The Night I Learned to Dance

I had good parents.

They bought me dance lessons.

Of course, the lessons they bought me never taught me how to dance. Oh, they taught me how to stand in a line with other boys facing a line of girls across the room and approach en masse to the girl directly across the room, bow and ask, “May I have the pleasure of this dance?” to which she learned to say, “Yes, thank you,” and we danced the fox trot or waltz or swing, but then we stopped when the music stopped. The boys led the girls back to their place and said, “Thank you,” in turn with another polite bow and the girls said, “You’re welcome” and that ended the lesson. As long as I stayed in the hall where lessons were given I could dance as long as everyone else danced, but I couldn’t dance.

I was afraid.

That’s a lesson I didn’t need to learn. I just seemed to know how not to dance automatically, naturally and without even trying.

That dance lasted a long time.

My family moved from where I had dance lessons to another state I might as well name, the State of Louisiana and another city, the City of New Orleans.

You see where this is going.

I went on a double date to a dance on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in the National Guard Armory. I think Ernie K Doe was playing with his band and I couldn’t dance. I just stood there. My date stood with me and we didn’t dance. We just stood there until another couple took the floor and went to center of the crowd. What happened is what I’m writing about, that moment when the couple on he dance floor began to move and jive and bop around, clapping their hands and staring at each other or spinning away and staring at each other when the spin came all the way around and they stood there crouching and moving and swaying and clapping their hands and pretty soon the entire crowd began to make way for them in the National Guard Armory on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in the middle of the night in the middle of the beat with the doors wide open and the traffic out there on the causeway with the headlights like constellations of stars in the sky all twinkly and bright.

The toe headed kid wore a madras shirt with white tight jeans and saddle oxfords and the long haired girl wore a collared blouse with a pleated skirt loose and maybe saddle oxfords too and they spun the jerked away and jolted back and gave way with grace and he got so close to her and moved away and she followed him oh so far it looked like they’d never see or care for each other ever again and then come on back across the distance they came together and the tension was unbearable. The crowd went wild. There were hoots and hollers and shouts and whistles and they just kept on dancing until the crowd couldn’t stand it any more and flowed back in around them like a sea or an ocean or that funky lake outside bursting through the double doors with the panic hardware to drown them under adolescent adoration.

All of a sudden I learned to dance. I learned when I realized no one on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in the National Guard Armory cared whether I danced or not and all of a sudden I sure as hell cared. They didn’t care what I looked like and all of a sudden I sure did and I got my date and took her by the hand and I said, “Come on let’s dance,” and we did.

Sure enough we did.

So I’m telling you the moral of the story.

If you stand there thinking, “Nobody cares” and if you stand there so stuck in all the lessons you’ve learned you think, “I don’t care,” you’re right.

You’re sure enough right.

Here’s your big chance.

You just learned to dance.