When the music kicks in

June 28, 2013

It’s funny how a little thing like a rural community dance can lead to so much more.

In the early 1940s, the world was distracted by the Second World War and the young people of Bloomfield, New Brunswick and surrounding communities were distracting themselves at a dance hall one Saturday night.

That’s what young people did in small farming communities back then. They didn’t spend their nights posting photos on Facebook or going to the movies or meeting for drinks. You went to dances, and you, well, danced.

Inside the Bloomfield community hall, a young woman who was teaching at a local one-room schoolhouse was approached by a strapping farmhand and asked to dance. She told him she’d never danced with a guy before.

“Then I’ll show you how,” he said.

That young man was my grandfather Sterling and his dancing partner was my grandmother, Evelyn. He must have been quite the instructor because in August, they’ll mark 68 years of marriage.

They wed in 1945 while Sterling was on leave from the war, despite protests from Evelyn’s mother that the groom was from Bloomfield Ridge, an area known for producing its share of trouble makers. Townspeople used to say if you went to Bloomfield Ridge and kicked over a stump, a Mercer would pop out.

My grandparents came from a generation that knew how to dance with partners. There was a set of common rules, and everybody knew how to follow them. The band would kick in and the dancers just seemed to know what to do, circling the floor with effortless style and grace.

But at some point, we stopped learning how to dance.

Just go to a wedding, and you’ll see what I mean. The generation gap is wide on the dance floor, where older couples will move like pros around the floor, and everybody else just stands in a giant circle and randomly shakes different limbs like they’re suffering a mild seizure while hoping that YMCA song will come on.

My generation never learned how to dance. Most of us still have no clue what to do when music kicks in. So we dance backwards or do an awful imitation of a robot, or, when we’re really desperate, tuck our fists under our arms pits and just start flapping away.

My formal dance education was limited to two classes of mandatory square dancing in the gymnasium in Grade 6. We would lock elbows and run around in a circle as some strange man shouted out unintelligible instructions from a stereo, while our gym teacher stood shaking his head and pondering a change of career.

Sock hops in junior high were hardly an improvement. We spent the entire time lining the walls as far away from the girls as possible, bravely venturing near them on our tenth trip to the bathroom. Actually dancing with them? That would just be weird.

By high school, we’d mingle with the girls, but basically still just stood around in clusters that had very little in common with dancing. Then the dreaded slow dance would start, and you’d awkwardly agree to dance with a girl, turning in slow circles on the spot and trying to not show how nervous you were.

Avoiding dancing at all costs is a strategy still holds for younger teenagers today. My 14-year-old niece recently came home upset after a boy took her to a school dance but was to shy to actually dance with her. Dancing with your date at a dance? Imagine that.

Thank goodness my grandfather actually knew what to do when the music kicked in at a dance. Because if he hadn’t, I might not be here.

- Guelph Mercury, 29/06/13

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