Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published Nov 24, 2004

Shall We Dance? 


One day my Father was a perfectly reasonable man who wrinkled his nose at movie star cowboys who got moony eyed over girls and sang love songs. The next day he was telling me how delightful it is to dance with girls.


The change was as abrupt as our family’s move from Kansas to Minnesota . In sixth grade I had been a regular kid. In seventh grade I was the dorky, new kid with a southern accent who had to wear cardboard sun glasses to school because my eyes had been dilated by an ophthalmologist. It would have been better to go blind.


My new acquaintances were the socially inept. It was 1963. The Beatles were the new rage. My crowd claimed that we belonged to the “I hate the Beatles Fan Club.” We made fun of Ringo during lunch in the cafeteria where the girls were permitted to play their 45’s. “I Want to Hold your Hand.” “Twist and Shout.” Not hardly!


I had one buddy, Jim. We threw snowballs down at Hwy 169 from the bluffs above. We rode our bicycles at breakneck speeds down Lee Boulevard . We gawked at carp spawning in the Minnesota River and crawled through pigeon decorated girders under the Main Street Bridge from North Mankato to Mankato .


We also went to school dances. We did not attend because we wanted to dance but because dances were like a fire where people would mill around watching someone else’s house burn down. We hung back at the edge of the crowd and sniggered at the boys who did dance. During “snowballs” we fled the gym and sought refuge in the hallway where we could buy soda pop and slake our thirst. The hallway was a ceasefire zone and snowballs were combat.


Snowballs began with a boy and girl chosen by popular girls in some mysterious lottery. The two would bravely meet at the center of a huge void and begin a slow dance. After twenty or so excruciating seconds someone would call “snowball” and the couple would split apart and pull new partners out of the vast circle of kids surrounding them. This process would continue through four or five slow songs until the statistical possibility of being asked to dance became unbearable. At that point I would flee with the other cootyphobic boys into the hall and slug down Coca cola or Seven up.


After returning home Dad would ask me eagerly if I had danced with anyone. To my horror it turned out that he had been an avid dancer when he had been my age. The parents, in the socially elite community where he had grown up, had hosted hoity toity dances in their homes. He had “crashed” many a party and danced every dance with a different girl. My father was a kissing cowboy! My aversion to girls and by extension to dancing, the one he had inculcated in me a few years earlier, was now viewed as a threat and not a virtue.


When, by eighth grade, I had still failed to dance with anyone my father found the ninth grade daughter of a colleague who said she’d be happy to teach his son how to dance. He hurried home to share the happy news with me. I skipped the rest of the dances that year until she was safely matriculated to high school.


By the time I was in ninth grade my Dad was desperate for me to discover the joys of Terpsichore.  Halfway through the year he offered to pay me fifty cents for every girl I'd dance with at the next dance. I was incensed.


By this time my friend, Jim, was showing more interest in girls than crawling through pigeon crap. He no longer fled to the hallway during snowballs and actually danced a couple of times. I watched him dance disinterestedly the same way I'd watched Tom Stusz gut squirrels. I wasn’t about to dance and take any of my Dad’s dirty money.


While we were walking home I told Jim about my Father’s disgusting bribe and reveled in my purity at resisting it.  Jim was dumfounded. “Your Dad offered you fifty cents for each girl you’d dance with?” He began calculating the profits he could have earned had only he had such a Father. The sum dizzied him. “I would have danced with every girl there!”


Some people have no principles.


Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com