Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
Both of my sisters, Betty and Maryann, were several years older than me. When I was in the first grade, one was in high school and the other was in junior high. They both liked to dance, and they often danced with each other in our living room to music from our floor model Zenith radio.
I sometimes sat on the floor and watched them as they tried all the popular dance steps. It looked like fun, so every now and then they gave me a dancing lesson.
They started with the basics, like how I should place my right hand in the small of my partner’s back, and how I should hold her right hand with my left hand. I think the hardest thing for me to learn was not to look at my feet while we danced. Instead, I should look into my dance partner’s eyes. That was really difficult because my sisters were a lot taller than I was.
I think the thing we worked on most was what they called the “dip.” It was a way to end each dance in perfect time with the music. They taught me to step back with one foot and at the same time bend the other knee slightly. We practiced that a lot, and it became one of my best dancing moves. In fact, my sister, Betty, started calling me “Bill the Dipper.”
They taught me several dance steps, and they made it clear that I should “lead” my partner. That is, I should select the steps and my partner would “follow” me. Over time, I learned quite a bit about dancing, and I started to feel pretty comfortable. I was no Fred Astaire, but I think I was a pretty good dancer as I glided across our living room floor with either of my sisters.
Now, move the calendar foreword a few years to the fall of 1945 when I went into junior high. An announcement was made that the following week we would have our first dance. It would be held in the basement of the West building. It wouldn’t be a nighttime dance like they had in high school. Instead, it would take place at 3:30 p.m. as soon as school let out for the day.
On the day of the dance as soon as school let out, I walked down the basement steps and into the room where the dance was being held. There were already a few boys and girls dancing, mostly ninth graders. The only seventh graders who were dancing were girls.
Most of the seventh grade boys were standing in a group on one side of the dance floor, and I joined them. This was our first dance, and we all felt a little uncomfortable. We just stood there with our hands in our pockets.
Every now and then, one of the teachers would come by and urge us boys to ask a girl to dance. But we all just stood there. Finally, one of the teachers, I think it was Edna Parrish, led some girl by the hand over to me and told us to dance.
I didn’t know who the girl was. I may have seen her a few times in the hallway, but I didn’t know her name. She wasn’t in any of my classes, and I think she was a couple years older than me, and maybe an inch or two taller.
I tried to start off with one of the basic steps my sisters had taught me, nothing fancy, just a simple movement in time with the music. I expected the girl to follow my lead, but she seemed to be marching “to a different drummer.” When I tried to move in one direction, she seemed to want to go the opposite way. I wasn’t having a very good time, and I could tell by the look on her face that she felt the same way. But I kept on dancing.
Finally, as the song was coming to its end, I had a glimmer of hope. I could end the dance with one of my famous “dips.” I concentrated on the music so I would get the timing perfect. At just the right moment, I stepped back with one foot as I gracefully bent the opposite knee. Aha … I had executed my dip perfectly. But my partner didn’t have a clue what I was doing. She just stood there. She didn’t say a word. Then she turned around and walked away.
That’s when I realized for the first time, that it’s a lot easier for a boy to dance with his sister than it is to dance with a girl he doesn’t know.
Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org