When I was in middle school, one of the things we had to do for physical education was “dance.” Like, partnered dancing. To do this, obviously, you needed partners.

The way that the coaches had it set up was that they lined up all of the guys on one side of the gymnasium, and all of the girls at the other, and you picked your partner. Guys or girls would walk across the gym and ask someone to be their dance partner. By rule, if asked, you cannot decline.

I’m not entirely sure what the purpose behind this ritual was. Maybe there was a confidence-building aspect to it. “Hey, I asked a girl, and she said ‘yes’! (never mind that she had to)” Maybe it was just a way that partners could partner off by their own volition and that allowing people to decline would be fraught with hazard (because junior high kids don’t know rejection)? Maybe it was a way in which nobody could be blamed for saying yes.

I remember that when I learned of this, my thought was that I hated it. I didn’t care if they had to say yes because, if they didn’t want you to be their partner, you’d find out about it. As conspicuously as possible. I had visions of the girl I was dancing with trashing me relentlessly just to make sure everybody knew she was only doing it because she had to. That was the way things worked. You made dang sure that even if you were partnered with someone, if you didn’t want to be associated with them, you made sure that everyone knew it. It worked this way with school assignments. With dancing? That times ten.

So I sure as heck wasn’t going to ask anyone. And it was doubtful that anyone would ask me. So I’d end up in the randomly assigned group. This, too, lent itself to conspicuous disassociation, but at least then you could both claim that it’s not what you wanted. That was how it worked with school assignments. If they rolled their eyes loudly, I would do my part to make sure that everyone knew this was an assigned partnership. I didn’t want to be associated with someone that didn’t want to be associated with me. Which meant asking nobody.

I didn’t expect many people to cross the gym. I figured most people would do what I was going to do. We shuffled our collective feet for what seemed like half an hour but was maybe a couple minutes. Then, finally, #14 (a jock) crossed the threshold and asked a hyperpopular girl. She looked relieved. I recall her having a boyfriend of higher stature than #14, but I guess she thought that he would do and was much better than the alternatives (like, me).

Come to think of it, it was the ultimate opportunity for the worst reject to put a cog in the works of the way that things were supposed to work. The nerdier, the more power you had. It was a transient power, because you wouldn’t get anything more than a dance partner, but it was something. Only if you were willing to do what I was not.

After he broke the ice, more people started moving. Almost entirely from the boy’s side. This was my worst nightmare. The more people who boycotted the ritual, the more safety there was. At the rate things were going, I was going to be among a small group without the gumption to pick a parner. The only upside is that I would get coupled with a fellow reject who would have little room to loudly roll her eyes. Oh, but who was I kidding? She’d roll them anyway.

Then, out of nowhere, came Ashley. If the class photo is still expandable, I’m pretty sure the Ashley is the girl next to #30. Ashley and I had conversed very lightly before, of the “Can I borrow your pencil?” variety, but that was about it. She was leagues and leagues above me. She was… actually kind of attractive. It was, in retrospect, quite amazing that she hadn’t been picked yet. Then there she was, picking me. She didn’t “ask” like she was supposed to, instead opting for “let’s go”, but who the flip cared.

It was all kind of chaotic, so I don’t know who I might have been partnered with otherwise. But having avoided the lottery, I was on cloud nine. That she was attractive was nice, but not as important as that she wanted to be there. Well, that may have been an overstatement: she wanted to be there more than all of the other available options. Well, that may have been an overstatement: she felt a warm enough pity for me that she picked me rather than let me twist in the wind.

She was also a great partner. By which I mean, she was patient with me. She never rolled her eyes. We did okay together. It was a good thing, too, because my class critics/bullies didn’t relent. A few people, perhaps assuming that we were an assigned pair, made fun of the asymmetry of our partnership. “Oooh, look, Will is dancing with a real live girl!” and more than once she would say “Because I asked him.” (Standing up for me! In a fashion.) One of the more persistent critics was actually #27, who was dancing with #30, both of whom would later become friends (and #27 my guardian protector). Boy I hated him then, though.

I really don’t know why she did it. Very few guys would have rolled their eyes at being picked by her. If any. She wasn’t a 10 by our school’s standards, but she was a solid 8. Maybe minus one for her general dress.

I always felt an immense appreciation for what she did that day. I consider it a grand favor on her part, though looking back at it almost 20 years later she surely had her reasons. I just can’t imagine what reason it might have been. She went into it with a positive attitude and made what could have been a very long six-week term one of the highlight of my days.


Category: Ghostland, School

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7 Responses to The Girl in PE Dance

  1. Scarlet Knight says:

    If the class photo is still expandable, I’m pretty sure the Ashley is the girl next to #30.

    Just to be clear, it is the girl to the left of 30 from our view.

    She wasn’t a 10 by our school’s standards, but she was a solid 8. Maybe minus one for her general dress.

    She looks older than she is, so I can see why boys your age wouldn’t think that highly of her or the way she dresses. To me, she looks like she could be dressed to go to work, which 8th graders are RARELY known for. Maybe she dressed up just because she knew the picture was being taken.

    As an aside, the fattest kid in class never showed up for picture day. He also had the misfortune to be the dumbest kid in our class too. Sometime in ninth grade, he fell off the face of the Earth. No one saw him again, but then again, no one really missed him.

    I really don’t know why she did it.

    Was your mom a friend of her mom?

    Also, did you have the same partner all six weeks? I think a better way to do it would be to rotate every day, that way everyone dances with everyone more or less.

    By rule, if asked, you cannot decline.

    Did this apply to prom night too? 😉

  2. trumwill says:

    o me, she looks like she could be dressed to go to work, which 8th graders are RARELY known for.

    Hmm, I think that’s a t-shirt with button shirt worn over it.

    Was your mom a friend of her mom?

    Nope. Would have explained it if it were so. I typically got better treatment from people whose parents knew my parents. I think she went to the blue collar elementary.

    Also, did you have the same partner all six weeks? I think a better way to do it would be to rotate every day, that way everyone dances with everyone more or less.

    Not sure why they didn’t go that route. It was probably made easier by having the same partner, though. You could get your groove without having it disrupted.

  3. Scarlet Knight says:

    Hmm, I think that’s a t-shirt with button shirt worn over it.

    Thanks for the clarification. It looked like a suit jacket in the picture.

    As for why she selected you, maybe you were the pick of the litter, relatively speaking. Better she ask you before a lesser-quality guy ask her first. Maybe she had a geek fetish. You should ask her; it’s not creepy because you are married.

  4. trumwill says:

    I doubt she remembers. I can’t remember precisely her last name, and what I do remember of it the spelling of her last name was not obvious. I could probably get it right with enough attempts. Or if I tracked down my yearbook.

  5. Φ says:

    27 years later, I’m still pissed about this kind of thing. Glad your story had a happy ending.

    Dancing at my school was so prohibited I’m not even sure they bothered to write it down. But our troglodytic PE teacher came up with the next most humiliating thing: couples indoor soccer. Which is like regular indoor soccer, except we they had to do it holding hands with an opposite sex partner.

    There were perhaps 3 fewer girls that guys, so . . . the girls were called alphabetically to choose partners. The boys couldn’t decline, but who would? (Conveniently, alpha girl happened came first alphabetically.)

    Alas, no geek fetishists in the bunch.

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