SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska
Column - Commentary

Not So Dirty Dancing Days  


April 21, 2022
Thursday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
Recently one of my friends reminded me of that time honored tradition, having to square dance in elementary/junior high school.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

Looking back, I'm not sure there was anyone in my sixth-grade class in Houghtaling Elementary School who really wanted to square dance. Our teachers, of course, couched it as "physical exercise." But we knew better. It was all part of the "socialization" process.

Prior to about fourth grade or so, there wasn't much difference between boys and girls. Sure, some girls did really girly things and some boys tried desperately to be "he men. " But for the most part, kids were kids.

Now, of course, fourth graders are about as "mature" as high school seniors were in my day. Which is to say, not really that mature in the grand scheme of things. But they are expected to be able to file taxes, drive a car and operate the TV unsupervised.

In my day (that's twice I've said that, how about a group chorus of "OK, Boomer?"), fourth graders - boys and girls - were a little more kid like.

We all climbed on things. We all fell down. We all got dirty.

And then, we became different,

All of a sudden, the opposite sex got "cooties."

No, not the game.

Although there were some people in my class who seriously resembled those plastic multilegged bugs in the game that were really just Mr. Potato Head. Without the potato. Or the head.

No, these "cooties"" were the real thing.

Honest to gosh "cooties."

Now, to be fair, Wikipedia says that cooties is a "fictitious childhood disease" often "caught from a similar aged child of the opposite sex." Clearly there is a bit of revisionist history going on there. Any self-respecting 9- or 10-year-old knows darn well that Cooties are a real thing.

Long before COVID, cooties were the ultimate air born and/or close contact plague that you could get just by being in the same area code as a similar aged child of the opposite sex.

And because of the threat of cooties,  it was like someone clapped their hands together and boys and girls immediately separated into warring tribes and headed to our "not so neutral corners" at opposite ends of the gym.

People that you had been friends with all your lives, short as they had been up to that point, suddenly became as foreign as people from Mars.

And then bodies started to change and it got even worse. Pretty soon, we couldn't even watch the same "movies" together. The girls were heading off to the gym to watch things that were none of the boys' business and the boys, well, we just watched John Wayne movies over and over in our classes. Go figure.

Which probably explains why we grew up the way we did. The girls were learning all about reproduction and other important stuff. We boys were learning how to chase varmits and shoot while on horseback. Valuable skills in 1960s Ketchikan.

But I digress.

Anyway, right in the middle of all this "growing" apart the adults figured out that we needed a little nudge to get back in "contact" with our pre-better halves.

And that contact point was square dancing.

Now, to be honest, by 1969 or so, it had been likely 100 years since anyone had actually socially squared danced in these here United States. Anyone who hadn't been born during the Civil War that is.

I remember watching some square dancing on a Canadian TV variety show (maybe it was Tommy Hunter?) and thinking "wow" that is some prehistoric foot pounding and sashay swishing going on there.

Of course, our adult chaperones (teachers) weren't planning on letting us do anything remotely resembling "modern" dance.

That was too, uh, suggestive. Well, actually all that pre-adult undulating was quite a bit more than "suggestive." They didn't let us try that until eighth grade. And even then, our teacher-chaperones seemed obsessed with the six-inch rule. As if physically keeping us six inches apart made it all better. Or safer. Or less contagious.

Not that we were really engaged in the come-hither gyrations that we would eventually learn in high school. When you are in eighth grade you really don't "gyrate" because that would call attention to you and whatever unfortunate body part - or facial imperfection - you did not want to call attention to.

In eighth grade, we were really just "wallflowers." Every danged one of us.

So, during school dances, we just sort of slowly swayed back and forth and occasionally briefly bumped together and swooned. Which then led to some teacher brandishing a ruler like a sword and shouting "six inches, six inches!"

But I digress again.

Before that we square danced. We swung our partners round and round. We clasped hands and arms with multiple people of the opposite sex. We all engaged in an activity that we all openly hated. Except that we didn't. Because there was always at least one other person in our "square" that we secretly had a crush on.

And it was worth all the geekiness of it all to have that brief bit of passing crush contact, even if that crush was normally so, so, so far out of our league.

But, looking back, square dancing was something more than that.

It was a learning experience.

How so?

I am SO glad you asked.

Well, first of all, we learned patience. We learned that even all the sighing and the eyerolling in the world could not prevent us from being forcibly paired off, two by two, and being forced to "allemande left" or "promenade" or "Swing your partner round and round stick em in the toilet and flush em down!"

No, that last one was only what we were thinking at the time if we hadn't been paired off with our secret crush.

We also learned that it was okay if someone else smelled funny. You could quickly pass them off to the next person in line. Plus, after a few minutes everyone was smelling funny.

Probably best of all, we learned that it was indeed possible to let your partner "go."

And they would eventually come back.

Perhaps a little worse for wear.

But they would come back.

After a half sashay.

And left swing thru

And a slip the clutch

And a box the gnat

And a couple's trade

At least until shoot the star wheeled and dealed into an alamo style flutterwheel.

Or until an overeager chaperone started yelling "six inches."


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