I did see a neighbor boy who took tap dance lessons perform once at a 4-H talent contest.

So, I came into adulthood as a non-dancer, and because I felt very awkward when required to dance, I avoided dancing situations whenever possible.

Did I enroll in a Modern Dance class so I could improve my dance skills? No. I needed one more Physical Education class in order to graduate from college at last. Modern Dance was the only class that worked into my schedule, so I enrolled.

The one mercy was that it was a class of females taught by a woman. I was glad for that because I'm not comfortable in form-fitting leotards, even around a group of women. But then, my classmates weren't really women. They were giggly teenaged girls. I was 27 years old, nearly a decade their elder.

In our first class, the teacher introduced some stretches and ballet positions. I couldn't walk down stairs or any other incline the next day without great pain in my leg muscles. I felt hopeful, though. I thought that if the class didn't get any "dancier" than that, I'd make it through.

The class progressed and soon we started dancing earnestly and my hope turned to despair. Oh, the humiliation. I wasn't good at watching the teacher's movements and replicating them with my own body parts. On the weeks that we studied the Schottische, the waltz, the polka, the rhumba, the tango, etc., it seemed to me that no one wanted to be my partner. That was probably because I struggled to master the concepts, and in that struggle, I stepped on my partner's feet and sometimes made them lose their balance.

The worst torture of the entire class came during the last week. As a final exam, each girl was required to choreograph an original interpretive dance and perform it for the class. The dance had to be at least three minutes long.

On the day of the final, we all sat on the floor in a big circle. The teacher asked us to step forward and do our dances one after the other in the center of the circle so that it would be like a performance. I could and should have gone first, but I waited and waited.

One by one, the girls performed. Every one of them had invented a three minute dance to sophisticated music. Their graceful movements certainly looked interpretive to me. Looking back now, I realize that probably many of them had taken the class because they liked to dance and knew it would be an easy grade.

At last I was the only one left, and the teacher looked at me and smiled. I had no choice but to rise and dance. I had chosen a bouncy children's song that seemed like something I could do some simple movements to. I had planned some "sequences" to do, but in the panic of the moment, I forgot them.

dancerSo I did some skipping, a little hopping and some random twirling, and I jazzed that up with slow arm-waving and occasional bending. I knew if I could just keep it up until the end of the song, my three minutes would be over, and so would the class! Finally, the music stopped. I was very grateful.

The teacher gave me a "B" in the class, which was surely based on my faithful attendance, not on my ability or improvement. She was probably as glad to see me go as I was to escape!


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Sarabeth said...

I enjoyed that story.

And, to make you feel a bit better about the whole humiliation you felt: Even us dancer types feel a little inadequate at times. I, too, took dance classes in college so that I could keep up all the skills I had learned from the age of four. I was good, but not great. I remember taking a modern dance class with a member of my college dance team. I'll call her Cleopatra. That woman was awesome. She was flexible, inventive, and a true performer. Each time I went to class I felt just a little lower. I knew I would never be as good as her. That was my last dance class.

Trixie said...

I'm afraid I would have been reduced to doing the Hokey Pokey. And I would have been in tears begging to stop!

Phil said...

At least you recognized your limitations. I was just being arrogant by thinking I could rap my testimony!

Genevieve said...

At least you had a creative idea! :D

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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