Walk Easy in Dancing by
(164 Stories)

Prompted By Embarrassment

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My mother placed great value in dancing. She was good at it, and being a good dancer was one of the three criteria she had for a husband. Unfortunately, my father failed that test, but she married him anyhow. And much to her dismay, her only daughter seemed to have inherited her father’s dancing ability. Nevertheless, she persisted.

As I approached Jeffrey, my face crimson, he uttered the word that doomed me – relax.

The summer before I turned thirteen (such a perfect age for embarrassment), she enrolled me in a social dance class held in a strip mall. The teacher promised to make her students proficient in the fox trot box step, cha-cha, and jitter bug. I remember clinging to the wall, hoping I could somehow learn to be a respectable dancer through osmosis. I learned to do a very stiff fox trot, keeping as far away from my partner as possible. The cha-cha (one-two-cha-cha-cha) was doable. Even my father could perform a passable version of this dance after taking lessons in the living room with another couple to humor my mother. But the jitter bug was my undoing.

As the instructor drilled us with, dig step, dig step, rock-rock, I practiced with the rest of the class, maintaining my position of standing close to the wall and far from her, hoping to escape her notice. Then the worst happened. She asked Jeffrey D, the best dancer in the school, to step forward, and commanded me to perform the jitter bug with him. Perhaps she though pairing him with the worst female dancer in the group would illustrate her talent as a dance teacher. I wanted to disappear. As I approached Jeffrey, my face crimson, he uttered the word that doomed me – relax.

Anyone who becomes tense when asked to perform knows it is impossible to relax when commanded to do so. I can’t even relax my hands when getting a manicure, so his command caused every muscle in my body to tighten. In retrospect, I have to give him credit for trying. But the more he attempted to help me by telling which way to move my body, the stiffer I became. I’m guessing our demonstration lasted two minutes, but it felt like an eternity. There I was, exposed to my peers as the worst dancer in the class.

Much to my mother’s dismay, after this experience I refused to return to the class. I was a social dance drop out, doomed to avoid all fast dance music through junior high and high school. I may have dressed in poodle skirts with crinolines, or in fancy dresses like the one in the featured image, but no way would I ever attempt to jitter bug again.

It wasn’t until college that I realized dancing could be fun. I loved the music, especially the Beatles, Stones, and anything Motown. Dances like the twist, frug, and jerk required lots of energy and minimal coordination, and alcohol relaxed me just fine. I didn’t even need a partner. Ironically, and luckily for them, my daughters are good dancers, and I even have a granddaughter who is an awesome ballerina and a member of a dance troupe. Thankfully, they didn’t inherit my bad dancing gene. But I digress. Back to my embarrassed pre-teen self.

At the end of the school year, we used to pass around autograph books in which friends wrote profound things like, dot-blot, forget me not, or friends-4-ever. Most of my classmates’ proclamations of friendship have been long forgotten. But I still remember what Jeffrey D wrote: walk easy in dancing. Reading that, I re-experienced the humiliation of trying to dance the jitterbug with him in front of my peers and performing miserably. As I write about this moment of shame, I can still feel the awkwardness and embarrassment of my moment of profound failure in social dance class.

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Dig-step, dig-step, rock, rock. It brings it all back, Laurie. I, too, took dance lessons, but in someone’s basement a bit earlier, age-wise, than you did, also in preparation for the bar mitzvah season. I am a good dancer, and picked up the steps pretty quickly (like you, I enjoyed the fast dancing better, and, like you, growing up during Motown’s heyday, it was fantastic). Glad you learned to like the fast dancing and could at least enjoy that.

    But I took this co-ed class shortly after we moved to the suburbs. Wearing those tight ski pants with the elastic on the bottom under the shoes, holding everything in place was the rage. They were a precursor to stirrup pants. Jackie Kennedy made them fashionable, but they weren’t for everyone. I was 11 and still had baby fat. I remember it was my turn to sit down. Donny and Ilene were the hot couple, two rich kids who lived close to me. Donny took my seat to be next to Ilene and wouldn’t give it up. Then he said something horrible to me: “You’ve got a pot belly”. I was more than embarrassed, I was crushed. And from that day to this, 56 years later, I have worked to make certain that I have a flat stomach. It is fair to say that I never got over his off-hand remark.

  2. You forgot one:
    2 good
    2 be
    4 gotten
    Aw Laurie, I feel your pain. And your teacher was clearly a sadist, come on! But I do like Jeffrey D’s words in your yearbook and wonder, did he go on to become a guru of some sort? “Walk easy in dancing” — inscrutable words to live by?

  3. Ah Laurie, embarrassing moments at that awkward pre-adolescent age are traumatic indeed, but sweet that Jeffrey wanted to put you at your ease!

    Looking back we realize how little all that matters, but boy did it at the time!

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks for being brave enough to share this experience with us, Laurie. It has obviously stayed with you for all these years. To state the obvious, not being a great dancer is hardly a character flaw, but that still doesn’t mean that it can’t be excruciating, especially for a young girl in front of her peers.

    I guess my question is whether your situation is worse that what I would call the “Elaine Benes dancing issue” in “Seinfeld.” Elaine is a terrible dancer — and this is shown on camera from time to time — but seems to be completely oblivious to the fact and thus continues on happily dancing (if that is even the right word for it) in her herky-jerky manner.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I probably turned into Elaine in college, but I no longer cared and loved to dance to my favorite music. Still can’t resist a Motown medley or Brown Eyed Girl. Now I goto my happy place and don’t care who is watching. At my age, no one watches me dance anyhow, which is fine with me. Thanks for your empathy, John.

  5. Marian says:

    What a beautiful photo, Laurie, but I can understand your dance angst. And being called out in front of the entire class, to boot. I am relieved that the 60s dances were more aligned with your talents and that you found some fun in them.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Mare. I think I needed a drink to loosen my inhibitions, and I never tried alcohol until college. My first experience was a disaster, as I thought I had to keep drinking to feel good. I’m sure you can guess what happened!

  6. Suzy says:

    Beautiful photo, Laurie, love the headband and the kitten heels! I also love that one of your mother’s 3 criteria for a husband was being a good dancer, but she married your father even though he wasn’t. What were the other two criteria?

    I never took social dance lessons, but I can just imagine how mortifying it must have been to be forced to dance in front of the entire class with the best male dancer in the school. You probably weren’t as bad as you thought you were, but I don’t blame you for refusing to go back!

    The phrase that Jeffrey wrote in your autograph book is so interesting. I’m sorry it caused you pain. I’m not sure I even understand it. Did he mean that dancing was like walking? It sounds like something you might find in a fortune cookie, written by someone whose native language was not English.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yeah, Suzy,. as I was writing it I wondered if he meant it as a metaphor (walk easy in life?). But we were in junior high, so I don’t think so. At any rate, I interpreted it as saying relax, which always makes me more tense. My mother’s other two criteria were that he had to be tall and at least two years older than she, neither of which my father was. So he flunked all three tests, but she said his persistence won the day.

  7. Me, too – dance class dropout. Thanks for the memories, Laurie!

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