PHYLLIS CLOPTON’S SCHOOL OF DANCE

(Written 10/8/16)

Do you have any of those times in your past that your mom decided you just had to do something?

“One day, you will really be glad for this.”

You know what I’m talking about. We all have those lessons. Moms.

Ballroom dance lessons.

Why in the world does a sixth grade boy have to take ballroom dance lessons?

“One day you will be glad you did this.”

Fall of 1963, Monday nights for six weeks. The Garland,Tx community center old annex building.

Phyllis Clopton’s ballroom dance class.

Oh, man. Could I be any more uncomfortable?

I had to wear a coat and tie to the stupid class.

Phyllis knew enough about the age to make her own pairs.

My partner was not too bad looking.

Phyllis demonstrated a style, explained that at the end of the course we would have a real dance, where we would invite a dance partner to come and witness our amazing new grace on the dance floor.

Anita.

Since first grade, the apple of my eye.

Around the fourth grade, she had gone to the country school outside of Garland, Rose Hill School, and I no longer could watch her dreamily across the room.

In the summer after fifth grade, Rose Hill burned down. Garland had built a new elementary school, Southgate Elementary, and had ripped some of us Caldwell students and all the Rose Hill students away and put them together in Southgate.

And there, sitting across the room of my sixth grade class was Anita.

I had gotten a five year diary for Christmas in the fifth grade, and most entries were, “Not much happened today.”

But one entry stood out.

“Anita looked at me today.”

So, I figured, after I master this ballroom dance thing, me and Anita were going to finally be together. Forever.

So for six weeks I endured. I actually kinda liked it.

My dance partner was quiet. Soft. Calm. Shy.

No unnecessary uncomfortable conversation.

Just a shared enduring of the task at hand.

Box step. Foxtrot. Waltz. (No samba, rhumba, cha-cha, tango, paso doble. Just the simple stuff. Sixth graders, remember?)

I remember my partner’s smile. A quiet, nice smile, teeth not perfectly straight, but pleasant.

I don’t remember her name.

Phyllis walked around the dance floor, correcting postures, fixing holds.

“Don’t rock, don’t sway. Smooth movements. To the music.”

Six weeks. Next week was the big day.

Days of rapid nervous heartbeat. Sweaty palms. Trying to summon the courage.

Do it.

In those days, most houses had one phone; in a special cubby, built especially for the telephone in the hallway.

For privacy, you stretched the phone into the bathroom, shut the door and hoped that no one could hear this conversation.

“Hello. Is Anita there?”

“Uh, Anita, this is Randy Epps. Would you go to this dance with me next Monday night? Oh, okay, no that’s okay, no, I understand. Goodbye.”

I wonder how much this crippled my future relationships, this first rejection.

The next Monday came, my dance partner came alone, we paired up, shared refreshments, and had a really nice time.

Years later, Wendy and I were married, had just moved back to Garland, and, like most young couples, we were really struggling to get our bills paid.

One day, the phone rang.

“Randy Epps?”

“Yes, this is he.” (Grammar)

“This is J.C. Penny’s collection department. You are behind on your credit card payments. We need to get a payment.”

“Oh, yeah. I will mail it this week.”

“Okay, thank you. We will be watching for it……..Did you go to Southgate Elementary School?….This is Anita_______……Do you remember me?”

Soon after this, we got rid of all our credit cards.

By the way, that dance thing, never really took hold.

Thanks, Phyllis, at least you tried.

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