The Bessie Clark Dance Studio
written by Ron:
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I still blush thinking about those days
I was fifteen years old and as dumb as could be when it came to girls. My hormones were just awakening. My mother and father knew what was going on with my mind and body. All I knew was that my legs seemed to belong to a body that was not yet fully mine. I felt as though my torso ended near my armpits and my legs began at that point. I couldn’t help from bumping into everything in sight. I wasn’t sure if I was four feet or seven feet tall. Even my grandmother, who lived with us, knew what was going on. I was going through, what they referred to as “growing pains.” I wasn’t a little boy anymore, but neither was I a man. I was an “in-between.”
Up until this year, 1949, girls were merely “not boys.” I noticed girls. I even fell in love with some. I just didn’t know what “falling in love” meant. I didn’t know what a boy did if you fell in love with a girl.
I knew that I had fallen in love with Jeannette Darling. She was in my eighth grade class and I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I stared at her all day in class. At night I would ride my bicycle past her house and imagine seeing her in the moonlight. If she did come out of her house I would claim that I didn’t know where she lived. Just fate that I was peddling by her house.
One early evening Jeannette came out of her house just as I was slowly pedaling by. She noticed me, looked my way and smiled. I took that smile as meaning we were in love with each other. We talked about school and my bicycle. She told me she had to go inside and have dinner. I went home feeling elated and confused.
That was the one and only time that Jeannette Darling and I ever spoke with each other. The remainder of the school year I stayed away from her. I knew that any closer contact with her would prove that I knew nothing about dating or even being friendly with a girl my age.
The next year Jeannette Darling moved away, but I’ve never forgotten how beautiful she was.
One day, during summer vacation, my mother said to me, “Son, come sit next to me.” She pointed towards the couch in the living room. She sat down first and pointed to her left.
“You’ve come to the age where you should be learning about dating and girls.”
I stuttered, “Ma, please.”
“No, son, it’s time you learned about how to act around girls.”
“There’s a dance studio downtown. I’ve called them and you should be going there to learn how to dance.”
“We’ve saved up the money and they have a new class starting on Wednesday. I hope you’ll go and learn.”
“You’ll be fine. It’s a beginner’s class. It’s time you learned.”
I knew Mom was right. As embarrassing as it was, to think about dancing with a girl, I knew it was the right thing to do.
On that Wednesday afternoon my mother told me, “Now, you take a shower, comb your hair nice, put on some of your dad’s after shave lotion and wear clean clothes. Clean underwear too and brush your teeth for five minutes before you leave the house.”
I left home and pedaled my bike to La Brea Avenue, just north of Queen Street in downtown Inglewood.
There was a sign hanging from the second floor of the two story building – “Bessie Clark’s Dance Studio.”
I pedaled around the block twice before overcoming my desire to cut and run. I wanted to go home, but I couldn’t, I shouldn’t.
Finally, I dragged the bike into the lobby and left it leaning against the row of mail boxes built into the wall.
I walked up the wooden stairs. At the top of the landing a young girl sat at a rickety old school desk and asked me, “You here for the beginner’s dance class? If you are, go through those doors over there, you’ll hear the music.”
Through the doors and there it was. A large room, wooden floors, a table with a record player, a dance instructor and seven boys around my age and six girls also around my age.
The instructor asked for quiet and said, “Good afternoon. Welcome to the Bessie Clark Dance Studio. At the end of this six week class, which will meet at this same time every Wednesday, you should be able to go to your school dances and be at ease dancing with your favorite guy or gal. Now, let’s get started.”
We paired off, boy, girl. I was assigned a short, stocky girl, who I recognized from my class at school. She wore a lawn green taffeta dress that billowed around her with a radius of three feet. The instructor had the boys put our arms around the girls. I did it and began immediately sweating. I silently prayed that the wetness would not show on my chest, back and underarms. I didn’t want Miss Green Dress to get her hands wet from my sweat.
Miss Green Dress introduced herself as Patty. I warbled, “My name is Ron, thank you.” I swallowed and wondered why I said ‘thank you.’ I was rapidly going downhill.
The first dance was a slow tune, sung by Teresa Brewer. I stepped on Patty’s left foot and said, “I’m sorry.” Patty smoothed the front of her taffeta dress and told me, “That’s okay, it’ll heal.” I smiled and understood the joke. It was on me.
The sweating continued. I wanted a towel.
The second song was slow and sung by Kay Starr. I gained an inch of confidence. My right arm was now semi-permanently affixed to Patty’s back. My left hand was dripping sweat into her right hand. I pulled it away and wiped it on the front of my pants leg and said, “I have an itch.” I know she didn’t believe me because she wiped hers on the front of her taffeta dress.
I managed to stay upright through the first two hours of dance instructions.
When I got home my mother asked me, “How did it go?” I lied and told her, “Great.”
I attended the next five classes and with each one sweated less. The final class we boys had to wear suits and ties. The girls, formals. We had to dance with different partners to each of the ten songs. My last dance was with Patty. She wore the same green taffeta dress. I didn’t step on her feet – not once. We had all learned to dance the box step.
The instructor gave us all diplomas, proving that we had graduated from the Bessie Clark Dance Studio.
I gave the diploma to my mother and said, “It was fun.” I lied.
When I got to high school I only gathered enough courage to go to one dance. I still sweat a little when I have to dance. Nothing like when I was fifteen, though.
I saw Patty again when we were both seniors in high school. She was slender and beautiful. We walked past each other in a hallway. She was with the school’s star quarterback. We looked at each other, nodded and continued walking.
I walked on and noticed that my hands were sweating.
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