Monday, March 12, 2012

COLUMN: First Dance

Well, now that I'm officially newly minted as a single guy, I suppose I've got two choices: (1) Become an asexual hermit who collects cats and whose sole hobby is scaring away neighbor children, or (2) try to remember how to (gulp) DATE again. Clearly, becoming a hermit is the easier option.

I remember the very first time that I danced with a girl. And yes, as you may have guessed, it was forced.

At my junior high school, the epicenter of our social calendar -- well, the ONLY event on our social calendar -- was the annual cafeteria sock-hop dance. To prep us for our first mating encounter with the other sex, for one week our P.E. classes turned into hardcore dance lessons. Our gym teachers were two horrid little troll brothers we were made to call Mr. Bob and Mr. Bill. Even at our young age, we could tell that Mr. Bob & Mr. Bill were likely not so hot with the ladies, and you could read their disdain of this week on their faces. But it was their task to teach us man-boys how to slow dance -- in the form of the dreaded box step.

Keep in mind this was the height of seventh-grade awkwardness. Hormones were making all of us a complete wreck. Girls went from being icky to enchanting virtually overnight, and the idea of dancing with one of them was perhaps THE single most exciting concept in the entire world... which meant it was Mr. Bob and Mr. Bill's job to take all of the magic out of it. Instead, we spent what seemed like an eternity staring blankly at overhead projectors, diagrams, foot patterns on the floor, and learning how to count "1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2" like our life depended on it.

In retrospect, I think it was pretty obvious that Mr. Bob & Mr. Bill wanted us so focused on 1's and 2's that we might temporarily forget that our nether-regions were about to be the closest they'd ever been to shether-regions. There would be no forgetting.

At the end of the week, gym class went co-ed and we were paired off with (gasp) actual girls. Mr. Bill set the romance in motion as the DJ for the hour, courtesy a Close-&-Play record player and a beat up Styx 45 on an endless loop -- "Babe" on one side, "Come Sail Away" on the other. (True story: Once "Come Sail Away" hit the rockin' part in the middle, Mr. Bill would lift the needle and just re-start it back on the slow part. Our sensitive pre-teen hormones clearly couldn't handle the unbridled fury of a Tommy Shaw guitar solo.) And then, over the Styx, there'd be Mr. Bob on a megaphone going, "ONE! TWO! ONE! TWO! ONE! TWO!"

I didn't care about the song. I didn't care about the box step. I didn't care about the megaphone. What I cared about is that, by the blessings of the divine, I'd been paired up with June Vianni -- drum majorette, bassoon player, and the love of my preteen life. Only one problem: I was the nerdy, chubby, last-picked-in-gym-class guy, and she was, well, a horrible person. I'll never forget that moment as long as I live.

(Iiiii'm ONE! saaaaailing aaaaaaway TWO!)

Her hands touched my shoulders,

(ONE! Set an oooopen courrrrse TWO! for the virrrrgin seeeeeea.)

my hands touched her waist,

(Cause Iiiiii've ONE! got tooooo TWO! beee freeeeeeee)

we looked at each other,

(Freee ONE! to face the liiiiife TWO! that's aheaaaaad of me)

the scent of her perfume was driving me wild

(On booooard I'm ONE! the captaaaaain, so clii-TWO!-iiimb aboooooard)

and she whispered those magical words:

(We'll search ONE! for tomorroooooow, on ee-TWO!-eeev'ry shoooooore!)

"Move your hands another inch and I'll kill you, fat boy."

All of this, of course, was in preparation for the big sock-hop that weekend, where the boys would lurk in one corner of the cafeteria and the girls would lurk in the other. Eventually the popular kids would get enough guts to ask a girl to dance while everyone else pointed and excitedly mumbled. All of this, of course, was lost on the nerd contingency -- we were ostracized to a third no-man's corner of the cafeteria, drinking free pop, not even seeing a girl, and arguing over whether or not a Level 5 Paladin could survive a +1 fireball spell from a Level 7 Cleric.

Still, the excitement surrounding that night never escaped me. Despite being a social leper, I went to every dance. I loved the electricity in the air, the loud music, the lights, the girls, the magic. Of course, I also couldn't dance to save my life -- but I always DID have a pretty decent sense of rhythm, even if I couldn't convey it to my feet. This led me to the ONE place at a dance that I could feel comfortable -- the DJ booth. School dances begat teen clubs which begat frat parties and now nightclubs, where I've been moonlighting as a DJ for most of my adult life. But a sock hop this ain't.

Some things are still the same. The girls have their own corner, aka the dancefloor. They flock there en masse, wearing as feasibly little as possible, and dance and giggle in front of mirrors. The guys have their own corner, too: the bar. I like to divide the guys into two sub-species: those who can dance and those who can't. The guys who can dance will eventually take to the dancefloor and try to pull off b-boy moves that they're super proud of but actually just kinda look like N*Sync. These guys walk around with the utmost swagger and confidence, yet you just KNOW they had to spend HOURS in their bedrooms practicing in front of a mirror to look that cool. Amusingly, they're usually too busy showing off their mad skills to actually get anywhere with the ladies.

The guys who CAN'T dance, meanwhile, have but one recourse: build up enough liquid courage until they eventually saunter onto the dancefloor, find some innocent girl, and then try to dry-hump her to the ground in any kind of vaguely rhythmic manner. Does this EVER work, guys? Because I have NEVER seen a girl respond positively to this kind of nonsense.

"Tell us again how you and Mama met, Papa!"

"Well, son, I was at a dance club, and I noticed your mom on the dancefloor acting real slutty. So I went up and started grinding on her, and the rest was history."

Meanwhile, the love songs of yesteryear have been replaced by choruses of "Call me Mr. Flintstone coz I can make your bed rock, girrrrl." I'm waiting for Roberta Flack to come out with "The First Time Ever I [EXPLETIVE] Your [EXPLETIVE]." I don't care what the song is, if you listen closely enough, I'm pretty sure you can still hear Mr. Bob shouting, "ONE! TWO! ONE! TWO!"

The music may have changed, and the dancefloor these days might look less sock-hop and more Cinemax After Dark, but it still comes down to the same thing: awkward guys being captivated by pretty girls that smell good. And as long as that electricity's still in the air, I'll be happy to be the guy providing the soundtrack. And who knows, maybe one day a girl will stroll in who'll be impressed by my wicked mastery of the box step. If that fails, I'll start readying the cat collection.

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