Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Ch.12 - May I have the next dance? Learning dance etiquette in the era of rock and roll.

Even Christmas gifts were given to each employee, a British Columbia commemorative silver dollar, the province where he was originally to be sent from the boat!
The first winter was approaching its end and Peter and his friends, young men in their most virile youth, when they had dared to entertain thoughts of making new friends, which really meant “going out” with girls.
He had a steady job, with a paycheck every two weeks that allowed him to purchase, on a 12 month credit arrangement, a brand new dark blue suit, white shirt and tie. He was happy to take home the new treasures, his first significant purchases in the new world. The new immigrants’ grapevine had suggested that the best place to meet girls is the Saturday nights dances at the local YMCA. The last dance he could recall was in his high school, oh so long ago, on another continent, in a far away land, and even farther epoch. Then the youth was going to these dances in a rather old fashioned way, according to old traditions, both in clothing and behavior. The boys in festive, dark suits, shirt and tie, and cute little dress the girls. Hungary and the other Eastern European countries were carefully shielded from the influences of the “evil” capitalist states in the West, including individual expression and style.
While in the Ottawa YMCA the young guys were comfortably rocking in their jeans and shirts, at home boys of the same age were sweating in their heavy suits and ties.
Peter and his friends were just amazed when a guy would just sidle up to a girl and casually take her by the hand and within seconds they would be furiously jiving away, a form of dance totally unknown to these immigrant boys. However, they recalled the English Dictionaries and language books, written decades before, how these were emphatically teaching the task to be performed:
“We approach the chosen lady, and with slight bow and polite demeanor, we “ask her for a dance “in a clear voice and appropriate manner, thusly: May I please?”- repeated to himself Peter, at least for the tenth time, being very careful of his accent and pronunciation, being very grateful that the verbal plea did not have a single “r” in it, which had been the downfall of so many foreigners, the sure give-away that the speaker is from “some other country”. In the best of cases one was to be a French Canadian, in the worst the foreigner was from some unknown land who was displaced due to the war: a DP!!
The friends were already nervous on this first daredevil move towards “fitting” into society, that is the company of young men and women, due to their accented English, the lack of their dance repertoire caused even more worry. An even more obvious and ominous problem was, that did not even occur to them at first, their clothing was totally out of place and painfully unique in a 1958 YMCA dance hall.
One can imagine what made-for-the-stage appearance was created by the three young immigrants, on the very peak of rock and roll, in their dark blue suits and ties, stiff and obviously awkward, when they entered at opening time, just after 8 PM in the dancehall.
Other than a couple of dozen young ladies and a few chaperons there were no others in the hall, as it turned out the local boys had started wondering in, nonchalantly little later. This time period gave an excellent chance to the girls and their mothers to observe and scrutinize the three funeral directors, standing in a corner and talking with each other. Even though they have felt uneasy at the beginning, over time they have ceased to remain the object of curiosity, while the dancing was starting to liven up. It was entirely certain to all the ladies present that none of them could possibly become the victim of any attempted terror action, emanating from either one of the other strange looking characters.
Finally it was Peter that was able to overcome the inertia they all felt, spiced up by his ever present compulsion to prove himself. He felt confident enough, so he thought, that after a thorough summing up the situation, he had ascertained by quick looks over and over that the chosen lady had absolutely no chance of being asked for a dance by any self respecting young man that evening, our hero had confidently strode up to the lonely wallflower and said:
“May I please?” sounded the expression , mainly to be found in the vocabularies of those studying British literature, but not anywhere in Canada in 1958, in the Northern region of the New World.
Perhaps it was his determined steps, the resolute expression on his face, maybe the lips that were so stubbornly resistant to full opening, that would allow the oft repeated expression to come out properly, but if not any of these then the unimaginable fact, that one of these Mars inhabitants had zeroed in on her of all people, who had not even danced once that evening, and as a result of this impertinence may not dance at all, that was more than bearable!
Since she did not believe her ears, or she did not understand the antiquated expression, struggling between anger and incredulity, she could only hiss through her teeth:
Even though Peter had guessed that there was not much chance for the desired dance, in his last desperate moment he had to attempt just once more the well practiced phrase.
Failing to give it one more try, when his two friends have not even made their first move with which to take the first steps to fit into Canadian society, who were so attentively watching their heroic friend and those sitting around the chosen lady watching the unfolding drama, it was simply not possible.
The chance of failing, again, had flashed in his mind for a moment, but the hopes and investments that they have made to get that far, the plans made in the basement flat, the clothing they have bought were stronger. Now going for broke just then, so that the lonely nights and weekends, the movies houses with the 3 films in one show they have frequented, would again fill their free time?
Bowing just ever so deeper than before, and with a shade less volume in his voice, and a little more humility in his eye, Peter had repeated the plea:
“May I please?” and now he had nodded pointedly towards the dance floor, so that the plea would be well understood by this beauty.
It seemed like eternity until this insulted lady had found her faculties and with the look of the coldest Canadian winter, the indifference of the Canadian tundra, and the Brit colonials’ politeness, she uttered only:
By then the sweat beads had pearled up on his face as he was creeping back to the safe sanctuary of his friends. They all knew that much more had transpired here than simply a gal’s refusal to dance on a particular evening. All reverie had become insignificant behind the more than one year that was spent away from their homes, and all things familiar. While up to now the effort was to establish a modicum of existence, this mostly restrained the testing of the boys’ feelings. Now they had to admit that the much desired melting into Canadian society and the potential rewards that this would bring will not happen for some time. The oddly dressed and accented strangers, without their own “cars”, will not easily gain the graces of young, local women.
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