Dancing On A Basketball Court

School dances. Those were the nights. The elementary school I attended didn’t hold any. However, they did try teaching us some square dance steps a few times. Now, learning square dancing was fun, but it in no way prepared one for dancing to the likes of Bob Seger, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Heart, Boston, Chicago, disco, Ted Nugent, Van Halen or Talking Heads. After graduating, I moved on to South Intermediate School for my 7th, 8th and 9th grades. At South, I was introduced to the “school dance”. Even then I didn’t attend one until 8th grade. I had to be talked into it. Of course I went by myself, meeting friends there. Mostly I went for the music. The social aspects didn’t interest me all that much, I am not good in crowds.

South had two gyms next to each other, separated by a wall but connected with a door. One gym was used for the dance while the other as a refuge from the dance. It was a place to rest your throat. Cool off. Whatever. Against a wall in the dance gym, a local radio DJ would set up, take requests, dedications and play music. One DJ I can remember was Shotgun Mark Rivers, “always pumping out the hits” was his catch phrase. He worked at WHNN when it was a real radio station. I digress a bit. Both gyms had seating on two sides that over looked the gym floor were you could sit and watch the action below. I did that quite a bit, at least for the first few dances, trying figure out the intrigue.

These dances had names but that was about it. You bought a ticket that had been printed especially for that dance. No raffle tickets on a roll for these dances, oh no. After that, it was come as you are. They were nothing like the ones seen in movies or on TV shows from the 50’ or early 60’s. Just lights, some paper decorations and a DJ.

We developed our own dancing styles into two types, slow and fast depending on the tempo. These styles were always a work in progress. For slow, there were just a few things. Arms around the waist or neck. Hips slowly swaying together. Some talking with a few jokes. The fast style was really free style. Whatever moved you. From a Snoopy happy dance to disco. Never once did I see a person or couple take over a dance floor with a routine.

I carry memories from these early dances, but two stand out. My very first slow dance happened then. It was with Sandy. I'll use only her first name so as to protect her from what I'm sure was embarrassing event now long forgotten by her. She was 7th grade and I was 8th grade. We “danced” to “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues. At that time I had yet to slow dance so I was kinda talked into it. Yes, it was fun and we danced at arms length. I was reminded of that fact for years to come.

The second was when Tammy walked up and asked me to dance early in 9th grade. Of course I said yes. I didn’t know her before than or why she did such a thing. Soon afterward, we became a couple. Sometime during the summer of 1975, I broke it off. She has never left my heart or soul since.

As for partaking in formal dances such as Homecoming or Prom, I attended neither of them during my school years. The closest I came to attending any kind of a formal dance was at South. It was called the 9A and required suits and dresses. This dance was held at the end of the school year for just the 9th graders. That caused Tammy and myself a problem. Tammy was 8th grade. I went, she didn’t. We were not happy to say the least.

High school dances where a bit different. Again, no themes or fancy decorations of streamers and signs. Just buy a ticket and show up. Unlike the tickets at South, these where simple ones from a roll of numbered tickets. As I recall I attended each high school dance. Things get a fuzzy around that time, alcohol had entered into my life. I can remember arriving a few times after having  “just a few beers” or a “little” Boone’s Farm Country Kwencher. Either way, I tried not talking the chaperones as I entered the building and concentrated on how good my walking looked.

Once inside and on the gym/dance floor things mostly became a blur. Though I do remember getting into conversations that only teenagers would think to be important and meaningful. Such as, was “Stairway To Heaven” a slow song, or fast song?

I know, a weighty topic indeed. Like we had a clue about what was really important. Cars and music seemed to be the most important things in my circle of friends. Along with car sound systems. The 8 track versus cassettes debate had been quickly settled. I lost but continued buy only cassettes.

“Stairway To Heaven” is 8 minutes and some change long, at least that is what iTunes says. It definitely starts out as a slow dance song. Then around the 4:16 mark the drums kick in a bit more and it begins to shift. No longer is there a true slow dance tempo, but couples continue to slowly dance. By 5:56 the couples still “slow dancing” are merely pretending to do so. Any pretense that one can still slow dance have all but vanished into the guitar riffs.

Around the 6:40 mark the third stage is beginning and the transformation is complete. It has become a fast dance tempo. Those that had been desperately trying to still slow dance have given up. Reluctantly they separate and move into their fast song dance steps. As for those who truly didn’t care what kind of song was playing, they continued to slow dance. They were the couples seriously going steady, had a joint bank account and would be married within 6 months after graduation. They would dance all night long as if every song was a slow song.

Stairway throttles back with 20 seconds remaining, so some couples would move back together while others finished the song by no longer dancing but just talking. Stairway ends with just the voice of Robert Plant. No Instruments, no back up singers, just his powerful voice slowly closing out the song.

It was never really settled, fast or slow. Paper or plastic. Decaf or regular. It never could be. We all danced our parts, laughed and talked. We all danced as we saw fit, to our own steps. Just as how life should be, how it was meant to be. We moved on, moved away but never forgetting our times in a darkened gym, dancing on a basketball court.

Doug Thornhill (dct)