With prom season approaching, I’d like to offer a cautionary tale. Now, it may be true that I graduated high school back in the seventies, but there are certain lessons I learned that are just as germane today:
It was the night of our first formal and my girlfriend Jane* and I were ready to party. Tuxedo? Check. Cummerbund? Check. Corsage for Jane? Check.
“Mom,” I said. “I keep thinking I’m forgetting something.”
“Well, for one thing, you don’t know how to dance.”
The blood drained from my face.
“Don’t worry,” dad laughed as he headed out to the garage. “Nobody ever taught me to dance. There’s nothing to it. Besides, you’re probably a natural like me.”
I turned back to mom hopefully. “Is dad a good dancer?”
“Shh,” mom whispered. “He thinks he’s Gene Kelly but he’s got two left feet.”
Mom tried to show me a simple box step before I left. But from her pained expression and sore feet, I surmised I might be a chip off the old dancing block.
On the way to the prom, Jane mentioned that our friend Murray was coming home on furlough that night. Murray had graduated the previous spring and joined the Canadian Armed Forces. He was genuinely nice, if somewhat awkward and skinny. I felt sorry for him coming stag, but Joan and I would make sure he had a good time.
A few minutes later we arrived for our magical night. We entered the gymnasium to the pounding beat of the Bee Gees but I wasn’t too worried about my boogie bona fides. After all, I had formal box step training. Jane was exuberant. “Let’s dance!”
We headed to the floor but no one was box stepping. In fact, pretty much all anyone was doing was wiggling as far as I could tell. So I wiggled too. That is until the deejay switched to Ringo Starr’s, You’re Sixteen. Suddenly everyone started jiving just like real dancers. But not me. I was lost. Nor could I master the Hustle, the Funky Chicken or the Cha-Cha.
Jane gazed at me sweetly and asked if she could have ‘just one’ dance with someone who knew how. That’s when Murray came in. He was wearing his uniform and sporting a buzz cut. But this wasn’t the same scrawny, gawky Murray we knew in Grade 12. He was built like a tank and quickly surrounded by female students who’d never even noticed him the year before.
Jane waved him over. “Welcome home, Murray! Can you jive with me?”
He turned in my direction. “Is it okay, Ray?”
Jane replied, “Of course it is. Now let’s dance!”
And dance they did. Not only had the military given him a Charles Atlas body, but somehow all that close order drilling had turned him into John Travolta too. For the rest of the evening I watched as Murray and Jane burned up the dance floor. Jane was happy, Murray was happy and I got to watch them — being happy.
So what’s my prom advice? Learn to dance, boys. It comes in handy when someone’s soft-shoe shuffling away with your girl. Especially if he’s wearing combat boots.
*Names have been changed.