With Brylcream-slicked hair and Mom-pressed shirts, the boys stood against the auditorium wall, as if they were about to be shot by a firing squad.
In a metaphorical way, they were.
Soldiers each, they were about to embark on the most damnable mission of their young lives…crossing the auditorium’s wide oak floor, to ask one of us girls at the opposite wall to dance.
We girls stood together, pretend-chatting, trying to appear blasé, hoping we’d be asked by some boy, not left the lone girl unworthy of invitation.
If we slow-danced with a boy, we’d sheepishly extend hands, hoping damp palms didn’t give away too much the fact we were terrified at such proximity to the opposite sex.
We needn’t have worried: the boys were just as terrified. After all, they were supposed to lead.
If a girl rejected some brave boy’s request (and many did,) the boy would have to slink back in retreat across that floor or risk a second “No,” from another.
No 12-14 year-old boy had that kind of intestinal fortitude.
Because of the format, Al Angelone‘s School of Dance Night at West Warwick Jr. High became a sort of Maginot Line for young men. It would ready them for life contests to come.
But those important nights came much later than my introduction to dance, for I’d had my own personal dance lessons earlier in life, when Mom brought me, weekly, to Mrs. Helen King Walthers’ Dance Studio, held on the second floor of the brick J. Flanagan building in Clyde, the Phenix section of town. I was probably around eight years old.
The lady who ran the school was typical of ballerinas everywhere, in that she was lithe, slim, and flexible, with her blonde-ish, silver hair tied up in a neat little bun, allowing her to do the low bends and sweeps she’d doubtless spent a lifetime perfecting.
As a young girl, I was fascinated not so much by her agile movements as the black, diamond-patterned, net stocking tights she wore with her form-fitting mini-leotard and short-stacked heels. To me, she was the quintessence of glamour. No other mothers looked like her.
From her, I’d come away with the belief that dancers who no longer graced the stages of New York for fine performances such as “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” came back to their hometowns to open their own dance studios when they got older.
In class, we students lined up at the bar, before the mirror, limbering up, while the musical cadence helped us through the moves.
I’m sure each of us imagined dance shows where we believed we’d dazzle in those lovely, netted tutus, adorned with sequins. We’d pirouette on one leg, like the dancer on those music box covers. Oh, we’d be magical….
But my career as ballerina was cut short due to circumstances beyond my control, when Mom got a look at 16-year-old ballerina, Betsy Marshall’s (made up name) sinewy, over-developed calves. Just as I was to advance to “toe,” and balance on the front part of the ballet shoe designed to allow such, Mom whipped me out of ballet classes, saying “No daughter of mine will have legs like Betsy’s.”
Despite my protests I’d seen no other girls who suffered that particular affliction, Mom’s decision was final. My career as ballerina was over.
I wouldn’t dance, with real partners, until years later, when Al Angelone’s Dance Night came each Wednesday to West Warwick Junior High….
Even then, those ‘real partners’ were questionable.
Now, my question: Were you a dancer? Do you remember Al Angelone’s Dance Night at West Warwick Jr. High? Comment below, or to the Facebook pages to which I post these articles, or to the Kent County Daily Times’ website under my column.
West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.