Saturday, November 27, 2021

Swing your partner round and round…

| August 15, 2021 12:00 AM

I’m not sure what made me recently recall my days of square-dance instruction in elementary school physical education class. It didn’t bring back the fondest of memories.

We spent many weeks in both fifth and sixth grade, as I remember, learning how to do-si-do, allemande left and right and promenade to the music broadcast over whatever passed as an acceptable sound system in the late 1960s.

This was most likely the first time some of the girls had ever touched a boy’s hands (other than our brothers’ hand), and vice versa. I can still remember the feel of Bobby’s hands, which were rough and so dry it felt like I was gripping tree bark. And Craig’s hands were hot, sweaty and a little doughy. The running joke at the time was “Swing your partner round and round, put him in the toilet and flush him down…” Gotta love kid humor.

I’m not sure if square dancing is still in vogue these days during middle-school P.E. classes. Some reports I’ve seen indicate it’s no longer required instruction for schools. My kids had to endure the endless promenading, though.

Heather said her class learned to square dance and jitterbug in fifth and sixth grade.

“I can allemande left like a [pro],” she texted me. (I edited out some profanity!)

She also shared a story that, had I known about it at the time, I might have had a word with the P.E. teacher. She recalled the time she was picked last to be a partner, and the teacher made the remaining boys do rock, paper, scissors to see who would have to dance with her — in front of the entire class. How utterly demeaning. Heather said it was the most humiliating experience of her school days, and she can laugh, sort of, about it now. On a related note, she added, she was always picked first for tug-of-war and dodgeball, where strength and stamina were virtues.

A 2017 article by Smithsonian magazine titled “Square Dancing is Uniquely American” notes that square dancing has been part of the entertainment scene in America for centuries, but it draws on several dances brought over to this country by the Europeans who settled in the original 13 colonies. The article notes African American and Native American dances also had a hand in shaping the development of square dance. Makes sense. So many of our American traditions are an amalgamation of many cultures.

I know there used to be a couple of square-dance groups here in the Flathead Valley; I remember them performing at various events such as the Northwest Montana Fair, with the women wearing colorful, frilly dresses. An online search didn’t bring up any current information, however. If there are square dancers who are still active here, I’d love to hear from them.

Square dancing wasn’t the worst P.E. activity I ever endured. Completing the 600-yard run in seventh grade was way worse. We even staged a 1970s-style sit-in in opposition of the arduous assignment. Mrs. Anderson, our P.E. teacher, didn’t take kindly to our defiance, but that’s a story for another day…

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