Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dance of Rebellion

Posted By on Sun, Mar 17, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Olde English country dances! Dancing with girls! Would the horrors never cease? Still, who hasn’t fantasized about being in the middle of an International Incident?

For kids whose basic dance training was either the Twist or square dancing, the idea of shuttling us all on buses and exposing us to dances which had probably gone out of style even before the time of Charles Dickens makes as much sense to me now as it did in 1965. I wrote this originally for Grapevine in 1990.

Dance of Rebellion

In the spring of 1965, in a small English village, I had my first taste of civil disobedience. I was eleven years old.

The United States Air Force had stationed my father to RAF Croughton, a communications base just outside Banbury. Though we American children were educated on base by American teachers, we found ourselves part of an unusual social experiment. In the interests of international friendship, and to further the cause of World Peace, we were transported by bus every Friday afternoon that spring to a small English school to drink tea, eat biscuits, watch educational films and . . . dance.

Now, I love to dance . . . even though I am seriously bad at it. I don't think that anybody on this planet loves to dance more than I do, but (to dredge up that tired old cliche) that was then, and this is now. Dancing with a partner as an adult makes your skin tingle, and your blood flow faster. In essence, it makes you a healthier person.

Being forced to dance with a strange girl when you are a tender young boy (pre-puberty), all you can think of are cooties, and how to avoid them.

I blame it all on our teacher, Mrs. Hathaway, a gargantuan, red-haired woman. She insisted that being exposed to traditional English dancing would enrich our lives. I have since discovered that “traditional” activities generally only occur when the tourist buses pull up.

“Hallo! Hallo!” the school's Headmaster shouted to us as our bus pulled in that first day. “Welcome to Saint Marquis de Sade (or words to that effect) School!”

Outside, in the school yard, we all had to stand in a circle and introduce ourselves, and then, without further ado, it was time to dance. “Pick your partners,” our teachers urged us, and we stood, petrified. Finally, we were paired off, English to American, on down the line. And the lesson began.

Any thoughts we'd entertained that the dances might resemble the Twist were quickly banished. It was The Pickwick Papers, only in modern dress. You know, ancient history. The girls loved it. Us guys, on the other hand, were soon muttering under our breaths, and staring sullenly at the floor, moving our bodies listlessly, with little, if any, semblance of rhythm.

"Smile," Mrs. Hathaway hissed. "Have fun!"

After what seemed like forever, we retired to the school and had tea and biscuits, which was really the only part we looked forward to. They probably figured all that caffeine and sugar would make us dancing demons. After the tea break, we watched a travelogue about America, produced by Chevrolet. After the short film, we returned to the open schoolyard and shuffled our feet some more.

Only this time, the girls got to pick their partners. Now it was very definitely getting out of hand.

And so it went, Friday after Friday for the next several weeks, with no escape in sight. We (the boys, that is) began to dread the weekly trek to Saint Vitus’ Dancing Academy. The girls, however, were still enthralled.

I especially hated the weekly ordeal. I was uncoordinated as a child, and the dancing seemed designed to humiliate the socially inept. Besides, the same girl kept asking me to dance. Too young to appreciate the gesture, I had to be almost literally dragged to the dance floor.

Deliverance came in the form of Ricky Beavers, someone I recall little about except that his father was an officer, and he thought that entitled him to special treatment (which he never got) at Boy Scout meetings.

“Listen,” he whispered to all of us guys who were huddled by the doorway, before the final dance one day. “When they call to pick your partners, everybody kneel down and pretend to tie your shoes.”

“Why?” We all asked.

“Just do it,” he said. “You all hate this stupid dancing, right?” Shoulders squared, we walked on out to the school yard.

First, the girls got to pick their dancing partners, and I found myself paired with my usual partner. As usual, I stumbled through the steps. I wouldn’t mind at all if these ordeals came to an end.

Finally, the last dance of the afternoon. “Gentlemen, the Headmaster announced, “Choose your partners!”

There was a short, uncomfortable hesitation, while we contemplated the possible consequences of our action, and then, first one, then another, then two more, and finally the entire male section of Mrs. Hathaway’s fifth grade class knelt down and began fiddling with their shoelaces. We, military brats trained from birth in obedience and conformity, had disobeyed a direct order.

“Boys,” Mrs. Hathaway said in a warning tone, but we continued to stare grimly down at our shoes. All around, children and adults shuffled their feet in nervous anticipation.

Get on the bus!” She finally roared, and we quickly complied. All the way back to the base, she was in a white hot fury, castigating us bitterly every mile of the way.

But after we got back, and were on our respective school buses home, we forgot all about it. When my father arrived home later that day, I greeted him at the door.

“Hi, Daddy,” I said.

“Don't you ‘hi, Daddy’ me,"he said in a dark tone. It seemed the matter did not end with our arrival back at school. Mrs. Hathaway had run to Mr. Evans, our principal, and he in turn had called each offender 's father at work.

Some received beatings for their roles. I counted myself lucky that I did not. No television for a week seemed just as severe. How do you settle on appropriate punishment for taking part in an international incident?

Of course, we were never invited back for tea and dancing.

It was a small gesture, compared to the very real acts of civil disobedience taking place in America in the 1960s - acts which required a great deal more courage than we displayed, and whose consequences could be far more dangerous. And yet . . . military brats (fifth graders at that!) disobeying a direct order. Imagine that.

All in all, I'm glad we did it. And as much as I love dancing today, the memory of the great Shoelace Reel, the silent, unmoving Dance of Rebellion, is the finest of all the dances I have ever taken part in.

Grapevine - August 24, 1990


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Richard Drake

  • Fayetteville and Human Rights: Deja Vu all over again?

    "Sometimes with progress, when you deal with any kind of discrimination, you are going to have a fight on your hands.” Fayetteville alderman Randy Zurcher, 1998It has been a long time coming - a shameful long time coming - but finally, Fayetteville may put the memory of 1998's Human Dignity Resolution to rest, when a simple ordinance protecting the rights of city (though for the politically illiterate, city meant anybody actually living in Fayetteville) employees was enough to bring out droves of people, many of whom did not even live within our boundaries, to city council meetings to condemn it.
    • Aug 19, 2014
  • 1968: The year we pulled Mr. Spear down

    I wrote this story a few years ago about a teacher I greatly admired in junior high school - the only bright spot in the hell hole of Knob Noster, Missouri.
    • Aug 16, 2014
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Michelle Duggar and the Family Council try to torpedo Fayetteville non-discrimination ordinance with lies

    The Arkansas Family Council has enlisted Michelle Duggar to oppose a Fayetteville non-discrimination ordinance with a fear-mongering robocall.
  • Train derailment in Hoxie kills 2; homes evacuated

    Two people were killed with two trains collided near Hwy. 67 early this morning, and State Police are evacuating residents of the southern end of the city while the trains burn. U.S. 67 south of Hoxie and U.S. 63 are closed. The trains were carrying hazardous chemicals.
  • Minimum wage group turns in nearly 70,000 additional signatures

    Give Arkansas a Raise Now, the group seeking to qualify a ballot measure to raise the state minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour by 2017, turned in an additional 69,070 signatures to the Arkansas Secretary of State's office today.
  • American Bridge releases report on Koch brothers' environmental impacts and layoffs

    American Bridge, the liberal PAC formed by David Brock, the former Clinton foe now dedicated to round-the-clock Hillary Clinton defender, is out today with a new report on environmental impacts and layoffs from Koch Industries. The report focuses on the business activities of the Koch brothers — more famous for hundreds of millions in political spending aimed at slashing government services, regulation and taxes — in twelve states, including Arkansas. From the report: "The Kochs' extreme, self-serving agenda is bad for working families. And that reality is starkly embodied not only by their political persuasions, but by their business endeavors."
  • And then I ... read about a tour of sculpture installations by Barbara Satterfield

    Ceramicist Barbara Satterfield, one of the Arkansas Times' "Visionaries" in 2013, has announced the creation of a touring, interactive sculpture exhibit that will be installed in public places in Helena, Heber Springs, Dardanelle and Warren before the final exhibition at the Cox Creative Center.

Most Recent Comments



© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation