Friday, May 18, 2012

Teen Canteens

CJ64:  Every month or so, the parents organized a dance at the school gym which they called the Teen Canteen, copied, I suppose, from the famous Hollywood Canteen of WWII.  They would bring a record player with lots of records, have cokes and cookies available, put up some decorations, and turn the lights down just enough to suggest romance but not enough where they couldn’t see what we were doing.

What we were doing was experiencing sexual arousal for the first time.  Girls we had known since first grade snuggled up against us for the slow dances causing all kinds of unfamiliar body reactions.  Girls whose legs we had been looking at since first grade suddenly had pretty legs, and we weren’t sure why we had developed an interest.  We had heard, read, and talked about sex, of course, but feeling the feelings for the first time created all kinds of new and interesting problems.

Our parents served as chaperones, and one set always seemed to be Myriam Hubbard’s parents (I’m pretty sure she spelled it with a “y”).  Myriam was a tall, pretty girl with classic features, but she was always quiet and reserved.  I haven’t seen her since high school, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she was a Provost at some college.  Her parents were quite a story.  Mr. Hubbard had been a WWII flyer who was shot down Belgium.  A Belgian family hid him from the Germans.  They had a daughter, they fell in love, he married her, brought her home, and produced Myriam.  Mrs. Hubbard proactively filled the chaperone role.  I can see her now running out onto the dance floor, all elbows and knees, to physically separate couples who she deemed too close, lecturing them in her accented English.

We really only had two dance styles – the jitterbug for fast dances and freestyle for slow dances.  Many of us had learned how to dance at James Leito’s dance school on the west side.  Our mothers had connived to enroll us starting in the 6th grade, and we continued it in the 7th grade.  They turned it into a social event.  We learned the dance steps in the first half-hour, then danced to the current popular tunes.  Afterwards, the car pools stopped at one of the local watering holes for Cherry Cokes and onion rings.

Dances and dancing were hugely popular in those days.  Our parents were always throwing big parties, many of them formal where the boys actually wore a white sport coat and a pink carnation.  In the process of all this, I learned how to properly ask a girl to dance, how to return her to the place I found her, and how to waltz, jitterbug, foxtrot, and two-step.  I never did learn the tango.  All of these skills came in very handy, especially in college.  I have forgotten what songs were popular about this time, but they can generally be characterized by Chuck Berry (fast) and The Lettermen (slow).

I cannot exaggerate how much we were influenced by Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.  We watched it every afternoon, and the Philly kids featured on the show became national celebrities.  I had a huge crush on Arlene Sullivan, found Pat Molliteri to be interesting, and thought Justine Carelli had to be an easy make, although she may have been like Jessica Rabbit and was just drawn that way.  About 9th or 10th grade, Arlene Sullivan showed up at one of our local dances.  She was in Fort Worth because she was a cousin of Judy Hill (later Judy Nelson).  Arlene actually asked me to dance – talk about fantasies coming true.

No comments: