Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the legendary Lavern Baker performing her classic, Jim Dandy to set the tone of r this sketch.
I have spent tons of time and reams of cyberspace “paper” in my ill-winded old age holding forth (nice, right, much better than pontificating, no question, or worst misty dream memory lane trance muttering ) reviewing the teenage culture of the 1950s and early 1960s, especially the inevitable school dance and the also equally inevitable trauma of the last dance. That event, the last dance that is, was the last chance for even shy boys like me to prove that we were not wallflowers, or worst. The last chance to rise (or fall) in the torrid and relentless pecking order of the social scene at school.
And moreover to prove to that certain she that you were made of some sort of heroic stuff, the stuff of dreams, of her dreams, thank you very much. Moreover, to make use of that social capital you invested in by learning to dance (at one Miss Wyatt’s, on the sly, unknown on the other side town, on frosty Saturday mornings, ah love’s youth), or the “shadow” of learning to dance (don’t blame tyrant Miss Wyatt for born two left feet, or close to it).
The following is one such episode in that old time, eternal saga.
There were two phases to the old school days dance scene, the high school one when we had all learned, or should have learned, the ropes enough not to be too foolish or too out of line on that social occasion, not if we expected to get a tussle from that certain she or he and the middle school one (formerly known as junior high school, and rightly so, but we will use the current usage here on the off chance that someone who only knows the term middle school is reading this). One could draw a sharp distinction between the two based on such factors as age, the more convoluted nature of social relationships, physical and sexual growth, changes in musical taste, attitudes toward life and toward the opposite sex (and, nowadays, same sex) all made them perfectly obvious as two distinct affairs. Except the additional ubiquitous teacher chaperones to guard against all manner of murder and mayhem, or more likely, someone sneaking out for butts, booze or a little off-hand nuzzling (or mercy, all three) at high school dances. Then. I will keep strictly to the “hot” middle school dance scene here.
In a sense the middle school scene is just an earlier version of the high school dance. No, stop, what am I talking about, hell, there is no question that the high school dance was a picnic to detail in comparison. We were light years ahead by then. At the middle school dance we were just wet-behind-the- ears (boy and girls alike, although I think the girls were a little ahead of us, or at least we boys liked the idea that they were).
Here though is what I gathered from a fellow middle school-er, Francis J. Murphy, “Frankie,” my best friend in those tormented years, when he heard that the big school dance was coming up in the spring (of, ouch, 1959) .
He merely went into denial, denial that he could care about such a “bourgeois” event (not his word, what would we know of bourgeois, or working class either, although the latter was what we were, stuff then better left to Mister Karl Marx and associates, but the idea was there). Such a “square” event (his word, although he was probably clueless about what was square and hip in those days) and that he planned to be “out of town” that day. Ya, like he was the President on important business of state.
But here is the funny thing, a few weeks before the big event, as most of his classmates started to get lined up for, and behind the spirit of, this thing he started making noises about being free, maybe, or that he might be able to free up time that day to fit the dance into his schedule. Probably just a snafu of some sort with his appointment secretary previously, I assume. See, here is what he, and every not-nerd, non-dweeb, heck, just breathing young male and female knew, this event would permanently solidify, solidify like stone, the social order of the school, in or out, no questions asked, no prisoners taken. So he too “knew” that signing that world peace treaty that he seemed to be on the verge of signing rather than attend the dance was nothing compared to being in the fight, the furious fight, to gain leverage in the upper echelons of the school pecking order.
All fair enough, all true enough, if only a rather short sketch of the preparations leading up to the preparations, the seemingly endless preparations for the ‘big night.’ A night that included getting into some serious grooming workouts, including procedures not usually included in the daily toilet. Plenty of deodorant, hair oil, and breathe fresheners. Moreover, endless energy used getting worked up about wardrobe, mode of transportation, and other factors that I have addressed elsewhere, and, additionally, factors contingent upon whether you were dated up or stag. All that need not be repeated here.
Damn, whatever physical description I could conger up would be just so much eye wash anyway. The thing could have been held in an airplane hangar and we all could have been wearing paper bags for all we really cared. What mattered, and maybe will always matter, is the hes looking at those certain shes, and visa-versa. The endless, small, meaningful looks (if stag, of course, eyes straight forward if dated up, or else bloody hell) except for those wallflowers who were permanently looking down at the ground (and maybe still are). And that is the real struggle that went on in those events, for the stags.
The struggle against wallflower-dom. The struggle for at least some room in the social standing, even if near the bottom, rather than outcaste-dom. That struggle was as fierce as any class struggle old Karl Marx might have projected. The straight, upfront calculation (and not infrequently miscalculation), the maneuvering, the averting of eyes, the not averting of eyes, the reading of silence signals, the comprehended "no," the gratuitous "yes." Need I go on? I don’t think so, except, if you had the energy, or even if you didn’t, then you dragged yourself to that last dance. And hoped, hoped to high heaven, that it was a slow one.
Ah, memory. The last dance this night was a slow one. And that “cured” for the moment any angst suffered the last several days before the big night. And who did that fateful last dance save? Well that’s simple. Anyone who has been wounded in love’s young battles; anyone who has longed for that he or she to come through the door; anyone that has been on a date that did not work out, been stranded on a date that has not worked out; anyone who has had to submit to being pieced off with car hop drive-in food; anyone who has gotten a “Dear John” letter or its equivalent; anyone who has been jilted by that certain he or she; anyone who has been turned down for that last school dance from that certain he or she that you counted on to make your lame evening; anyone who has waited endlessly for the telephone to ring(now iPhone, etc., okay for the two people from the younger set who may read this)to hear that certain voice; and, especially those hes and she who have shed those midnight tears for youth's lost love. In short, everybody except those few “most popular “types who the rest of us will not shed one tear over, or the nerds who didn’t count (or care) anyway. The last dance song this night: The Dubs on the slow classic (and the one you prayed for to be that last dance) Could This Be Magic.