Always introduce a new dance class series with the Native American Rain Dance. You need a hook for these poor souls. They were told in no uncertain terms that these dance classes were mandatory and the first person to cop an attitude would face the firing squad. Their eyes are begging you to not make them dance. The only dance they are acquainted with, if they are, is what their older siblings are doing in the dark high school gyms to music that shrieks questionable lyrics at them.
Some of the girls are trying to hide their excitement. They are FINALLY going to get a boy’s undivided attention for a five minute space and maybe even HOLD HANDS. No matter if he was forced at gun point. He will have to acknowledge her existence and treat her with respect. If only it’s the right boy. Oh no. What if the teacher makes her partner with him?? The other girls are never going to stop teasing. He might even think she likes him if she likes the dance. That’s it. The girls after ten minutes of thought have already decided to dance with the other girls and avoid the whole ridiculous mess.
Well, the Native American Dances have props and everybody dances with his own bad self. Perfect. No one is going to notice if you are dancing “heel-toe” instead of “toe-heel”; they are having too much fun with the drums, bells, and ribbon wands. Who doesn’t love to jump up and down yelling while making as much noise as possible during school? Someone gets to be the rain man in the middle, wear the crazy wig and bang the bongo drums. You should choose the most sullen face in the crowd, the one who is in NO way happy to be there. Four lucky kids are rains from the corners of the compass. They spin clouds and wind back and forth over the parched planting grounds. The rest of the tribe circles the room bringing their energy and their teamwork into play. No one is getting graded here. There will not be a test. The smartest kid is irrelevant and so is the class clown and so is the bully and the kid who still can’t do those rotten times tables. Everyone here is too busy, bringing home the rain.
Toward the end of my tenure, I actually made up a hula dance to a song from Lilo and Stitch. The lesson music was uninspiring, so we ditched it and instead danced a sunrise and palm trees and swayed as a group like the ocean, making waves that rolled from one end of the room to the other. Some music can take the class all the way to Hawaii in their imagination. It’s fascinating when the magic moment happens: the music goes into their ears and dances out from their hearts through their fingertips.
Quite on purpose, we wrap up our lessons with my beloved Virginia Reel. Kids typically won’t go to a “dance” today and return home the better for it. Our over sexed, over loud, over materialized music doesn’t seem to encourage manners.
But a dance, once upon a time, was the place to be civilized. The lights were on and the ladies dressed. Where gentlemen impressed ladies with their athletic precision in the steps, their respectful attitude on the sidelines, and practiced intelligent conversation. Where ladies were gracious and polite and made the subtle flirt an art form.
Every boy in our fifth-grade class learned how to bow to their partner, and every girl learned a proper curtsy. It’s at the beginning and end of every square dance.
They may never have occasion again to use this skill. But I am hopeful that knowing what it looks and feels like to “honor your partner”, no matter who it is and what the next dance may be, will go with them into their future. Prepared for that one moment when simple grace and respect could change the course of their lives.