Waltzing in Step

Posted on by Dave Woodruff

I've never figured out how it happened, but in fourth grade our gym teacher Mr. McIntyre took two weeks out of our regular sporting curriculum to teach the boys to waltz. We had just finished our regular month of flag football and had a two week gap before kickball. Perhaps it's the determination of the school board fourth grade boys are in some need of physical education of a less physical nature. More grace, less sweat. More smoothness, less competitiveness. However it came to be, we found ourselves in the side of the cafeteria with the tables pushed to one side staring at each other with little interest but unable to resist or show our true colors.

Colin McIntyre was an ex soldier from the British army. At an age where most children don't have a clear understanding of military discipline, McIntyre took every opportunity to expound upon us his theories of tactics, aggression, and group order.

I was in fourth grade during a time where corporal punishment was not only allowed, it was considered part of the regular curriculum. And although McIntyre was certainly not foul tempered, his uneasy countenance and swaggering size made him imposing. Especially to an awkward fourth grader. He stood over then record player and clumsily dropped the needle on the only record we would dance to for the next two weeks. Debussy's, Claire De Lune. At the time, not a favorite of mine. Looking back, I now love the song with such deep emotions, it is sometimes scary.

We all stand facing one another. Partners of the same sex, well before we understood homosexuality, or any sexuality for that matter. I can only speak for myself, but awkward can only begin to explain the strangeness of holding the hand on Mark Barrett as we cringed under the din of McIntyre's booming commands unclaimed by the unappreciated crackling music foam the old record.

And it's one-two-three, two-two something. We're all a disgrace. I can barely sort the cacophony of barking military orders, lo-fi music and the inaudible whimpering of boys forced to move gracefully, when it seems to be lacking in our genes, or our Levis. We moved less with rhythm and more with fear in our hearts. Somehow, the one place we all found camaraderie, was in our mutual lack of dance prowess. A group all tripping and commiserating together In the face of a common enemy.

The din of Mcintyres' voice boomed loud in the cafeteria, bouncing off the menu posted in movable plastic letters carefully arranged in their horizontal rows. I stared at the words " grilled cheese" imagining the reverberations of Mcintyres'  void would cause some letters to fall off from his volume and we might be served illed ees by mistake.  

we practiced for days on end, with little improvement in our technique or our morale. On a daily basis we were issued corporal punishment for infractions. I was ordered to hit the floor for 25 pushups when I let Rick Eiswerth fall to the floor on the day we tried to perfect our dipping maneuver. You could easily say, we were a platoon of misfits being groomed to be sent on a suicide mission. We were Ill prepared and lacked motivation for our mission. We did however, have the leadership and at least some semblance.

It's the day of our final maneuvers. A last review of strategy and tactics. We are prepped and coached in the critical details of our mission. McIntyre barks furiously as we go over our routine a last time. "if any of you come out of this alive I'll be shocked ?????" his face is red and the veins in his neck swell as he tries to assure us in his unique way.  "Tomorrow is D Day!" a reference lost on nine year olds. I tried for quite a spell to equate how Friday was D-Day... Perhaps it meant dance day, but it seemed to have a more personal meaning, something a bit more seep seated and ominous.

d-Day, we stand in the cafeteria waiting to be shipped out to the front. In formation, three rows abreast. We're all in our dancing shoes and uniforms. Blacks slacks with white shirts and bow ties. We are marched in column to the auditorium, the cafeteria is no place for proper dancing. We march precisely and silently as monks into the darkened room. I'm shaking with consternation and sweating like a prizefighter. The next sight strikes true fear in our hearts. If McIntyre had told us about this part of our mission, we all would have gone AWOL.  

In the arena the ladies are waiting. Already in place, prepared, calm and collected. But worst of all sixth graders. At minimum a foot taller than each of us. Are we to be their sacrificial lambs, who would ever determine this unusual pairing? I immediately attempt to ascertain my partner based on my numerical placement in our squad. From this distance, I can't make out the name on her tag. If only we were given binoculars, or had some sort of advanced scouting.

As it turns out, some of the matches were actually predetermined. Based on what, who knows? Some were random, and the fat girl was left standing alone to the side. To this day, I can still recall the exact facial features and name of my partner. Her name was Lucy Burgess. I tried to hide my fear and apprehension. McIntyre said to show your enemy no fear... They will only use it against you. Until now, I didn't understand how it was possible to use your own fear against... It seemed very clear now. We stood closely, much closer than I had ever really stood to a girl I barely knew. Take your positions McIntyre barked. I immediately tried to focus on what I had learned. After all, it's what McIntyre said would get us through this ordeal.

Years later, despite most peoples expectations, i'm a boxer. Not exactly world class, not exactly a bum. I'm in the ring against a guy a lot taller than me, and suddenly I remember McIntyre barking at us, I  recall my footwork, it's one-two-three, two-two-one, uppercut to the jaw, he's down for the count and I'm waltzing.

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