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Posts Tagged ‘Dance’


Dances and ball games were Himni’s primary entertainment in the 60’s. 80% of the student body attended every Himni High football or basketball game. Much of the town did too. During basketball season the gym was always packed. The band was rocking the house. The Pep club was seated in uniform in a block H on the home bleachers. The place smelled of sweat, popcorn and Right Guard.

There was a dance after every home game. Often even the adults stayed to dance.

The Halloween of my Junior year brought the annual costume dance. I took Rhonda Wardley and we double dated with my best friend Mitch and I can’t remember who. Mitch never went steady until the next summer when we met the twins at Boy’s State. That’s another story though. His date could have been just about anybody, but was probably Dana Williams.

Anyway, after showing our activity cards we walked together on to the dance floor and grouped up with a crowd that had already gathered. We had no sooner joined the circle when one of the Hooper twins handed me $20.00!

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“For dancing with Celestia Hopewell,” he said.

“No way!”

He grabbed the twenty back but I hung on – thinking about it. Twenty dollars was a fair chunk of change in those days and one didn’t let it go all that easily. Celestia Hopewell was the oldest, meanest, hardest, strictest teacher on the faculty. She might have retired ten years ago, but teaching High School English was all she knew. The gang had taken up a collection and determined that for $20.00 they could get Jinx to do it. They were right.

Mrs. Hopewell had come in a very elaborate witch’s outfit. It suited her and made her seem even more formidable. Rhonda came as a clown which was pretty much in character for her too.
I had come as a pumpkin. Well, actually, I came with a Jack-o-lantern on my head and a double knit green suit put on backwards. There was a rule against masks. I thought I’d have a little fun, so I cut a large hole in the back of the Jack-o-lantern which completely exposed my face (no mask). The Jack-o-lantern face was in the back, but so was the front of my pants, faux shoes and jacket. It had it’s desired effect too. Twice during the evening I heard the voice of a teacher behind me, instructing me to remove the mask or be kicked out of the dance. It was such a kick to turn around a see the startled look that resulted when they realized they’d been scolding the back of me. Pumpkin guts drizzling down my neck all night was not part of the plan though.

It took a couple of dances and lots of encouragement from Rhonda to get up the gumption to earn my twenty bucks, but I finally did it. I made a broad arch around the gym floor and kind of tricked myself into stopping in front of Celestia Hopewell. She politely commented on my clever costume and I mumbled something about how scary she looked. At least I didn’t lie. Then I cleared my voice and, as politely as I could, asked her to dance. To my chagrin and consternation, she graciously accepted.

We walked together on to the floor. Lots of eyes were on us. I’d picked a slow dance because I just couldn’t picture her doing anything else. We assumed the position, her hand on my shoulder, mine at her waist and the other two joined, and the music stopped. Well, that was awkward. Now we had to visit a bit while we waited for another song. I wasn’t due to take her English class until next year and as it turned out, I chickened out and never did have a class from her. The result was that there just wasn’t that much to talk about. The break lasted forever. I wondered if the guys hadn’t paid off the band too. Finally, the music began. It was Blue Velvet. Once again we made contact and began to dance.

Now Rhonda is a great dancer. She went on to college and became part of a championship ballroom dance team. She always said I was pretty good myself. Celestia, though, was amazing. She responded to every lead I offered. Not once did I feel that she was doing anything but flawlessly following my cues. She let me lead the dancing, but she lead the conversation and was so charming and witty I was in shock. I was having a great time! Me, 16 years old and Mrs. Hopewell, at least 70! I couldn’t believe it. When the song was over, I began to escort her to her seat when she practically begged me for one more. She explained that she hadn’t danced a single time since she was widdowed over 30 years before. I gladly consented. I even relaxed.

When I did take her to her seat I was overwhelmed with how pleasant the experience had been. As she sat down she thanked me and then asked, “So, was it worth $20.00?”

The pumpkin surrounding my head began to steam. I was about to break and run, when she presented me with the sweetest, warmest smile. I took a deep breath and replied that I”d pay $20.00 to have the opportunity again. I meant it too.

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My Sophomore year was a challenge. After being big fish in a little pond at the Jr. High, now we were little fish in a big pond. Actually, I never was a big fish at the Jr. High, so I felt especially small at the High School. Playing football in the fall had helped some. I had toughened up, but what good is tough when you still only weigh 105 pounds! Mostly, I laid low and kept out of the way.

One day in the Spring, though, I discovered there is great power in numbers. It was a lesson I would never forget.

I don’t know who started it. As things like this happen, it really doesn’t matter. After lunch, as I was wandering back to class, I discovered a bunch of kids sitting against the wall on the floor of the hallway outside the Principal’s office. They were chanting, “We want a Mat Dance!”

A Mat Dance or Matinee Dance was an occasional occurrence at Himni High. Classes would be shortened to free up an hour, maybe even two in the afternoon for a dance in the gym. We all loved them. Not necessarily because we loved to dance, but any excuse to get out of the classroom was great. Often Mat Dances were a carrot to motivate us in some way. They usually worked.

I wanted a Mat Dance so I joined the chanting crowd. “We want a Mat Dance.” “We want a Mat Dance…..”

Pretty soon it seemed the whole school, minus Marcy Merriweather was chanting in the halls. We lined almost the entire length of the main hall. I guess most of the kids knew what was going on but I didn’t really have a clue. Mr. Steckler came out of his office after a few minutes of this and instructed us to get to class. Those closest to him acted as if he hadn’t said a word. They stared him down and he retreated to his office. I’d have cowered at his command and skedaddled to class in a heart beat, had I been alone. Instead, as the crowd stayed, so did I. I looked around for some of my pals, but none were in sight. Even though I was isolated from my friends, I felt sort of empowered by this rebellion and was getting pretty excited.

The first bell rang, we chanted on. When the second bell rang Mr. Steckler returned to the hall. His face was red with frustration. He wasn’t a powerful man by any stretch of the word. He had a situation he needed to handle, it was going badly and he was not prepared to deal with it. He shouted at the top of his lungs, “If you are not all back in class by the time I count to three, so help me, I’ll flunk every last Jack one of you!” I still don’t know what Jack had to do with it.

“One!”

“Two!” No one flinched except Mr. Steckler. Beads of sweat that had formed on his forehead began to trickle.

As “Three” escaped his lips a loud and simultaneous shout of “April Fools!” drowned it out. In an instant, we vanished to our respective classrooms, chuckling at our clever prank. I too was chuckling and somewhat exhilarated, but there was this nagging dismay. I hadn’t even known what was going on. “April Fools” was as big a surprise to me as it was to Mr. Steckler. As I ducked into Mr. Olson’s class I glanced back to see the Principal still standing there, in shock.

That afternoon went along as usual until the end of fifth period. As there was no intercom, a girl was sent around to read a message to each class. We were to meet in the Old Gym at the beginning of sixth hour. The general consensus was that we’d achieved our goal of a Mat Dance!

When the bell rang we wasted no time getting down there and seated.

The Old Gym was built along with the “new” Himni High School. The School Board had not anticipated the impact the oil industry would have on our community and so in just a few years the facility underwent a major expansion. Added were: several classrooms, and new cafeteria, the library was moved to the old lunch room, an auditorium and, of course, a new spacious gymnasium. For events like dances we still favored the Old Gym. It was a bit cozier and the coaches had less angst about it’s hardwood floor. The Old Gym was quite small. It had two rows of benches on each side of the playing floor and a large set of fold out bleachers on the stage. We all situated our selves on the stage bleachers and on the west side benches nearest the stage. I was actually sitting on the front edge of the stage at the west end. The faculty and administration seated them selves on the east side benches near the entrance to the gym, near the east end of the stage. A microphone on a stand had been set up in front of the teachers.

Mr. Steckler stepped to the mike, cleared his voice and explained that Mr. Parker, the Vice Principal, who also, of course, was my Dad had an important announcement to make.

Dad took his place with an unusually, somber look on his face. He too, uncharacteristically, cleared his voice. “It may come as a surprise to you that this is and EDUCATIONAL institution.!” He sounded angry. “The incident in the hall this afternoon has reminded us that the student body has largely lost track of this fact. We have determined, therefore, to make some changes to ensure the educational integrity of Himni High School. We have met, therefore, to inform you that as of this moment, the Student Council has been abolished! In addition all classes involving sports, music, dance, drama and art have been discontinued as well as all future extracurricular activities! It is our intent….”

“YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” came an angry voice from the bleachers. “THAT’S COMMUNISM!”

I looked to see who it was. Rick Majors was racing from the stands. His fists were clenched and his face was red with rage. Rick was our Student Body President/Quarterback/Heartthrob/Straight A Student.

“THE HECK WE CAN’T!” shouted Mr. Parker. “WE’VE ALREADY DONE IT!”

Rick crossed the hardwood in a flash and with one right cross, decked my Dad. Who went down like a ton of bricks. Mom was kneeling at his side almost instantly.

I, on the other hand, was paralyzed with fear. Rick’s bravado had spurred the student body and they were hot on Rick’s heels in a seething pursuit of justice. This furious, raging mob was going to massacre the faculty, including my beloved Mom and Dad! In my memory it seems like slow motion, kind of a bleary streak of greasy hair, white T-shirts, pegged blue jeans exposing five inches of white socks and black oxford shoes all storming pell-mell toward disaster.

The horde made it about half way across the gym floor when Mr. Steckler flung the contents of a large pasteboard box at them. It was a colorful cascade of Salt Water Taffy accompanied by a victorious shout of APRIL FOOLS!

The mob skidded to a confused, chaotic halt. Know one knew what to do next.

Mom had looked up from patting Dad’s cheek to see what had happened. When she looked back she saw this huge cheesy grin on his face. She slapped him so hard she knocked his false teeth across the floor. In awkward silence the students began picking up the candy, more like they were cleaning up a mess than racing for goodies. Mom stormed out of the gym in a fury, Dad in desperate pursuit. Rick was sitting on the east side bench with his face in his hands.

The music began and Mr. Steckler, like he didn’t even know what had just happened, announced, “ENJOY YOUR MAT DANCE!”

We didn’t – we couldn’t.

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