Happy Feet

One of the first and most important lessons I learned in college was that guys who danced received much more attention from the girls. As an introvert with little confidence in my small-talk skills, I definitely needed an edge.

On my two high school prom dates, like most of my buddies, I just kind shuffled around to what I thought might be the beat of the music. Slow dancing was really awkward — and a little bit exciting. I had to keep reminding myself to breath.

It is not exactly true to suggest my two proms were all the dancing I did in high school. The Kalida priest wanted to discourage his young innocent charges from engaging in the evil “black” dancing gaining popularity in the early 60’s. Think Bobby Darin, Beach Boys, Elvis, The Beatles! What was a poor parish priest to do?

Father Lochtefeld deserves credit for his creative solution: square dancing! Yes, he hired a caller to bring his square dance records and we would gather in St. Michael’s basement to “square up.” My neighbor/friend Jerry Reiman would always invite me, and I always felt welcome. We learned the basic square dance calls (allemande left, grand rights and left, do-si-do, swing your partner, and promenade) that got me through Putman County wedding dances.

And what’s not to like about this event! As a rare protestant boy in a Catholic Community, I didn’t encounter many chances to touch or be touched by girls! With twirling, swinging, promenading, body contact was inevitable. Without any evil intent, arms, buttocks, boobs, “accidently” brushed innocent partners. I loved those square dance lessons!

To my disappointment, BGSU’s main campus hangout, The Rathskeller, included no square dancing. Not a single song all night! It was the Twist, Mashed Potato, Frug, The Watusi, and The Shake – and of course slow dancing.

I desperately needed a plan. How can I learn to do these dances? No older sister, cousin, girlfriend, who could give private lessons. I didn’t see any courses in the college catalog that covered this essential skill set.

Most of the pop songs came on 45-rpm vinyl discs, so I bought a cheap record player that could play only one disc at a time. I had a few records, but a new one was being played at all the dances: “Money” by the Kingsmen. I bought it with the intentiomoney-kingsmenn of teaching myself to dance by playing that song in front of a mirror in the privacy of my room when my roommates were out. [Tidbit: The Kingsmen are better remembered for their notorious “Louie, Louie,” with it’s controversial lyrics getting the record banned in the state of Indiana and investigated by the FBI.]

I’d studied the coolest dancers in the Rathskeller – both guys and girls – to see what they were doing. Then I would try to duplicate their moves in the solitude of my room. Fairly soon, I grasped the beat of the music concept.

After a couple weeks, I mustered the courage to ask a girl to dance. The main advantage of dancing to rock and roll songs is that little small talk is required, as long as you keep dancing. I moved on to the Mashed Potato – a bit tricky, but cute. Learning to dance and truly enjoy it has been one of the wisest moves I ever made. About a year later, that is how I met my wife!

Guys who love to dance are always in demand, because guys who refuse to dance are in abundance. This is the absolute truth: there are two places where I can become totally uninhibited. One is on the dance floor; the other is speaking in front of a huge audience. More about that later! But I still have happy feet! Love to dance – any kind. Fortunately, Jan loves it as much as I do.

An Aside

Within a month after moving to Western North Carolina in 2000, we saw a square dance demo at a meeting at the local senior center. Jan’s parents had square danced in the 1950s, and we knew immediately this was something we had to do. It is one of the most rewarding activities one can do. It is good for
the body and good for the mind. As evidence, I offer Jan’s father, Warren Davis, who was still square dancing at the plus level (the same as our club) until his 95th birthday. He only quit then because the two small clubs at the Outer Banks folded from declining membership. [See the accompanying photo of Jan and her father square dancing, a week after his 95th birthday.]

Jan_Warren promenade
Jan and Warren promenade

Ultimate Rejection

With some confidence in my dancing skills, I began to ask girls out for dates. There were no magic romances my freshman year, which was fine with me. I really enjoyed dancing with girls in the Rathskeller or one of the bars, perfecting my dance moves, and occasionally inviting one to a movie. These were safe venues for me. You don’t have to make a lot of small talk at dances or movies.

Some young ladies I dated two or three times. I remember one girl whose name totally escapes me now. She was from a Greek family and her job at the university was posing nude for the arts classes! Hmm! That was interesting, but I never got any free peeks. Wonder whatever happened to her.

I recall another girl who sparked my interest enough to work up my courage to ask her out for a second date, that Saturday. Her response, “No, I can’t; that’s the night I have to wash my hair!” Didn’t seem very creative. Her loss!