Cutting a Rug

fansI first wondered if my family had a dancing disability when I watched my oldest brother, Lawrence, dance at his wedding with an agonized expression and dragging steps, like an unhappy dog tugged by a leash.

Then Bob bounced by with a hapless girl in tow, looking like he was jumping hurdles.

But, what the heck, I’d never be a Ginger Rogers if I didn’t give it a try, so I signed up for a City Parks and Recreation summer session called Introduction to Dance.

We started with ballet, where I attended a remedial class of three until I could force my sizeable feet into first position while at the same time sucking in my bellybutton and pretending a string was pulling up on the top of my head. I struggled with the pose and worried I was another Bray who shouldn’t dance in public.Ballet dancers warming up

Fortunately, tap dancing came next. The teacher explained that tap dancing was like playing the drums with your feet — lots of stamping and heel-clunking, which struck me as the best sort of fun, and I excelled. I can still execute a step/ shuffle/ball change while crooning “Bicycle Built for Two” — though I only do so in my home.

The lessons helped me shine during the school year when my class performed a minuet for our parents on Washington’s Birthday. We clasped hands with our assigned partners and proceeded in a stately fashion, pointing our toes on the pauses—a breeze for someone who nearly mastered first position.

We square-danced to records in sixth-grade, vigorously obeying the caller’s commands to do si do, allemande left, and promenade back home. Being tall, I sometimes had to dance as a boy to even out the numbers, but I didn’t mind. During two-hand swings, I twirled Sally Evans about until her little legs flew around like helicopter blades.

In junior high, I participated in an assembly about dances of other lands. I wanted to do the Mexican Hat Dance with its hopping, clapping, and shouting, but instead led my bashful, embarrassed partner Bruce Evans through a robotic cha-cha-cha, while Mrs. Johnson hissed offstage, “One, two cha-cha-cha; one, two, swing-your-hips, SWING YOUR HIPS!”

High school brought romantic slow dancing beneath crepe-paper streamers and glitter-covered baubles. Dancing moves didn’t matter; clutching your partner did. By night’s end, body contact had turned the girls’ orchid corsages into mashed lumps.

I didn’t experience the freedom of no-hold dancing until college when the twist finally reached Utah. Under the direction of my sophisticated boyfriend from rural Idaho, I gyrated my body and swung my hips in a manner that would have silenced Mrs. Johnson.

Today, my husband and I continue to enjoy dancing, whether in our living room or public; and I encourage our grandchildren as they cavort around their house, falling to the floor to spin on their backsides or do the worm.

Watching them, I’m glad they’ve discovered what I did when young: dancing is fun, and perfection isn’t required.

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27 thoughts on “Cutting a Rug

  1. Janet, I am laughing so hard as I read this! I love to dance. I have great memories of doing the jitterbug with my Dad and later in life with my son. However, you’re description of the Bray Dancing Phobia hit close to home. After dating and then marrying your brother, it became apparent that he did not enjoy this endeavor as much as I did. Fearing that I would go through life without dancing we took a basic dancing class learning the fox trot, the two step, the waltz and the box step. Every once in awhile we dance, but it takes a shot or two of courage to get JL on the dance floor. I know he doesn’t enjoy it as much as I do, but that’s ok because those times are special.

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  2. ‘I twirled Sally Evans about until her little legs flew around like helicopter blades.’ This visualisation is so strong, I love your writing! Having been no good at sport, well good enough for team sport, I was the only boarder at school to do ballet. I just loved dance. It really kept me sane. Your description of the different dances related to my own stages. Even in my twenties I joined a group in Switzerland where we did a variety of dances and I loved them all! Thank you for invoking these memories Janet!

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  3. Dancing..my word, when I was little, all my Aunts married out of high school, one after the other to chaps named Fred or Hugh, the weddings all blur together but for Ma and Uncle Jack, teeth in and relatively sober cutting a rug through the Legion Hall. The only dancers in our large family. High school for me were sock-hops I avoided and the dreaded square dance class, in a class of all girls. Miss Dyke bellowing at us and the awful scratchy record….Great Post thanks Janet- Dance On!

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    • I, too, had experiences with a militant female teacher, scratchy records, and an odd boy half my size who insisted on dancing with me, but that’s another story. I wish I had seen your ma and Uncle Jack dancing at the legion hall.

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  4. My wife is a dancer. She started dancing when she was about 5 years old, and still takes a ballet class once a week. When we get the opportunity to dance, I let her lead. It’s just safer that way. My favorite dancing is done when we are at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. On Tuesday night there is contra-dancing. We do circle dances, line dances and square dances. It is great fun.

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  5. I took adult tap dance lessons for 8 years, and still can’t execute a decent flap or shuffle.
    Gymnastics and team sports—yes, dancing—not so much. I’m afraid that my husband and I each have two left feet, which is disastrous on the dance floor!

    Like Barbara, I also enjoyed the description of Sally Evans’ legs whirling about like helicopter blades—wonderful imagery!

    Keep on dancing, Janet! As for me, I’ll just keep on hiking!

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  6. I live alone, so it’s ok for me to dance. My dog looks at me like I’m sideways, but when the Irish music is playing, I can’t stop myself. I like classical; you can’t dance to it, but you can strut around to it. I’ll have that story, the one I wanted you to read for me, ready sometime next month. Send me an email to so I’ll know where to send it.

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  7. I danced ballet for 10 years, did modern dance, and enjoyed ballroom for some time. Now that I am unable to do these, I take joy in remembering the feeling of dance and having had the opportunity to do so while I could.

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  8. I love your bravery and you allowing us to accompany you down memory lane. I can see some of these scenes quite clearly and the cha cha cha bit cracked me up. You’ve reminded me of square dancing in gym during my grade school years. Which also cracked me up. Thanks for the laughs:).

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