My mother loved to dance. She came of age right before WWII started. When I was growing up, whenever big band swing music came on the radio on our family hi-fi, she would stop what she was doing and start cutting a rug. She would grab what was close at hand; a broom, a mop, me, and start tripping the light fantastic. If she happened to be making dinner, then you would witness her gliding backwards, a wooden spoon in her hand and her apron catching air as she twirled. Ginger Rogers had nothing on my mother.
There used to be a wonderful AM radio station in the Bay Area that only played golden oldies: Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Nat King Cole. My mother loved that station. She must have been a wonderful dance partner because she was petite, 5’ 1” in her stockings, and she had great rhythm. She took tap and ballet dance classes in the 1930’s in Los Angeles where she grew up. I have black & white photos of her in recitals.
My mother taught me how to dance in our kitchen. She had a lot of patience with me. I was not very graceful, more athletic than anything. I didn’t have two left feet, but I wasn’t light on my feet either. She taught me the box step, the 2-step, the Lindy Hop, jitter bug and the waltz.
She would tell me stories about her high school dances, which had full orchestras, and she and her classmates would be dressed to the nines. Corsages and boutonnieres were festooned, hair was curled, shoes were shined. I have many of her dance cards and momentos from that time period.
When I was in high school, I’d turn on the hi-fi and disco or rock ‘n’ roll songs would play, and I’d say “Come on, Mama, let’s boogie!” And I’d show her the hustle, the bump or the funky chicken. She was a good sport about learning new dance moves.
When my family and I moved to Emmett, my daughter Mia and I took square dancing lessons given by The Silverleaf Square and Round Dance Club out at the old Cooper School on Saturday evenings. The old timers, light on their feet and donning bolo ties and twirl skirts, would guide us through the formations. The caller would call out “allemande thar”, “roll away with a half sashay”, “shoot the star” or “box the gnat.” When the dancers in the square were in sync, it was poetry in motion. But a mis-step on a do-si-do by yours truly, and it was like a rush-hour pile up on the interstate--head-on collisions, petticoats flying. A firm hand would appear to guide me to the right position and an authoritative “left...left...TURN LEFT!” would be yelled behind clenched teeth.
My daughter and I dance together, just as my mother and I did. What I lack in grace and style, I try and make up in enthusiasm. I might not be in the same league as Fred & Ginger....more like Fred & Ethel, but we have fun. And when we twirl around the kitchen, I can’t help but think of my mother, the Dancing Queen.