scholars and rogues

Dancing With the Devil

by Terry Hargrove
For some reason I didn’t understand, everybody called him Sir. Sir was 17 when I first saw him, although I’d heard tales about him from the first grade. He was a legend, a dancer, and I don’t mean the kind who threw his arms and legs around spastically, the way most people danced in the 60s. He could move with the sounds of whatever music was playing, and wrap those sounds around himself and hypnotize the ladies, and they loved him for it. Every girl in town wanted to dance with Sir Walter Rollie.

Especially my sisters, and that was the problem. We attended a fundamental Church of Christ, and from it, we’d been instructed in the two certain trespasses that would get you locked out of the Kingdom of Heaven: musical instruments in church and dancing. All other sins were negotiable and wouldn‘t even get you kicked off the church‘s softball team, but not those two. This warning wasn’t something that affected my older brother or me that much. Glenn didn’t dance because it wasn’t cool. I didn’t dance because I had no natural sense of rhythm. The first time I tried to strut on the dance floor, I was nearly beaten senseless by a member of the band who thought I was choking on something.

But Connie and Donna were smitten by something, some deep desire from the soul of woman that I didn’t, don’t, and never will comprehend. They knew dancing was wrong, they’d heard the same sermons I had. But the way Sir slithered and slid along the dance floor called to them and they were listening. So I shouldn’t have been that surprised when I woke up late one Monday night, stumbled to the bathroom, and

heard soft music coming from the sisters’ room. Because I was a little brother and naturally nosy by nature, I waltzed in and saw them dancing together. I tried to scream out SINNERS! But Donna had me in an immediate headlock with her hand clinched over my mouth.

“Shut up! Shut up!” she whispered harshly. I nodded that I would be quiet and she released me.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked. “It’s 2:00 in the morning.”

“We’re practicing,” said Connie. “There’s a dance at the Armory Friday night, and Sir has asked us to dance with him.”

“Well, he didn’t really ask us,” added Donna, “but he promised he would dance with us as long as we didn’t embarrass him, so we’re trying to learn a few steps.”

“But we don’t know any,” added Connie. “And American Bandstand won’t come on until Saturday, so we’re trying some things we saw on Hulaballo. You better not tell momma! Promise?”

“I promise,“ I said.

But Tuesday night at dinner, intrigued as I was by this whole dancing thing, I brought it up.

“Ma,” I said. “What do you think of dancing?”

“Dancing,” she replied without hesitation, ”is of the devil. Pass me those taters.”

That was all she ever said about it, and though I never brought it up again, Glenn did. He told us the true story of two boys who had been photographed at a dance by the local paper. They had to stand up in front of the entire church congregation on the

following Sunday morning and apologize. All our Methodist friends, with their organs and pianos next to the pulpit, thought that story was hilarious, but we didn’t. We were Church of Christ, and that meant we took eternal consequences seriously.

Meanwhile, Connie and Donna sat silently on the opposite side of the table. Their eyes were red from lack of sleep, but that night, when I jerked awake at some slight noise in the yard, I could hear the record player droning softly, and I knew they were still at it.

And so our life went for four days. When Friday evening arrived, the dad went to his weekend job and mom took David, still just a baby, to visit a friend of hers on Water Street, leaving the sisters in charge of the rest of us. As soon as mom was gone, Connie picked up the phone and called a friend who picked us up and we all went to the dance, even my little sister Jan who was only 8.

Everybody reacts differently to sleep deprivation. Connie had a strange smile on her face, and her eyes looked odd, as if she was trying to peer between the seconds and get a glimpse of what lies beyond. Donna was screaming, I think to keep herself awake.

“We’ve only got two hours,” she yelled. “We have to get back before mom does or she’ll kill us.”

When we arrived at the Armory, Donna and Connie sprinted into the gymnasium, so Glenn and I escorted Jan inside.

“You know I don’t dance, right?” Glenn asked me.

“You don’t think I’m going to ask you, do you?”

“No, I’m just saying I don’t dance,” he replied. “And you shouldn’t either. You

look like there’s something wrong with you when you dance. I think it’s better not to try

at all than to try and look like a fool. People never forget the truly ridiculous.”

“You really can’t dance,” added Jan. “When I’m hiding under your bed watching you dance with yourself and pretending to sing into a mirror, it’s kind of creepy. It‘s like what momma says. You‘re dancing with the devil.”

“No, she said dancing is of the devil,” I said.

“Same difference.”

When we entered the gym, there were Connie and Sir Walter Rollie all alone on the dance floor. It was quite a sight. He led, she followed, and the two of them were, for a few moments, interlocked symbols of youthful grace and movement. But when Sir twirled Connie for a particularly difficult move, she fell sound asleep in mid-spin. Don’t worry, the folding chairs broke her fall. We were afraid she’d knocked herself unconscious, but she was just sleeping and smiling. As Glenn and I dragged Connie off the floor, we wondered why Donna wasn’t being more useful. We found her outside the restroom, leaning on the wall, also sound asleep. She never forgave us for taking her home that night. We located our ride and dragged our sisters to the car, took them both home, and they slept like the dead until Sunday afternoon.

The moral of this story has little to do with the story. The dance was forgettable. My brother doesn’t even remember it, but he does remember what Jan said about dancing when she misquoted our mom in the back of a 66 Chevrolet Malibu. Dancing with the devil. Oh yes, it’s fun, and we all try it at one time or another, but there is a price to pay. Unless you pass out or miss your turn altogether, you don’t get to stop dancing until the devil gets tired. Whenever I’m in a bar and hear ice clinking in a glass, or the report of gunfire far away, to me it sounds like tap shoes, and I know he’s dancing and dancing and folks are dancing with him. The devil really is a good dancer, I guess because he’s been doing it for so long.

But I’ll bet Sir Walter Rollie is better. And if she could only remember it, I’ll bet

my sister Connie would agree.

Terry Hargrove lives in Connecticut with his wife and 6-year-old son. An anthology of his first 50 columns, Don’t Mind Me, a Tennessean Lost in Connecticut is now available from ladderpress.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com. He’ll sign it for free. And he still can’t dance.

 

 

 

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2 replies »

  1. Great story. I’m CofC too and a preacher’s kid. And the only one that didn’t get to join in the square dance in our sixth grade play. You know what some in the congregation would have said had I done so. I’m convinced life would be better if we danced more.

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