Sunday, July 20, 2014

slow slow Quick-Quick

Yesterday in the late afternoon I started to play the piano.  We purchased a piano when the kids were little.  I used to play with some regularity back then, maybe once a week or perhaps once or month.  This time its probably been about a year since the last time.  Now our piano is woefully out of tune.  It turns out there is some virtue even in deterioration.  With the tuning so off, sometimes I couldn't tell whether the clunker was because I hit a wrong note or not.

Even with this low level of performance there is something of a marvel that this activity is still possible at all.  I took weekly piano lessons from ages 8 to 13.  Thanks to Mr. Anson for the lessons and to my parents for gently encouraging this activity.  Much of it, particularly the Sonatinas by Clementi, has been long forgotten.  But the ability to use a "fake book" and pick out a show tune with the accompanying chords has been largely retained.  Now I only do the slow tunes - Till There Was You, Try To Remember, etc. - so I can accommodate my mistakes and make adjustments to them in near real time.  And there are some things I recall imperfectly at best - all the notes in a diminished seventh, which are the flat keys in e flat minor, etc.  But these failings notwithstanding, something that is good enough emerges so my wife will hum along.  The real trouble is the font that the music is written in.  It is now too small for me.  So it is a bit of a strain to do this and sooner rather than later I tired from it.

Afterward, it served as food for thought, not just about what other lessons learned as a kid have stayed learned as an adult, riding a bicycle serves as the emblem for that notion.  There was still more on what what potential lessons might have been learned in the same way but weren't for lack of exposure.  Dancing for me is in that category, ballroom dancing in particular.

During the spring semester 1990, my wife and I got married in mid June of that year, we took an evening class at the "Y" in ballroom dancing.  The impetus was fairly immediate.  We knew we'd have to do a dance at the wedding before other couples got up to do likewise.  All eyes would be on us for this first dance.  We didn't want to feel embarrassed.  The dance class was our way to take some necessary precaution.

Our teacher was Miss Villacorta.  (See the picture below and the piece linked back.)  She has been a mainstay on campus for many years.  And I believe the students who have had her class speak of it with fondness. The following spring I taught a class where some of the students were also taking ballroom dancing.  They preferred it to the economics.  Let me get back to that point.

My wife and I learned to waltz tolerably, which is what we did at our wedding.  I believe that much has still been retained in me, though I know we eventually learned how to waltz all around a room and now I might have to stick with staying in a square pattern, at least at first.  But we learned other dances as well.  The Jitterbug is one I remember in concept.  Slow slow quick-quick are the memorable part of the instructions for dancing the Jitterbug.  If you see the charming movie, Shall We Dance?, those words are uttered during the dance training. My wife and I never quite mastered the Jitterbug, but at the time we were enthusiastic learners.  At my brother-in-law's wedding in Kansas City, which was the April before our wedding, my wife and I lurked in the corners trying to do the Jitterbug to the music.  My mother-in-law saw us and was able to tell it was the Jitterbug that we were attempting. Alas, after our own wedding those lessons with Miss Villa Shorta (what we affectionately called her as we were getting ready to head over to the "Y") were largely forgotten.  If I were to do the Jitterbug today, I'd have to be taught it from scratch.

During the fall of my senior year in high school I wrote an opinion piece for the school newspaper.  It argued that gym should be an elective instead of a required course, as it was then.  The school was overcrowded and gym was pretty horrible as a consequence.  I recall that my English teacher took note of that piece at the time, perhaps because it had a kind of sensibility that was absent from other such student writing, which was prone toward the idealistic end of the spectrum.

One aspect of gym that I was first exposed to around that time said it should be preparing kids for recreational athletic pursuits later in life.  Doing the parallel bars and tumbling on the mats, both of which I dreaded, don't fit in this category.  I can't remember the last time I did a forward roll.  Running does seem to fit.  But even basketball might not for many adults.

At the time the big three recreational activities were bowling, golf, and tennis.  The school was really not capable of educating students in these activities.   It was too crowded and the facilities for these activities were not at the school. There were clubs and/or teams for those with the inclination and who were proficient enough in these activities.  But for the rest of us these were things to learn entirely outside of school.  I did take some private tennis lessons, though nothing near the regime I had with the piano.  With bowling I was entirely self-taught, as were my friends.  It was on TV so we may have gotten a tip or two from that.  Mostly, though, it was just applying the main lesson from any ball sport.  Following through with the swing was the key.  Golf I didn't pick up for real till my second year as an Assistant Professor. Then the impetus was doing some activity with my peers as well as to find a way to benignly express some of the frustration over departmental politics.  (Swinging as hard as you can at a golf ball, irrespective of where it would end afterward, was remarkably satisfying that way.  It took years of play before I had any cognition about trying to control the flight of the ball.)

Alas, since my rotator cuff repair these activities are largely off the table.  I went to the driving range ten days ago and hit a small bucket of balls, only a nine iron and a seven iron.  I'm still feeling the after effects of that.  I'm hopeful that the recovery period won't be as long in the future, but I wouldn't put money on that proposition.  In the meantime, walking has been my mainstay.  It is a good thing to do and I'm on a daily regime.  Yet some variety from that would be nice.

This brings us back to ballroom dancing, but with a twist (no pun intended).  Why not have it taught in high school, so it becomes accepted that many people know how to dance tolerably well?  In college, gym classes are purely optional.  If we were serious about using high school to prepare for adult life, ballroom dancing classes, as an elective alternative to the normal gym class, would have a certain logic.

Gym was the only class I had in high school that was not co-edI can't imagine an all boys dancing class nor that it would attract anyone who'd be willing to take it and admit to doing so. A co-ed version makes more sense.  Does this idea otherwise pass muster?

For the more precocious among the students in boy-girl interactions, such a class might prove a boon that the school actually would not want to promote, and perhaps would want to deter (at least when manifest on school grounds).  But for kids like me who were largely clueless in this area, this sort of risk would be nil.  I really don't know how you'd select kids who'd benefit long term from a high school ballroom dancing class yet who also wouldn't take advantage of the setting near term.  That's something to puzzle on.

That may be the big deal issue.  There's also the matter of cloning Miss Villacorta.  But with her having had so many students who are fond of her, that one should be a piece of cake.

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