Janet Sheridan: Cutting A Rug

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Janet Sheridan

I first wondered if my family had a dancing disability when I watched my oldest brother, Lawrence, dance at his wedding with an agonized expression and mincing, straight-ahead steps, like a reluctant dog tugged by a leash.

Then Bob bounced by, looking like he was jumping hurdles.

But, what the heck, I’d never be a Ginger Rogers if I didn’t give it a try, so I signed up for a parks and recreation summer session: Introduction to Dance.

I remember peering at my stubborn feet during ballet class, trying to force them into first position with the backs of my heels touching and my sizeable feet turned out, forming a straight line.

I spent three weeks struggling with correct positioning while my classmates cavorted.

I may have resembled an inflexible stork during the ballet sessions, but I excelled at tapping. I can still execute a step, shuffle, ball change while crooning “Bicycle Built for Two”—though I no longer do so in public.

I think I mastered the scuffs of tap better than the arabesques of ballet because the teacher said tap dancing was like playing the drums with your feet — lots of stamping and heel-clunking.

But her notion that we should move like a feather tossed by the wind during ballet had seemed far-fetched. What was light and airy about forcing my feet and arms into unnatural positions while sucking in my bellybutton and pretending a string was pulling up on the top of my head?

My dance lessons did help me shine during the school year when my class performed a minuet for our parents on Washington’s Birthday. We clasped hands with our assigned partners and proceeded in a stately fashion, pointing our toes elegantly on the pauses — a breeze for someone who had mastered first position.

In sixth grade, we square-danced to records, vigorously obeying the caller’s commands to do si do, allemande left, and promenade back home.

Being tall, I sometimes had to dance as a boy to even out the numbers, but I didn’t mind. During two-hand swings, I twirled Molly Evans about until her little legs flew around like helicopter blades.

In junior high, I performed during an assembly about dances of other lands. I wanted to do the Mexican Hat Dance with its hopping, clapping and shouting, but instead led my bashful, embarrassed partner, Bryce Evans, through a robotic cha-cha-cha, while Mrs. Johnson hissed offstage, “One, two cha-cha-cha; one, two, swing-your-hips, SWING YOUR HIPS!”

High school brought romantic slow dancing beneath crepe-paper streamers and glitter-covered baubles. Dancing moves didn’t matter; clutching your partner did. By night’s end, body contact had mashed the girls’ expensive orchid corsages into lumps.

I didn’t experience the freedom of no-hold dancing until college when the twist finally reached Utah. Under the direction of my sophisticated boyfriend from Burley, Idaho, I gyrated my body and swung my hips in a manner that would have silenced Mrs. Johnson.

As a young teacher, I danced beneath indefatigable go-go dancers clad in mini-skirts and white boots at a Reno nightclub. Their bouffant hair never moved and their smiles never faltered as they did the pony, mashed potato, and watusi in cages suspended above the floor.

I performed disheveled imitations of their moves and appreciated my own wisdom in pursuing teaching rather than dance.

Today, I encourage our young grandchildren as they dance around the house, falling to the floor to spin on their backsides or do the worm, and watching them, I understand why I loved to dance: it’s fun.

Also necessary, according to Joel, who once explained that if a guy went up to a girl and said, “Would you like to stand real close to me for several minutes while I wrap my arms around you?” she’d probably reject him.

But if he asked if her to dance, chances are she’d agree.

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