Sunday, October 2, 2016

Mrs. Bottsford's School of Dance and Etiquette

Every Friday night over 200 youths attended Mrs. Bottsford’s School of Dance and Etiquette in East Rochester.  In addition to learning the Fox Trot, the Cha Cha, the Mexican Hat Dance, Rock ‘n Roll and the Waltz, we were taught etiquette and the proper way to conduct oneself in public. There were many kids from elite families.  I was from the other side of town, but at that age, nobody cared.  From 6th grade through 9th grade I was trained by Mrs. Bottsford and her dance instructor, Ms. Leonard.  There were two important issues that were relevant on Friday night.  First, I was very popular with Mrs. Bottsford, because my brother had been there and he always did everything right.  Therefore, I was often picked to demonstrate a new dance step.  This was not only embarrassing, but extremely intimidating.
The second thing to know is that I had discovered girls.  Actually, I was totally girl crazy.  At Bottsford’s I had discovered the most beautiful Ginny Summers.  She was pretty and sweet and I had a crush on her.  Because I’ll never be able to forget her or her name, I used her name in my novel, Bedlam.  I used to try and position myself to dance with her as often as possible.  We were only allowed to dance with a particular girl once, before excusing ourselves and moving on to someone else.  I knew she liked me, but I had competition.  Gerald Barney (also a name from Bedlam), was much handsomer than I was.  I’m sure she liked him better.  
The dance hall was a huge futuristic room.  It was beautiful, with a wooden doomed roof like a modern indoor swimming pool.  There were actually two dance floors.  When you first entered, on the upper level was a small dance floor, maybe 30 x 30 feet.  Then, down several steps was the larger dance floor.  The lower dance floor must have been half the size of a football field.  Sometimes Mrs. Bottsford would pull out select children to give her ‘special’ lectures to on the upper level.  I was always included in these lectures.  
We had been dancing for 15 minutes or so when I succeeded in maneuvering myself to dance with Ginny.  When the music ended, I escorted her to a chair, bowed and then sat next to her for social conversation.  Mrs. Bottsford appeared on the upper level of the dance floor.  Instantly, the room fell silent, which is an amazing accomplishment for a room full of 14 year olds.  “A young lady has arrived to join us.  Is there a young man who can escort her to the dance floor?”  While maintaining great posture, every guy there tried to shrink.  She may have been a most wonderful young lady, but at 14 years old we were all scared to be singled out.  It did not help that she was unattractive.  I know that’s superficial, but that’s who I was.  Mrs. Bottsford repeated her request.  She wanted someone to volunteer, but no one was offering.  Then I heard the words I dreaded.  “Mr. Bollin.”   She always pronounced my name incorrectly.  I think she was trying to make it sound fancier, more uppity.  “Mr. Bollin, will you come and escort this young lady to the dance floor?”  I had no choice. 
Following proper etiquette I stood up, faced Ginny and bowed.  I turned and started my trek to the stairs.  Walking the length of that floor with almost 200 kids watching was frightful.  Inside I was shaking.  In my mind I had to think about every step, the swing of my hands, holding my head up high and having a smooth gait.  It only took me a few seconds to reach the stairs, but it felt like an eternity.  I smiled at Mrs. Bottsford as I started up the stairs.  There were probably only 5 or 6 steps, but I wasn’t to make it to the landing.  Just before the last step, I tripped.  I fell on my face and slid back down the stairs one step at a time.  I remember the clunk, clunk, clunk as my body returned to the bottom.  
The laughter only lasted a moment.  One look from Mrs. Bottsford and complete composure was restored.  But the damage was done.  This reinforced my belief in how inept I was.  I had demonstrated my incompetence to Ginny and the entire class.  Shortly, after this I had a war with my mother and was allowed to quit Mrs. Bottsford’s School of Etiquette and Dance.  

I know that I benefitted from those Friday evening lessons.  I still have great posture, I always try to be a gentleman, and I love to dance.   But tripping on those stairs was one of those defining moments of my youth.  It represented my clumsiness and inadequacy.  It took  over a decade before I had any semblance of confidence in myself.  Even now as an adult, I know there is always the possibility that I could fall on my face again.