First Dance

By Dave Barry

My son, Robby, 12, has started going to dance parties. Only minutes ago, he was this little boy whose idea of looking really sharp was to have all the Kool-Aid stains on his T-shirt be the same flavor. Now, suddenly, he's spending more time on his hair than it took to paint the Sistine Chapel. And he's going to parties where the boys dance with actual girls. This was unheard of when I was 12, during the Eisenhower Administration. Oh, sure, parents sent us to ballroom dancing class, but it would have been equally cost-effective for them to simply set fire to their money.

The ballroom in my case was actually the Harold C. Crittenden Junior High School cafeteria. We boys would huddle in one corner, punching each other for moral support and eyeing the girls suspiciously, as though we expected them, at any moment, to be overcome by passion and assault us. This was unlikely, since - with sport coats we had outgrown, shirttails sticking out and the skinny ends of our neckties hanging down longer than the fat ends - we were not a fatally attractive collection of stud muffins. Our hair was smeared with Brylcreem, a chemical substance with the look and feel of industrial pump lubricant.

When the class started, the enemy genders lined up on the opposite sides of the room, and the instructor, an unfortunate middle-aged man who I hope was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, would attempt to teach us the fox trot. "Boys, start with your LEFT foot downward," he'd say, demonstrating the steps. "Girls, start with your RIGHT foot back and begin now: ONE…"

The girls would take a graceful step back with the right foot. On the boy's side, Joe DiGiacinto, who is now an attorney, would bring his left foot firmly down on the toe of Tommy Longworth.

"TWO," the instructor would say. The girls would bring the left foot back, while Tommy would punch Joe sideways into Dennis Johnson.

"THREE," the instructor would say, and the girls would shift their weight to the right, while on the other side the boys would be punching and stomping each other so that our line looked like a giant centipede having a seizure.

After we boys have thoroughly failed to master a dance, the instructor would order us to dance directly with the girls. We did this by sticking our arms straight out to maintain maximum separation, lunging around the cafeteria like miniature versions of Frankenstein's monster.

We never dance with girls outside of that class. At social events, girls danced with other girls; boys made hilarious intestinal noises with their armpits. It was the natural order of things.

But times have changed. I found this out the night of Robby's first dance when, 15 minutes before it was time to leave, he marched up to me wearing new duds and smelling vaguely of - Can it be? Yes, it's RIGHT GUARD - and told me we'd have to go IMMEDIATELY or we'd be late. This from a person who has never been on time for anything, a person who was three weeks late to his own BIRTH.

At the door, Robby's friend T.J. strode up to us, hair slicked. "T.J.!" I remarked. "You're wearing cologne!" About two gallons, I estimated. He was emitting fragrance rays visible to the naked eye.

I followed the boys into the house where kids were dancing. Actually, I first thought they were jumping up and down, but I have since learned they were doing a dance called the Jump. I tried to watch Robby, but he gestured violently at me to leave, which I can understand. If God had wanted your parents to watch you do the Jump, He wouldn't have made them so old.

Two hours later when I went to pick him up, the kids were slow dancing. Parents were not allowed to watch this either, but by peering through a window, I glimpsed couples swaying together, occasionally illuminated by spontaneous fireballs of raw hormonal energy shooting around the room. My son was in there somewhere. But not my little boy.