In those days, people weren't so casual about social interaction. And it was doubly complicated because we were all stuck in the limbo of adolescence, therefore having no clue about what to do or think next.

Back in the dark ages, when I was in 6th grade, all of us innocent, unsuspecting, trusting kids were forced to attend something called Dance Class. Since we were just leaving childhood and embarking on a terrifying journey called Growing Up, the prospect of dancing with a member of the opposite sex was viscerally frightening. Remember, it was a different time. In those days, people weren't so casual about social interaction. And it was doubly complicated because we were all stuck in the limbo of adolescence, therefore having no clue about what to do or think next.

Here is the template for a typical dance class: If you were a girl, you would spend one hour minimum getting dressed. Your school clothes consisting of black and white saddle shoes, bobby socks and a pleated skirt wouldn't do. Instead, a fancy dress, made of taffeta or organza, white gloves, patent leather flats and maybe even a touch of lipstick were considered de rigueur. The lipstick was applied just after your parents dropped you off, as you weren't allowed to wear makeup at your tender age. If you were a boy, a sport coat (usually of questionable color and cut), a skinny black tie and a well-styled head of hair were required. The hair was often a work of art and took time to create. There was the classic pompadour, i.e., the Elvis look, the pronounced side part a la Cary Grant (who was very much alive and emulated in those days), the duck tail and the quaff (think James Dean). There was also, of course, the ever-present flattop, which had to be held in position with a thick layer of wax. A number of the boys just gave up and wore a buzz cut.

Having completed our preparations, we were then chauffeured by our parents to a local gym where the class took place. Upon entering, we were scrutinized by Mrs. Marie Vogt, our dance instructor. The girls' white gloves were closely inspected, and the boys were subjected to having their fingernails examined.

My memories of Mrs. Vogt are fuzzy, but my friend Jane, who endured the experience along with me, remembers that she always wore very high heels, a shiny taffeta skirt and tons of make-up. She was also prone to constantly correcting our posture, and didn't stand for hijinks.

The class would begin with the click-clack of castanets, which Mrs. Vogt used to signal everyone to be quiet. More clicks from the castanets meant we would automatically embark on something called The Promenade. When The Promenade was over, whoever ended up standing across from you became your partner. As fate would have it for me, the tallest girl in the class, that someone was often the shortest boy. I spent that tortuous time bending over and contorting my body in every way imaginable to try to magically become 12 inches shorter. My mortification was complete. Click-clack.

The only thing that made my lot at all bearable was that when I gazed across the gym I would sometimes see my friend Dainty Dana, all 4'10" and eighty-five pounds of her, encircled in the arms of the hulk that was the class's tallest boy. There is, and was, no justice.

My aforementioned friend Jane had her own embarrassing experience. Two boys had a crush on her, and one momentous night one tried to cut in on the other. A fight quickly ensued. Up on the stage, where the parents were seated and watching all the budding Fred Astaires, a fight also broke out. Only this time, it was between the boys' mothers.

My friend Mary recalls that Mrs. Vogt often told us to "Lunge!" while executing a step, only Mary spent the whole time thinking she was telling us to "Lust!" She insisted on this and repeatedly reported it to her mother, who was most amused.

Somehow, we all survived 6th grade dance class and actually did learn how to waltz, foxtrot, tango and rumba. I can still do a few of those dances, so I guess the class was effective. Sadly, however, I seem to have misplaced my white gloves, and I will never again feel the same way about castanets.

Kay Jewett is "tripping the light fantastic" at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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