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How My Dad Tried to Teach Me to Dance

Updated on April 30, 2022
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Poetry is one of Lori's favorite ways to share memories, to express feelings, and share what inspires her, so others might be inspired.

I marvel that I have two left feet when it comes to dancing, especially since my dad tried to teach me growing up. He'd turn on some music and have me stand on top of his feet and we would dance. What a thrill it was and romantic; not in an improper way, but just having that attention of love from my dad was special. While we danced he would instruct me a little about the pattern to dance, he'd sing or whistle through his teeth. I don't mean those loud atomic whistles men do at ball games, but he'd whistle the tune through his teeth. I have never met anyone else who does this although I am sure they are are people out there.

Maybe I was so caught up in listening to his chatter or whistling that I failed to focus, but to this day I can't coordinate with the steps. But then again, I haven't been to a dance or party where there is dancing in decades, so there's that. I went to one school dance during my school years. I was thirteen, a tender age with the plague of insecurity and self-consciousness. It was murder standing against the wall, watching my girlfriends and sister dance the night away, I spent most of the night waiting for an invitation. Finally, a pimple-faced boy, three inches shorter than me, voice cracking asked me to dance. My heart thundered. Suddenly I wished I was still leaning back against the wall with a cup of punch and watching the festivities. The thrill of being asked for a dance was now a grave annoyance. The pressure was on, the moment had arrived, I had to wiggle around in front of God and everyone to Creedence Clearwater Revival's Willie and the Poor Boys. Dad never taught me modern teenage dance. Just the old school ballroom stuff. I'd been watching the kids all night. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it, you do your own thing, but I was still petrified. I tried to suggest we go to some remote corner, but he was trying out his manhood leadership skills. He lead me front and center, right under that dancing ball dangling from the ceiling. Much to my horror, I looked up to see the surprised looks of my friend Susan and sister Chris. Their eyes were fixated on me, waiting to see me make a fool of myself. They knew I was a shy, pimple-faced wallflower and boys never gave me a second look. I was actually a good match for this Geeky boy. He started dancing, and heat flamed up my cheeks. So I started to move and met my friend and sister's expectations. I couldn't get the beat. My brain and self-esteem were at war. I wanted to be Goldie Hawn from Laugh-In doing her groovy go-go dances, but I danced like Bambi trying to stand up for the first time—wobbly, awkward, and faltering. It was the longest minute and a half of my life. My face felt like it would explode as the molten lava of humiliation built up.

The good thing is, the boy was having so much fun he never noticed me. He was in hot stuff lala land. When the song mercifully ended, I glanced over to see Susan and Chris laughing at me. I never went to a school dance again.

As I was reliving these memories recently I wrote a poem about dancing with my daddy.

How My Daddy Danced

How my daddy danced

as I stood upon his feet.

He whirled me around the living room

and taught me rhythm to the beat.

My daddy was musical

in a funny sort of way.

He whistled through his teeth

a happy song bouquet.

How my daddy could sing

the standards from of old.

He played a mean harmonica

and taught me how to blow.

But Daddy’s greatest music

to this little daughter’s ears,

was his infectious laughter

that brought us all to tears.

My daddy was outrageous

in stories and jokes he told.

Often I was the subject,

He said I broke the mold.

Though Daddy’s flown away

his laughter carries on,

as music in my memories

that my heart can rest upon.

The Prom I Never Made, the Boy I Never Had

By high school, you were generally asked to a dance. That never happened. I would have gone as I'd gained a tiny bit more confidence and my desire to have a real live boyfriend made me forget my junior high humiliation.

I finally did get a boyfriend, but he was a navy guy. We never went to school dances. That was a short-lived relationship. He was sent to battle in a great ship and came home damaged. I met him at the ship and he dropped me. My first heartbreak.

There was a boy in school that I had become close friends with and I do emphasize "friends." I was his pal and we were close. We worked together at the elementary school next to the high school helping out with special needs kids. We did a lot of talking on the walks between schools. I developed a raging crush on him. In his senior year, he said to me once, "I would take you to the senior prom if my parents hadn't committed me to take another girl already (a friend of the family's daughter). The way he said made me blush. It was tender and full of affection. My heart went into orbit. As it turned out, I didn't care that he couldn't take me to the prom. The fact that he was interested with that special affection in his voice sent me over the moon. That was enough. A real-live handsome young man showed interest in me. Quite frankly, I was relieved I didn't have to make a fool of myself at the dance.

Unfortunately, our relationship didn't really progress. He told me about his new hotrod one day and asked if he could take me for a drive after school. It wasn't a date, though I hoped it would be. He drove like a demon-possessed Loony Tunes road runner up and down the main drag. My heart was in my throat and I feared for my life.

"Watch this," he would say, and kick it into high gear, making the engine roar, and the tachometer soar. "Feel that torque?" he said with crazed eyes. He was like Tom Cruise from Top Gun going Mach ten with his hair on fire. "I feel the need for speed," as Maverick put it. He continued to drive recklessly through traffic. At first, I thought he was showing off, trying to impress me, but then I realized, he wants to kill me. We stopped for ice cream and he dropped me off at home I think. What was I to think? When he'd asked me to go for a drive after school, I was hoping for something more leisurely and more talking. To this day I don't remember what kind of car he drove, only his recklessness and failure to court me.

Although this handsome, overconfident boy continued flirting, showing off, and offering tender compliments, he never quite made it to asking me out. The transition from close friends to boyfriend/girlfriend was too awkward for him I guess. I got tired of waiting and got a boyfriend, a blind date my mother arranged for a co-workers brother just out of the army. When my handsome, crazed driver, show-off boy pal met him, he called him a clown from then on.

"Why are you going with a clown-like that?" he said, jealously oozing out of his pores. It became a constant topic of conversation.

I wanted to say, "Really? Then why don't you ask me out, dreamboat?"

Then it was, "I can do this or that better than him?"

Yeah, except ask me out.

My high school crush graduated and I never saw him again. One of those "if -only" dreams.


Dancing Again With Two Left Feet

Said new boyfriend Ken and I would go out to the Jolly Roger with my parents and sisters and dance in the lounge with a wonderful entertainer who became a sort of friend to my folks. Ken was easy to slow dance with because he just went in a circle. I did what I could with rock and roll and no one judged me. The best thing of all was my dad always asked me for a dance. I didn't stand on his feet then, of course, so my cadence was always off. More gentle instruction, humming, singing, and whistling. The real message is it wasn't about learning to dance, it was about dancing with my dad. He took a special moment to teach me something, which was great, but his endearing words, patience, guidance, humming, singing, whistling, all of it, made for a brief space of time for intimacy. Dad could be an affectionate father, and he loved to rough house (his only way of playing with me and my sister), take our family for drives, continually crack jokes and tell funny stories. But he had a dark side and could wound with his words. Some of his wisecracks were hard on us, even though he had no ill intentions. I think it's best to always remember the good times when you reflect on relationships from the past. Dadd danced with me and all was right with the world.

© 2017 Lori Colbo


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