2004-08-04 - 6:12 p.m.
“We need to roll up a pack of cigarettes in your t-shirt. Then you’ll look the part.”
“Yeah, where’s Greased Lightning?”
“Just because I can move my feet…”
“So, you takin’ Rizzo to the prom?”
“It’s not like I’m doing the hand jive here…”
My friends immediately started doing the hand jive.
My senior year in high school, they brought us all in on a Saturday to train us in ballroom dancing. The prom was going to have a live band with some jazz and swing styles, so they wanted us prepared and ready for action snapshots. In all honesty, the horrific quintet they dragged in massacred almost everything they played. If I’m remembering correctly, the song does not go “Johnny be fuckin good!”
An elderly, and historically stoic, History teacher led us through the fox-trot, waltz, and rumba in the excited manner of a man who finally found an excuse to touch the youngest and most attractive female member of the faculty.
But none of these dances mattered. We suffered through the one-two, one-two-three, of the cha-cha, never to do it again, waiting for the big finale.
Swingers had broken into the airwaves the summer previous, and looking “money” was the in thing at the time. Having “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” or “Royal Crown Review” in your CD player instead of “Brittney Spears” was quirky, certainly, but not deplorable. We all laid in wait, the men with visions of their honeys in hoop skirts flying through the air, and possibly spun incessantly for panty shots.
Our History teacher took to the most formal of poses and led us through a slow, gracious rendition of a simple spin. The motion was taken in such a delicate and formal matter, that you could see his pinky go up as she turned under his hand. With similar pomp he guided us with slow intonation through the sugar push and sweetheart. We all looked very cute.
With all this rhythmic information handed down, he played “Minnie the Moocher” for us. Now, Cab Calloway will always have a place in my heart, but snapping along with this song tends to make you look like you’ve slipped into slow motion, with the “Million Dollar Man” sound effect playing in the background. I wanted toms.
Somehow I talked our instructor into popping on Voodoo Daddy, and wasn’t surprised when the rest of the class kept asking for another go round on “Hey, Daddy-o.”
As girlfriends clashed with boyfriends, having the rare argument that includes screaming while staring at your feet, I was running the gauntlet of every girl in school that had ever discovered my name. Spinning and twirling through every move I’d picked up off Mike in Swingers, or the cast of Swing Kids, the girls struggled to hang onto my hand as little giggles trickled out of their mouths. Something about the feeling in your fingers as you fly in and out from position…it’s fast and furious fun.
The songs that stick in my brain are the ones that run like a quart of octane suddenly flaming through my body, leaving you feeling like you just downed two giant Pixie Sticks and some Jolt Cola. Being decidedly Caucasian, I didn’t have much to do with it, except nod my head with virulence. Now I did.
I danced at the prom, all through college, during the deplorable Louie Vega era, and took the floor with excitement in New York, in a small swing club in Hell’s Kitchen.
I haven’t danced in about a year.
The dancers at the clubs are DANCERS, and you can see them roll out with a hand elegantly dropped in the air as if completing a Plie. The regulars, dedicated to the god of Lounge, have the outfits down to a tea, and have been coming to these clubs before anyone would have thought to call it a “Trend.” Each foot comes down slick and stylish, looks of feigned boredom running over their faces. The mood and the moves controlled. The air feels hung in its spot. There are no toms.
I sit, sipping my whiskey from a padded chair, watching as the seasoned experts roll the new girls tightly into their arms. Most of the regulars have never even seen me dance, the previous era discussed with shock and disbelief.
Sometimes at night, when I get home drunk from the whiskey, I find myself dropping Little Richard on the stereo, scuffing the floor to “Shout,” and most likely scaring the crap out my neighbors watching a white blur spin by my window.
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