My 8th Grade Dance still makes me cringe, 49 years later

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

At St. Joseph's Elementary School, tradition was to hold an end-of-the-year dance to celebrate our passage onto high school.

For weeks, dance teacher Mrs. Lynch, with Mrs. Glader at the piano, attempted to teach the class of 120 students ballroom dancing.

There were giggles, clumsy feet and no "smell of Teen Spirit" in that stuffy gym with no air conditioning.

Mrs. Lynch always paired us off and because there were more boys than girls, the boys would rotate and dance together. Or, God forbid, dance with Mrs. Lynch as a co-instructor.

On the last day of dance classes, before the big event that Friday night, the girls were able to choose their dance partner for the first time.

Shyly, I asked Ronald, one of the Schmidt twins, to dance. The next dance was fair game. The boys would ask a girl to dance. So this is what it's like to be a grown-up? A preview of what was to come in high school?

All the girls lined up in a circle surrounding these Catholic school, uniformed boys sporting clip-on ties and crew cuts.

When Mrs. Lynch gave the "okay," the boys headed out to awkwardly select their Fox Trot partner.

Then it happened.

The worst thing that could ever happen in an 8th grade girl's life.

Not one single boy would ask me to dance.

Remember, there were more boys than girls in our class.

There I stood, mortified, against the wall, all alone.

About seven boys in the room glanced my way, but not a soul came forward.

The entire class froze, staring down at this vulnerable, young teen on the brink of blubbering tears.

I was painfully shy and still played with Barbie dolls, but I don't believe I was offensive.

Then Mrs. Lynch stepped in.

Scolding the class, she made everyone go back to their original places and begin again.

This time, John Slawinski came forward to salvage what dignity I still had, and asked me to dance.

Bless him.

To this day, I hold a special place in my heart for John Slawinski. And he was actually a pretty good dancer.

Because of this experience of feeling left out, humiliated and ostracized in such a public way, I vowed to never let another human being ever feel that way on my watch.

I still cringe for my fourteen-year-old self.

But the sadness blossomed into compassion and empathy and made me a much kinder person.

I never was much of a dancer anyway.

 

 

 

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Filed under: Lifestyle, Observations

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