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Posts Tagged ‘dancing’

A little thematic music … but whatever you do, don’t dance.

To steal a phrase from the Mennonites, I consider myself to have been in the Eighties, but not of the Eighties.

Growing up in that decade, I spent most of it wanting to be somewhere else. Most of my cultural choices in my pre-teen and teenage years (long hair, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Saturday Night Fever and Midnight Cowboy, to name a few) evinced a desire to escape.

I couldn’t avoid the popular culture of my youth, though.

For instance, I was still listening to Top 40 radio (the late, unlamented WMJQ-92 in Rochester) when the movie Footloose hit big in 1984, dragging a whole raft of hit songs along with it.

The movie told the unlikely but apparently true story of an Oklahoma town that banned dancing, with Kevin Bacon (not yet a pop-culture in-joke) starring as the big-city drop-in who broke the elders’ grip on their children’s hips.

Sounds dopey now — and indeed, I think it was kinda dopey then — but it made its mark on People Of A Certain Age, even those who wished they were somewhere else.

I had to think of Footloose, and all the related Eighties baggage, when I saw this week’s calendar entry:

March 4, 1961.

March 4, 1961.

I dunno what was going on in the red print — something about birthday cards, gifts and Time magazine.

Instead, I concentrated on the black print, which says something about my dad the teenage musician having a gig (“Job”) but stipulating that the gig involved “no dancing.”

I found that curious for reasons having nothing to do with Kevin Bacon.

Stamford and its environs are not particularly fundamentalist, and certainly not the sort of places to prevent people from shaking their tail feathers.

Inevitably, I had to wonder: Where was this gig, and why did the musicians hired in advance know that people wouldn’t be dancing?

And what did it matter to my dad? Did his preparations for the gig somehow change, based on whether or not people would be cutting the rug? Did he have to adjust his musical phrasing to be as corny and square as possible, to discourage any would-be jivers from taking the floor?

I asked my dad, and not surprisingly, he was unable to recall this specific gig at almost 55 years’ distance. Nor did he recall why Terpsichore was not a welcome guest.

He did come up with one interesting suggestion based on the calendar entry. In those days, he sometimes brought musical “fake books” to gigs, to help him navigate unexpected and unfamiliar tunes. If he knew in advance there was not going to be any dancing, that might have been a cue to bring a different book.

In his words:

Pretty mundane, but at the very last “no dancing” would indicate a different repertoire, and therefore would probably be a clue to bring different music.

 I did occasionally play with folks I didn’t play with regularly, and brought a cardboard fold-away music stand (looked like one of those big band stands when assembled) from which I read.  Other times it was probably more a security blanket, but yeh, I brought it.

Funny how much you keep in your head at that age.  Nowadays when I write a gig on the calendar I write the time, who’s on the gig, the place, the dress, sometimes the pay (that’s usually in a contract I have in my filing system).  Can’t believe how cavalier I was about gigs then!

(Apparently, around this time, a Midwestern office of the FBI noted that “practically every professional musician in the country owns a copy of one of these fake music books.” The cultural history of the fake book would be a fascinating blog post … but, alas, this ain’t the one.)

So, who knows what the story was?

Perhaps there is some person in Stamford who recalls going to hear music but not being able to dance to it. Perhaps they were even the Dance Police, responsible for dragging rump-shakers off the floor and administering suitable punishment.

Like Footloose, it’s a long-ago memory now.

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For all the girls who ever dreamed of dancing … which is most of the girls, really.

May 16, 1965.

I’m not that familiar with Peter Bogdanovich’s classic film “The Last Picture Show” or the novel on which it was based. But the title has all kinds of evocative resonance — the end of innocence, the end of creativity, the end of escape from the real world.

“The Last Dancing Class” — or even just “Last Dancing Class,” my grandpa’s phrase — carries some of the same feeling.

Dancing is a pretty decent metaphor for the way we try to navigate through daily life with some modicum of grace and poise. The “last dancing class,” then, represents the last lessons of grown-up life we learn before we strike out on our own and try to manage for ourselves in this crazy, complicated world.

(Or, if you accept Mick Jagger’s oft-quoted assertion that “all dancing is a replacement for sex,” the last dancing class metaphorically becomes a preparation for an entirely different rite of passage.)

Dancing classes have a certain historical resonance in the Blumenau family. My grandfather, the guy who kept the calendars, met my grandma at a dancing class in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the mid-1930s.

For them, the “last dancing class” might have been the time when they swapped phone numbers or agreed to keep seeing each other — setting into motion any number of things, including this blog.

No matter what the phrase “last dancing class” evokes for you, there is always a certain bittersweet power in those times when the people who teach you have nothing left to pass along.

You’ve been through the lessons and learned the rules, the skills, the steps and the transitions. It’s up to you to make something of your own out of them — something more than the people who taught you accomplished with the same raw materials.

But you’ve only got so much time to do so before the years catch up with you. Soon enough, you’re the one sitting in the chair, passing the steps on to another generation, secretly hoping they don’t leave you in the dust with the brilliance and imagination you struggled to find for yourself.

The dance goes on, but one by one, we step out of it. And we learn that the last dancing class meant more all along to the teacher than it did to the students.

******

In real life this week’s calendar entry means nothing so dramatic.

My aunt studied dancing for many years growing up. May 16, 1965, must have been the last of a series — perhaps the last lesson with a particular teacher, or the last of a particular style of classes. I do not imagine it was the last dance class she ever took, anywhere.

And anyway, in dancing and in life, it is not always what we learn from formal lessons that sustains and improves us. There are lessons about grace and rhythm and poise to be learned everywhere we go.

Shall we dance, then?

******

Circa 1958.

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