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Illustration by Mr Seth Armstrong

EPISODE 30: NOT EVERYBODY LIKES TO CHA-CHA-CHA

Against my wishes, my wife enrolled our son, Nicholas, in dancing school. While I have nothing against dance as an art form - and have even been known to bust out some shindig-worthy fruggin' when The Yardbirds and Ketel One are mixed in the right proportions - dancing school is another matter entirely. My reasons are simple: I feel there are better uses of a third-grade boy's afterschool hours. Also, I remain scarred from the years my mother forced me to attend this vestige of Edwardian New York.

"So how did it go?" I asked Nicholas as we sat down to dinner after his first class.

"I didn't like the slime," was all he said. Through some interrogation I was able to deduce that the children's hands are now doused with sanitiser upon arrival. The other big change is that boys are allowed to wear khakis. In my day, grey flannels were the trousers of choice.

Other than these two nods to modernity, the routine has not changed much. Boys and girls, many of whom attend single-sex private schools, come together for a few afternoons a month. The girls wear party dresses and white gloves; the boys a coat and tie. Chairs are configured around a dance floor. Two teachers (picture a fading Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) teach the fun-sized socialites ballroom dancing and manners. Nervous mothers patrol in the wings. The classes start at an age when girls are yucky and end at an age when they are twerky.

I have even been known to bust out
some shindig-worthy fruggin'
when The Yardbirds and Ketel One
are mixed in the right proportions

"Besides the slime, what did you think? Who was your partner?"

"Dad, you ask the girl sitting next to you. Her name was Sophia. The whole thing seems like a waste of time. I already know how to shake hands and say please and thank you."

"Did you learn anything new?"

"Yes. The cha-cha."

"OK, well there you go. Now you know the cha-cha." At this moment my wife arrived home from the office. She threw me a look that said, "Please don't taint this experience for our wide-eyed boy with one of your incendiary sarcastic remarks."

Biting my tongue was not easy. To this day putting on grey flannel casts my memory back to being a short, well-marbled seventh grader whose face is pressed in to the belle poitrine of a more mature girl. Despite my best efforts to lead her through the foxtrot, I can still hear the laughter from a coven of alpha girls, pointing at the troll who is assaulting their fellow princess.

The emotional scar tissue runs so deep that I forget it is inside me. As an adult, I've never owned a pair of grey flannels. When we bump into one of my former dance partners on the street, my wife is left wondering why her husband is treating some house frau stuffed into yoga pants as if she were Greta Scacchi during her White Mischief prime. And during a garden party this past summer, I tensed up in a noticeable way while talking to a seemingly sweet old lady.

On the drive home my wife asked, "Why are you so terrified of Mrs Talbot? She is so nice."

In a very soft voice I replied, "She was one of the mothers who chaperoned dancing school. When I'm around her, I worry about my posture. I'm waiting for her to make some comment about my 'hooligan slouch' or my 'wet fish' handshake."

Grey flannel casts my memory back
to being a short, well-marbled seventh
grader whose face is pressed in to
the belle poitrine of a more mature girl

After Honor finished her own debrief with Nicholas, she reported to me that he didn't have the best time. Nevertheless, she wanted him to stick with dancing school: would I mind giving him a pep talk? So as I tucked him into bed I tried to come up with a way to defend an indefensible institution to an eight year old.

"You know there is a lot of dancing in sports," I said.

"Really? The cha-cha?" he replied somewhat skeptically.

Knowing that he is keen to get better at his tennis, I tossed out the old bromide, "You play tennis with your hands, but you win matches with your feet. Don Budge was one of the great US tennis players of the 1930s, and he was also a fantastic dancer. Emmitt Smith, the NFL running back, won Dancing with the Stars."

"Dad, Donny Osmond won Dancing with the Stars. What does that say?"

"Fair point. What I'm trying to say is that footwork is one of the most important things to master if you want to be a great athlete." He nodded off as I was telling him about his parents' first dance at our wedding, a fairly complicated swing routine set to "The Best is Yet to Come".

A few weeks later, I arrived home from work and Nicholas was still in his coat and tie from dancing school.

"So how did it go today?"

"Great. I know a lot of people in New York," he announced, "and I saw a lot of them at dancing school. There were friends from school, friends from camp, friends from tennis class." He seemed to have really enjoyed himself. Perhaps I had been too harsh in my initial appraisal. After all it was at dancing school that I learnt the art of small talk, and I'm never nervous when the band gets going at a party.

"Oh, and Dad, some of the guys were wearing grey flannels. Do you think you could get me a pair?"

"Sure," I said, and wondered whether it was time for me to finally get a pair for myself.

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