Monday, August 22, 2011

Barkley Dances

When I was in fourth grade, we started having sex-ed programs in school. It was stupid. They would separate the boys from the girls and we would all learn about our bodies and all us girls would watch these cheesy VHS movies about becoming a woman and all that mush. Bor-ang

My mother had already taken me out for an ice cream that previous summer and told me all about it in the car. That was one trip to Baskin Robbins I'll never forget. I'll never look at orange sherbet the same way again. It dripped down my arm as I sat there in pigtails while my mother told me about the birds and the bees. My mouth gaped open while I listened and wanted to throw up.

So, like I said, by the time I was sitting in class watching these stupid videos, I was way over the shock. I will however say that looking back, I'm so glad I heard about all that stuff from my mother first, instead of hearing it from anyone else.

It was also in fourth grade that kids were now allowed to enter "Barkley". Barkley was a very pretentious ballroom dance studio and every parent in our WASP town wanted their kid in Barkley once they hit fourth grade. They did not allow ballroom dancing at a younger age because they knew that the boys and girls would not be interested enough in one another to actually dance with each other. Up until this point we were still running abound the black top at school giving each other cootie shots because the boys would make us cry from all the punching of their dead arms.

But not in fourth grade. I don't know who decided that fourth grade was the magic number in our town, but somebody did. Maybe they all got together at the town meeting and decided that fourth grade was a good age for their children to grow up. Or maybe it's because puberty starts for most kids around 9 or 10. Actually, that's probably it, but I just like the idea of an town meeting.

Before I go any further I should probably explain Barkley a bit more. You see it wasn't just a dance class. It was an etiquette and manners class too. It was co-taught by a husband and wife and held at one of the snooty country clubs in town. The class was held in a large oval dance room with seats all around the outside. It had a dress code. Girls were required to wear party dresses, dress shoes and white gloves. Boys had to wear slacks, loafers, a button down shirt, and tie. Mr and Mrs. Barkley meant business. Every class they themselves were dressed to the nines. She was a very glamorous older woman and the only way to describe him was debonair.

The girls were taught to how to sit like a lady instead of like a slob. We were taught that the most polite way to sit was by tucking our legs under us and crossing our ankles, but the traditional crossover was okay too. Boys were also taught how to sit so that they didn't look like pre pubesent monkeys flopping all over the place in their chairs.

They taught us how to bow and curtsy and shake hands. Mostly though, they taught us how to dance. Mr and Mrs Barkely taught us everything. They would demonstrate the dance in the center of the room and then the little band of old timers they had would start to play and we would all follow. It was hilarious, but at the time it was no laughing matter. I remember we were all so nervous that at the end of each class, my white gloves would be damp because of all the sweaty hands I held. Thank goodness for those white gloves or I would have been wiping my hands on my dress every 10 seconds.

They taught us everything. The Box Step, the Cha Cha, the Waltz, the Charleston, the Pretzel, and on and on. By the time the lesson was over we would start to loosen up and have a good time with each other once we got the steps memorized. They also taught us how to politely cut in by tapping another person on the back of the shoulder. Then by the end of the session, it would become like a competition to see who could do it the best and the last couple dancing (who never made any mistakes) got a prize.

I remember one dress of mine in particular. It was pink with a high neck, and a satin bow in the front. I would wear it with the first pair of black patent leather tiny heels my mother bought for me. My favorite thing about the dress though was that it twirled. I would spin in a circle in front of the mirror and it would twirl way out. I loved to wear that dress to Barkley and get twirled by my partner while we danced. I felt like a little princess. It was the first time I ever experienced the feeling of breathlessness from a young man, but in the most innocent way possible. It was just a fun sweet feeling of wonderment, and the first time I felt recognized by a young boy as not some annoying pesky girl, but as someone a little bit mysterious and not like a child, but more like a young lady.

I can't believe this but Barkley now has a website. It's still going on apparently. If you've read this far then I'd encourage you to read the "About Barkley". And if you ever meet me on the dance floor and don't know what to do, then I'll just pull out my little white gloves and show you a thing or two.


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Denise O said...

What a lovely story. I have been looking around your blog, I am liking what I see. A well written piece. Thank you for sharing.:)