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My First Dance
I was raised as a Fundamental Baptist. Our lengthy credo was always expressed in the negative. One preacher of my youth expressed it well when he said, “I’m here to tell you 32 things I’m against and 2 things I’m for. One thing I’m for is Jesus, the other is being against everything else.
If you wanted a brief list of the “fundamentals” of our faith you could find them very easily right there on the church sign. “Independent. Fundamental. Premillennial. Separated. King James 1611.” We were the aisle-running, hank-waving, slobber-slinging, pew-walking edition.
Although it is en vogue to denigrate one’s heritage these days, I have few regrets about the way I was raised. My only real regret is that I never learned how to dance.
We were taught that “dancing feet don’t go with praying knees,” so that was the end of the discussion. Our folks were concerned that dancing would lead to sex. And of course, it does, if you do it right.
So we didn't tap, or clog, or shuffle, or perambulate in either squares or lines. All dancing was dirty. We even viewed the Lawrence Welk Show as racy because couples did the waltz right there in front of God and everybody.
People who did dance did so in places like The Hideaway Lounge and Uncle Elton's barn. But most of them were degenerates and rogues like the Cumberland Presbyterians.
When I was in the 7th grade, I asked my grandmother if I could go to the school dance. “Dancing is for married folks,” she said.
“Well, don’t I need to learn how to do it before I get married?” I asked.
“Remember how you learned to swim?” she said.
“Yes ma’am. Daddy picked me up and threw me headfirst into Lake Chicot.” I answered.
“That’s right,” she said. “And after a little sputtering you took to it like a fish. When you marry you’ll either dance or drown.”
But I can still remember peeking around the corner of the hallway late at night and watching her and Grandaddy dance around the kitchen as George Strait sang about all of his former wives from the Republic of Texas and thinking that it looked a little different than dog paddling.
Then Bob Wills started fiddling “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” and my grandpa picked Grandmother up like a sack of taters and swung her all over the living room. I was in a state of shock.
My Grandaddy is a rugged man. A hard worker. A wizard with steel and iron. It was natural to think of him cutting trees or cutting the head off of a freshly caught fish, it was surreal seeing him cut a rug. Yet, there he was. Twisting again like they had done for so many summers.
I practiced in front of the bathroom mirror a few times that night, but I looked like a malfunctioning robot. “Apparently you really can’t do it unless you’re married,” I thought. “It would be like trying to learn to swim in a sandbox,” I imagined.
However, I have tried it with a live girl on occasion. The first time was at my cousin’s bonfire the summer I learned how to drive. (I reckon there is some truth to what they say, “Every southern boy is a good Christian until he gets his driver’s license.)
After roasting a few hot dogs on the end of an old fishing rod, I got up the courage to ask this girl named Lauren if she’d like to dance. She giggled and said yes.
Skynard was playing, “Tuesday’s Gone,” and I put my sweaty palms on her hips. And once I was sure that I wasn’t going to pass out or die and go to hell right on the spot, we swayed back and forth like metronomes with heads.
I was dancing! It was beautiful and exhilarating and sad. I don’t think my knees ever bent. And as good Baptists, we tried to keep a foot of daylight between us. Space for the Holy Ghost, as it were. We looked like a couple of elderly people trying to pass wind.
Most of the girls I’ve dated since never expressed much interest in dancing. One did, but when she commenced to “backing that thing up” and “dropping it like it was hot,” I decided, for the sake of my never-dying soul, never to date another Pentecostal.
The hardest part of being a bachelor is hearing a good song and not having anyone to embarrass myself with in the kitchen. “One day,” I tell myself. “One day I will finally learn to dance. And I’m going to do a proper waltz at my wedding. Right there in front of God and everybody.”
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