Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Can Dance-Finale

I can’t really end my stories about my career at Arthur Murray’s without talking about some significant events that occurred during and beyond.

Miss Wadley

While at the studio everyone was always addressed formally. No first names were ever used. I now have no remembrance of Miss Wadley’s first name although I did know it at one time. She had recently retired after a lifetime working at Union Pacific Railroad when she first came into the studio. She wore black old lady shoes and usually a black dress, to cover a pronounced pear shaped form, when she first became my student. She had never been married. Sometimes she didn’t smell the best. She didn’t have a sense of rhythm. When asked to do a waltz step by herself, the rhythm was slow, quick, quick, instead of even tempoed steps of 1,2,3.

Naturally, given all the potential available, I looked forward to our twice a week sessions once the odor problem went away, which was soon. We soon became professional friends. As she improved in all areas, the power of positive reinforcement was so greatly dramatically demonstrated that I never forgot it. Constance encouragement on my part and desire to improve on her part was a winning combination. At one point we performed a solo waltz together at a dance party and she followed perfectly. Later she became a life time member and the commission I received as a result went into my slowly building saving account. When I left the studio I knew she would enjoy many years of dancing in her ankle strap shoes and colorful clothes with perfect rhythm.

Pat Carter

The owner of the studio also owned 4 other studios and due to lack of profitability, closed the studio in Grand Island, Nebraska and the teachers there were transferred to one of the two Omaha studios. Among them was this good looking, skinny, naive girl, Pat Carter. She came from a very small village near Grand Island and looked to get out into the world so moving to Grand Island was a big step for her. Omaha was another giant step forward for her. She was anxious to fit in, but it was challenging because she was not yet 21 although at times she got into the club the instructors went to after work to dance.

We started to spend most of our spare time together and of course all day and most of the night at the studio. Before long we became engaged. I had made the decision to return to college and continue my quest to secure an engineering degree. I didn’t want to go without her so we got married just before Thanksgiving. All the teachers and the studio owner as well as some of our students attended the reception held at my mother’s house. And of course, Miss Wadley was there. Leaving the studio, my fellow teachers, and students was not an easy thing to do. There was some promise that I could have advanced up the rank and file and had a career at Arthur Murray’s. We both had developed close and warm relationships with all the people and there was a void to fill as we left.

My mother constantly encouraged me to return to college in order to secure a better future for myself. And I did see the logic of her argument and upon my re-admission being accepted, off we went to Ames, Iowa to get me re-enrolled at Iowa State, find affordable lodging, and find Pat a job on campus.

The rode ahead was not easy. I took all the jobs I could find and worked hard on my studies. With one more year to go, we found out Pat was pregnant in August 1958. We lived in a basement apartment and awoke in the middle of an October night to find the house was on fire. We escaped all right, although my hair got singed. We were able to recover most of our belongings because the fire was put out quickly although everything smelled of smoke.

In three days I had to leave on a required senior vocation trip to visit factories in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Kindly neighbors put Pat up for the week while I was gone. We found lodging in Kelly, Iowa some 10 miles away. Our new lodging was cheaper, but the extra cost of gasoline even things out.

In March there was a big snow storm we were snowed in. Somehow a rumor got started in the little burg of Kelley that Pat was in labor. Two men with anxious eyes knocked on our door to inform us that they would help us get her to the hospital in Ames by clearing roads ahead of our car. Two days later Pat did indeed go into labor. Pat’s labor lasted about 40 hours. I spend most of two days in the waiting room listening to various women scream their way to delivery as their husbands abandoned me to go their prodigy.

Finally our son decided he had had enough dilly-dallying and popped out. I can still recall the relief I felt. My wife was exhausted but both mother and child were well and safe.
From then on the rest of the school year went smoothly, I graduated, and the first week in June, we loaded our car and small trailer with our entire belongings and headed to Dayton, Ohio, where I had accepted an offer to work at Frigidaire.

Throughout the years, occasionally, I taught people to dance and got paid to do so. I even started working part time at the Arthur Murray studio in Muncie, Indiana to pick up a little extra change and refresh my repertoire. I believe dancing open doors for me that never have closed. Should anything ever happen to my wife, I fantasize that I would obtain work on a cruise ship and charm rich ladies around the dance floor, occasionally discretely accepting their room keys as a token of their gratitude. Once in their room they would give me a great foot massage and offer me a warm glass of milk. The nice thing about a fantasy is that it doesn’t have to be acted out or take place for the mind to enjoy its image. So in some recess of my mind, I will always be moving gracefully along the dance floor.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seeing Macau in 6 Hours

While in Hong Kong we took a side trip to Macau, something I didn’t get done when I lived in HK. In the 80”s it was still under the control of the Portuguese and it had the reputation of having a lot of gambling and sex available. Today the gambling has greatly expanded and the sex has gone underground.

Judith did visit in the 80’s and she says Macau has expanded probably at the same order of magnitude as HK has. Casinos are of the same ilk as those in Vegas, big and gaudy. And the old town of two story houses and shops, along narrow winding streets, are being crowded out to make way for new high rises.

We begin our journey by taxi to the western side of Kowloon and purchase tickets for the large hover craft, After going through passport control we board we find all seats are reserved and we find ours along the outside of the boat. The seats are cushiony fake leather with plenty of leg room. Almost are nice as sitting in business class on an airplane. The sea is calm and we scoot along the coast line observing various small islands and boats. Soon we disembark and go through customs and are quickly approached by a native tourist guide who speaks excellent English. He shows us his brochure outlining some the sites we should see within 2 hours which will end us up at the historic center of the city where we can slow down as see many things of interest.

One of first things we see is the Macau Tower which offers panoramic views of the city and has a convention center and restaurants and has added a bungee jump. In the back ground is the Sai Van Bridge which connects a couple of smaller islands that are part of Macau. These islands are where even more casinos, hotels, and resorts are being built.

Next we roll by the Kun Iam Ecumenical Center along the outer harbor. The Goddess of Kun Iam (Goddess of Mercy) is made of a special bronze. Information about Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are available there.
We make our way up one of larger hills in the city to the Chapel of Our Lady of Penha founded in 1622 by crew and passengers of a ship which narrowly escaped capture by the Dutch. It was rebuilt is 1837.
We ended our tour at the fa├žade of St. Lawrence church which burned up except for the front. It is one of the main tourist attractions now. Next to it is an old fort and we climb the many steps up only to find out there is an escalator on the opposite side of the hill.. We use it on the way down.

We walk to the center of the historic city where this fountain has been a main stay for many years. The architecture of the building in the background is typical of that during the colonial Portuguese rule. Note always the black and white swirls in the street of the pedestrian mall.
This last church of note we visited was St. Dominic’s Church built is 1590’s. The church has a violent past. In 1644 a Spanish military officer was murdered during mass for being against the Portuguese and in 1707 the friars locked themselves in and pelted soldiers for three days with rocks. The soldiers were sent to enforce the excommunication orders issued by the local bishop who had a dispute with the pope.
We had a relaxing, enjoyable lunch at a western style restaurant just off the square, then headed back to HK.The next morning I captured the sunrise out our hotel window.
The sun is just lighting the tallest building.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Walking the Freedom Walk

Boston was where the American Revolution and the birth of our country began. I consider myself a patriot and one who has a deep appreciation of the freedoms we enjoy as a result of the courage and sacrifices of a few brave souls. I came to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail but I had no idea how much it would renew my faith in the greatness of our country. History came alive for me this weekend in Boston.

We stayed at the Parker House, the oldest continuous hotel in America, since 1855, with a large room next to the John McCormick Suite (former speaker of the House). Parker House is the home of the Parker House Rolls and the Boston Cream Pie. It was here where the brightest lights of America’s Golden Age of Literature — writers like Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Longfellow — regularly met for conversation and conviviality in the legendary nineteenth century Saturday Club. It was here where baseball greats like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams wined, dined, and unwound. And it was here, too, where generations of local and national politicians — including Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and William Jefferson Clinton — assembled for private meetings, press conferences, and power breakfasts.

Two cultural icons and notable revolutionaries spent time on the Parker House staff: Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh served as a baker in the bakeshop from 1911 to 1913, and
Malcolm Little (remembered as black activist, Malcolm X) was a busboy in the early
1940s, during the period of the Pearl Harbor invasion.

Our first night at the hotel, we stopped into the hotel’s bar, the Last Hurrah, (where JFK proposed to Jackie) and had some Boston Cream Pie. It was delicious and unlike any other so called Boston cream pie I had ever tasted. It had both a crispness and lightness that was unmatched.

The Parker House is right on the Freedom Trail. Just down the street is a statue of Ben Franklin, who was born in Boston and attended Boston Latin School on the site, now occupied by the Old City Hall.
And at the end of the block, was the Old South Meeting Place, which was the site of the protest against a tax on tea Dec. 16, 1773 and later that night the Boston Tea Party was held.

The next morning off we went, borrowing two umbrellas from the hotel, following the red brick road.
We then went to the Old State House, where the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was made and JFK first announced his candidacy for President. Then we visited the Boston Massacre Site where British soldiers killed 5 men who were protesting the occupation of the British, including Crispus Attucks, whose death was greatly romanticized as the first man to die in what led to the American Revolution. Attucks was of mixed race, part Indian, part black African but during the civil rights movement he suddenly became one of the most important men in African-American history.From there we walked a short distance to Faneuil Hall known as the “Cradle of Liberty”. Faneuil Hall has served as a marketplace and a meeting hall since 1742. Funding was provided by a wealthy merchant, Peter Faneuil, for the construction and local artisan to create the grasshopper weather vane that still perches on the building's cupola. Inspirational speeches by Samuel Adams and other patriots were given at Faneuil Hall. These oratories became the footstool for America's desire to obtain independence from the British.
Onward we trudged to Paul Revere’s House which is Boston’s oldest clapboard frame house. Then, the Old North Church. where Revere saw there were two lanterns shining from the steeple and along with other riders, went to warn the Minute Men that the British were coming by sea towards Lexington and Concord.

By then our feet were soaked and we were ready for some clam chowder and on our way back to the Parker House, we stopped and ate at the Union Oyster House, America’s Oldest Restaurant. For dinner we went down to the one of the restaurants listed in the book “1000 Places to See Before You Die”, the Legal Sea Foods. It was crowded and properly noisy and the food was excellent.
The next day, we traveled in the other direction from the hotel to see the Boston Commons, the State House, and Park Street Church, the Granary Burial Ground and the King’s Chapel.
The burial ground contains the graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and the victims of the Boston Massacre.
We then took a taxi to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.
We took the subway back to our hotel, then got a taxi over the bridge to see the USS Constitution which is the oldest commissioned was ship in the world. It was built in 1797 and was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” and earned fame in the War of 1812.
Here is a painting taken from the small museum on site which shows the ship at full sail.
Outside of attending a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, we saw and experienced a lot of Boston. Walking the Freedom Trail was all it should be and I hope everyone will have the opportunity to have the experience.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shanghai-Pearl Tower

On our return to Shanghai from Hangzhou, we check into the Hyatt on the Bund hotel for a 2 night stay. We have lunch in the hotel with the full entourage and then find a place to have a full-body message. When we arrive we find this short street is filled with high end message places mostly catering to tourists and other westerners. After the long trip from Hangzhou, the massages were both refreshing and restoring.

The next morning I told this picture out our window.
The building with the hole at the top is the Shanghai World Financial Center, third tallest building in the world and the structure looming in the foreground is the Oriental Pearl Tower. The Financial Center is actually taller than the Pearl Tower.

Our tourist objective is to visit the Pearl Tower on this day. We travel by taxi through the tunnel under the Huangpu River and get dropped off at the tower.

As we learned each of the 3 balls on the tower was a place to visit. The 2nd ball had a restaurant, and every stop had many souvenir shops. Outside of the spectacular views the entire experience was just so-so.

The Bund is on the left of the bridge over the river and our hotel is on the right behind the building with the light blue roof.
Looking south.
From the ground.
One of the best things about the Pearl Tower was the museum on the ground floor that had full pictorials of the colorful history of Shanghai. Remember old movies that had these cars?
Later that night the we were sitting in the club room having drinks with I saw that a full moon was rising and was about move so it shown through the hole at the top of the Financial Center. I doubt that this photo can be duplicated very often.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hong Kong-Memories from the 80's

I have many good memories each time I visit Hong Kong. I lived here for 5 months in the middle 1980’s working for a company that was put together for the purpose of selling color picture tube technology to the Chinese. An enterprising Greek man, who formerly worked at Zenith, somehow associated himself with a Chinese man and woman who formed Lotus Engineering. Nick hired me after an interview at the Hyatt near O’Hare due to my 18 years experience at RCA and having worked in the Soviet Union providing technical assistance setting up color tube manufacturing plants spanning 3 different cities. That is another rich tale that deserves a future exposure.

I was unemployed at the time and living in Rockford, IL and my future job opportunities looked extremely dim at the time. So I jumped at the chance in spite of having to leave my three children in their early 20’s to fend for themselves.

In those days, a trip to Hong Kong on United Airlines from Chicago required a flight to Seattle first, then a plane change and depending on the head winds, a refueling stop at Midway Island or Guam. The old Hong Kong airport was one of the most difficult to negotiate with surrounding buildings and a short runway.

Soon after I arrived I found permanent lodging in a high rise in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island, which was accessible only by boat. My view over looked the beach below and the western end of Hong Kong island. There were always boat of many sizes anchored between Hong Kong and Lantau islands, and a constant variety to the panoramic view. At times the mist and fog prevented any view at all, especially in the mornings. The best vistas were always contained a small amount of sea mist which always helped to promote the idea of mystical intrigue and adventure were available to all that dared venture out.

There are two modest size hover-craft boats that transport residents of Discovery Bay to the main island. This is how I went to work 6 days a week and return to my apartment except when the hover craft broke down. Normally, the ride is about 20 minutes but in heavy seas somewhat longer. After disembarking from the hover craft, I take a short walk to the Star Ferry terminal and board the ferry to across over to Kowloon. Then, either a 10 minute walk past the historic Peninsular Hotel or a 5 minute bus ride is chosen to travel to the South Seas Towers in Tsim Sha Tsui and then up the elevator to the top 10th floor, and I was at my desk.

The Hong Kong I experienced is long gone. Street food vendors once tempted passer-bys with charcoal fired woks emanating aromas of garlic, peanut oil, fried pork or chicken, bok choy and other exotic vegetables or fruit. If you weren’t too facetious, in 5 minutes a delicious meal could be purchased at a very reasonable price. And you got to watch the chef all the way.

Gone is the Hot Lips Bar romanticized by an article in the New Yorker magazine referring to reminiscences of the movie “World of Suzie Wong”. One executive guest, I took around to see the city, wanted to go there. Soon after we entered the Hot Lips, we sat down in a large booth, the required escorts came and sat down next to us, the obligatory watered down drinks came and we of course we gladly paid. The escorts were definitely not comparable to Susie as their glow of youth had now to be applied with brushes, but they were reasonably attractive and had good teeth.

Soon after the second round, my visiting exec began to negotiate with mama-san to pay her for the loss of the escort’s time the rest of the evening. He slapped down some bills and soon he walked out with the seamstress by day, mystery woman by night.

Sure this sort of thing still goes on, but the circumstances will never quite be the same. The Hot Lips Bar is gone, but not the memory.

Most of Tsim Sha Tsui had changed into brightly lit modern shops with clean floors and spaced out merchandise. There are no places to buy ivory anymore, not that I ever wanted to buy any. Fake Rolexes and other counterfeits were openly displayed although in the rear of the store. Shady street people appearing on almost every corner could offer a nice looking watch for about a dollar. I always had the feeling of knowing I was going to be ripped off if I bought anything and was always careful to find an honest merchandiser.

Tailor shops abounded on Nathan Road and a man of Indian descent always stood outside enticing me to buy a silk suit made in one day. It was always assumed I was a tourist and had to leave in a couple of days. There were warnings that getting a one day suit would not fit as well as one that took 3 days and had final details ironed out on the 2nd day. I did buy a silk tailored shirt that was made to my longer than normal arm length but the warm weather of Hong Kong didn’t make owning a lot of suits an attractive deal.

There were still rickshaws that operated around the Star Ferry back then. The men were old, wiry, skin and bones, men that probably escaped from China during the Cultural Revolution and had no other skills to offer. I never used one as I thought it looked too bourgeoisie. But there were always a few tourists who would at least get in one to have their picture taken.

Lantau Island is now home of the new airport and is connected to both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island with new bridges, roads, and tunnels with the addition of hotels and convention centers that usually surround major international airports. Even Disney Land is there now. When I took my hover-craft to Discovery Bay, there was nothing to see except green hills and ocean.

When I lived in Hong Kong, I ate twice on the floating restaurant, the Sea Palace that sets just of the town of Aberdeen. I took a bus to Aberdeen, walked a little to the water front, where there was a water taxi that could sit six. After disembarking from the taxi, and walking up the ramp to the restaurant, I walked past a smoke filled room and first heard then saw Chinese playing Mah-Jongg. Believe me the Mah-Jongg solitary computer game is nothing like what they were engaged in. This game is like American poker, with lots of bets and money at sake. The restaurant provided a great decor and good food; taking a boat to a boat to have dinner that was the novelty. (Note: I still have the chop sticks from my last dinner there and use them often to eat any noodle dish)

Then there was the trip to Stanley which is also on Hong Kong Island. Stanley is famous for its markets and bargains to be found. I took a double-decker bus that climbed over the mountains to the other side of the island. I bought Xmas presents there at very reasonable prices.

These two unique places are things I want to keep in my memories just as they were, and I hope I am never tempted to return to them.

Probably what I will remember most about the old Hong Kong are the disco clubs which introduced me to a sub culture within the country. As exotic and exciting as Hong Kong to be sometime, there was no one to share things with and life was definitely lonely at times. I resorted to going to one of my favorite past times, dancing. There I met the maids of Hong Kong. They were mostly Filipinos in their late twenties or thirties and not only do they like to sing, but they like to dance also. I found some favorite dance partners who also became my friends.

Many people could afford maids in Hong Kong and many of them lived in the place where they were employed. Maid quarters consisted of a small room that held a bed and little else, about the size of a walk in closet in the States. The women would send what was left over from their wages back home where the money greatly helped their parents and younger children.

What made making friends so easy was that they spoke English. Josie became my girl friend and sometimes we would sleep together. She has a Catholic and a virgin and wanted to stay that way until she married. Since I knew I wasn’t going to marry her, I respected her wishes. We would sleep spooned together and I think we were both happy to feel physical and emotional contact with another person. She was a sweet kind hearted sole.

When I returned to the States I wrote to her for a while and two other Chinese from work, Bill and Amy.. There was much concern as to what life would be when Hong Kong reverted back to Chinese control. It happened in 1997 and by that time Bill Wong had emigrated to Canada and I soon lost track of him and the other two also disappeared from my life.

As it turned out Hong Kong is under Chinese control, but it is a separate country and has its own government. There is no Great Internet Wall in Hong Kong and information about the rest of the world is freely available. Perhaps China will become more like Hong Kong in the future.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Part IV—Striving for Excellence

Normal working hours at Arthur Murray’s were 1-10 PM. Some students could only make it earlier so occasionally lessons were taught at 11 and noon. At one o’clock we would have a combination staff and training session for an hour and a half. During this time and all other down times, new instructors were expected to practice and learn. There were 20 steps in each of the six dances before reaching what was called Silver Dancing. All instructors had to reach this level. I was given some students that were already working on the beginning of their silver, so I was especially under pressure to get to that level ASAP. But as I recall, learning new steps got easier and easier and I had no problem. Soon I was working on my Gold Medal dancing which consisted of new dances besides more advanced steps in the other dances. There was Quick Step, English Waltz, Pasa Double, Peabody, and gold medal Mambo and Tango. I made good inroads into all of them.

There were also two kinds of Swing, Eastern and Western and both had single, double, and triple rhythm.

The other dance instructors were a close knit family and most of the time we got along fine. I recall a couple of spats that had to do with romantic concerns. We had two married couples having met each other at work. We didn’t have much life outside the studio and when we got off work, the men would spend an hour at the bar around the corner, drinking 10 cent glasses of Storz beer and playing bumper pool.

On Friday nights there was always an open house party for the students and all instructors danced with students and students danced with other students. The parties lasted until 11. So afterwards, what did all the instructors do but go dancing at a place a block away that had a dance floor and live music. We usually also did the same on Saturday night.

It was there I that I saw really great dancing by instructors that were experienced. Seeing them inspired me more than anything and I wanted to be able to dance like them. One of the great swing dancers of all time in my book was our dance director, Morris Stevie. He did things I had never seen before when we danced triple time Western Swing. So smooth, so effortless, so amazing was he. He was about 39 years old, ancient for a dancer then. He was always soft spoken and patient when he taught. He took a shine to me and taught me every single step in western swing that he knew.
Occasionally the owner Marc Stevens, would think up promotions to bring in additional money. For instance, a student could have dinner with their favorite instructor, and afterwards dance with him or her to a live combo at one of the better hotels in town. The instructors got paid for the hours put in and also got a free meal.

Then once a year all students were invited to a special exhibition of dancing put on by the staff followed by open dancing. A large dance hall and full orchestra were provided. The year I told part, we did English Waltz. All the instructor couples performed synchronized dancing for the exhibition which took many hours of practice. I believe the men wore tuxes and the women were dressed in one color. I am not to sure about this, but the exhibition was done without any problems and I look back on it as something spectacular and elegant.

I ate all this up. I gained confidence in teaching in front of a group. I gained confidence in myself and enjoyed the positive effect I had on my students. I took pride in seeing them advance and the enjoyment they received. It was a win-win.

I sometimes would go to dance bars and watch women dance before picking out someone I thought could keep up with me. Sometimes the women would be reluctant to accept my offer to dance. I was after all, just 21 and looked a little geeky with my buzz cut and dark rimmed glasses. But if one woman danced with me, then all the other women who liked to dance wanted to dance with me. I never once hit on any of the women. I was there only to dance with someone outside the studio and learn how to adapt to what abilities they had. I would try to lead them into something new for them and discovered enough success to keep trying.

I became a really good dancer in the space of 9 months and even though I don’t remember how to do the Peabody today, I still can cut an excellent rug.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Part III—One Magic Step for a Man

Unfortunately, my effort to reinvent myself to become more social and active campus life took its toll on my grade point. You might say I was too successful, but another way to look at it was that I didn’t have a good concept of moderation.

I got involved with Liz, a girl in the dance club during rehearsals for the Bolero number. She was a very good dancer and dancing and necking formed the basis of our relationship. She lived in Ames and had access to her mother’s car and would stop by and pick me up when I should have been studying. At the end of the first quarter of my Junior year, the university politely told me I was suspended and could not enroll for the winter quarter. There was nothing left to do, but to come home.

I managed to get a job at Union Pacific headquarters in Omaha with the title of clerk-filer. I worked in the accounting department probably based on the test they gave me requiring me to add a long list of numbers. I can not describe how much I hated working there. I don’t even want to describe the despair and boredom I felt. I was 21 years old and faced what to do with the rest of my life but I knew that doing menial tasks all day long and trying to look like I was busy, that was the worst part, was not for me.

I began to scour the ads in the Omaha World Herald, and I saw something I had not even thought about. “Wanted-Arthur Murray dance instructors.”
Soon I was taking Arthur Murray instructor training classes every night after work. They went from 7 to10. I was January. After class I would take a street car to Council Bluffs, hoping I would be able to catch the last bus for the night to my neighborhood. Many a time I missed it and had to walk 2 miles to reach my home. After 5-6 weeks of this, I had saved enough money to make a down payment on a 1950 straight shift Mercury dark green sedan with radio. It was my first car.

As I recall, there were 3 others in my training class when I arrived. The all had been there a week or two before I arrived. For the first two weeks, our dance trainer-instructor would be with us for the first hour and then leave us to practice on our own, dropping in occasionally to see how we were doing then a review for the last half hour. For my first two weeks, I did not learn a dance step. We practiced constantly how to move forward and back, called walking steps.

The basic steps in Fox Trot or Waltz require a big forward movement straight ahead for the man’s part, always beginning on the left foot. Leading with the toe, the left leg is extended until the toe is about to hit the floor, then the ball of the right foot pushes enough that the left foot slides about 3-4 inches when it hits the floor. At the end of the step forward, the upper body should be directly above the foot. Dance shoes always should have a rubber heel and leather sole, the leather being important because it allows the slide. And the best dance floor is always wood and is not sticky.

So we would practice walking steps constantly during the first 2 weeks. Arms extended in dance position and without partners, we would move counter-clockwise around the dance floor, the way dancers are suppose to go, moving to fox trot music. Good dancers always have precise footwork and correct dance posture.

After two weeks of basic training, we started to learn dance steps and how to teach them. To complete the training class we had to learn 10 steps in six dances, Fox Trot, Waltz, Swing, Rumba, Samba, and Tango and we had to be able to teach both men and women’s parts.

Then something happen that thrust me into becoming a full time dance instructor before I had completed everything. Two of the men dance instructors decided to join the Coast Guard at the same time. The studio was suddenly in need of male teachers and the dance director pulled me aside and told me I was needed and she was confident I could do the job.
I quit my job at Union Pacific and started full time at Arthur Murray’s.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I Can Dance--Part II--Modern Dance

My freshman year at Iowa State was all study and no play. I was an engineering student with three hour lab classes in Chemistry, Engineering Drawing required 9 hours each of class time in addition to classes in English, Math, and mandatory ROTC. I joined the cross country track team hoping to excel enough to win an athletic scholarship. This meant running after a day of classes for at least an hour. We ran on the college golf course, not my favorite place. I was used to running on a track where I knew exactly when my next foot would hit the turf and I could establish a good rhythm. Cross country running was clearly not for me. There were small holes, down hill running, and a swaying bridge to vex me. But I stuck with in and ran indoors during the winter, on a minuscule dirt track where the straight-aways were only 25 yards. I liked that even less. In the spring, the team ran outdoors on a normal track at the football stadium. I did much better there. I never did get a scholarship though. Being the second best freshman half-miler was not going to get it done. I would come back to my room at the fraternity exhausted after track and classes all day just in time for dinner. After dinner, the pledges were given 30 minutes before being ordered up to our rooms to study.
At the end of the year, I went home for the summer where I worked at night on the ice docks and during the day reading gas meters. I had a lot of time to think and I had reached an age where I was able to reflect on my life. I decided I was lonely, socially inept and needing to change my college experience. I made a real effort to be more aggressive at our fraternity dance mixers at the start of my sophomore year and had some success. I could get a date if I called early in the week for the coming weekend. This was my first attempt to re-invent myself. Soon another life changing opportunity came my way.

My fraternity brother, Norm, and I sat together at the dinner table one night and he told me that he joined the Modern Class Club. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he patiently explained what it was all about. But the only thing I really remember was that he said there were beautiful girls in the club and lots of them. Turn out Norm did not lie as I found out the first evening I went with him. Almost all the girls were trim, nice figures what were well displayed in leotards and tights. I soon learned they were good athletes, limber, flexible, strong, and possessing some of nicest bottoms, my eyes had ever witnessed. One of the upper class men became first runner up in the Miss America contest the next year and I thought she was only the second best looking female in the club.

I dropped out of track and devoted my athletics to dancing from then on.

Although I perhaps joined this group for less that noble reasons, I soon found out how much I enjoyed the movement of my body. I had great rhythm and I was a quick, eager learner. Soon the presence of women became secondary although surely not abandoned. We discussed and practiced fundamentals. We were given exercises of movement and exercises to create something. We became choreographers as well as dancers.
Betty Toman was the woman in charge. She was born in Oak Park, Illinois. At the age of 3 she started to dance and a year later, she began dancing professionally; highlights included an appearance at the 1932 World's Fair in Chicago, when she was 8 years old.

Professor Toman graduated from Morton High School in Cicero, Illinois. She received a B. A. (1948) in Physical Education (Dance) from the University of Wisconsin, where she studied under Margaret H'Doubler, credited as the creator of dance education. She received her M. S. in 1957, a year after I joined the Modern Dance club.

Betty had a short, slightly thick body and would not be considered good looking. She was also one of the nicest persons I have ever met. Her dancing was so powerful and intense it could only be described as awesome. She nurtured me and inspired me. She saw potential in me and I tried hard to meet it.

Every spring, Iowa State produced an outdoor Broadway musical type review show on the football field as part of their annual open house. In the spring of my sophomore year, I was part of three couples dancing an interpretation of Ravel’s Bolero. Our movements followed the music, slow and sensual to start and reaching a dramatic and powerful ending, climaxed with the men lifting our partners to our shoulders and the women raising their arms to the sky.

For the rest of my college days, one of my electives was a woman’s P.E. class in modern dance, assuring my grade point would be raised. The head of my engineering department would look at my schedule and would harrumph when he saw women’s P.E. on my curricula but that never stopped me.

Each winter, the club put on a dance show and all the performances were choreographed by the club members with help from Betty doing a kind of Tim Gunn critique of our work, without the “make it work” comment. My senior year I started the show with a solo performance done without music, one of my best. I was able to carve out a little niche of little known fame for myself. I was proud of what I accomplished and having Betty’s approval was all I ever wanted. She approved and I learned to approve of myself.

Betty went on to have distinguished career at Iowa State. She has an auditorium named in her honor.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I Can Danced-Part I-A Rough Beginning

remember when I was in 9th grade and I was having foot problems due to the high arches I inherited from my mother. We went to a foot doctor and he recommended I wear size 13AAA shoes. They were way too big for my feet and I felt like I was wearing clown shoes. I thought surely everyone would notice them and wrinkle up their nose at me. Believe me this is the last thing I wanted to have to deal with then. I wanted girls to like me and I had enough to worry about. I had braces on my teeth and acne on my face and yet to learn that projected confidence would make me desirable more than mere physical appearance. Of course, it didn’t help that girls then seemed to prefer rosy cheeked lads with perfect teeth.

So I was at this place in town where teens gathered one day after school. It had a juke box and a dance floor and someone was there to teach us how to dance. A girl I liked a lot came up to me and asked me to be her partner. But I was too embarrassed about my clown shoes and I replied, trying to be cool, “nah, I don’t want to”. She even coaxed me to try, so I paused a second and then said, “Nah, I don’t want to”.

So I watched, wanting so much to be out there with normal sized shoes having fun and being close to her. I walked home in a funk. God, I felt miserable and if boys were allowed to cry then, I have no doubt I could have “cried me a river”.

As I was still have some foot pain, we went to another foot doctor and he said to discard the clown shoes and put me into shoes my normal 10 ½ D size with arch supports. I was one of the turning points of my young life. Seriously! Having my braces removed came in a close second.

Later in high school, there would be sock hops in the gymnasium after football and basketball games. Ironically, shoes were not allowed on the gym floor so everyone danced in their socks. But I would not call what we did as dancing. It was more hold someone close and rock back and forth. This is what people do when they don’t really have a clue about how to dance. Rock and Roll was still a couple years away and the fast dances usually were some lively Glenn Miller tunes and not much was known about the art of the Jitterbug. The boys twirled the girls, and that was about all. The Bunny Hop was way more popular. Almost everyone could catch on and hold on to some hips. I remember Bunny Hoping during our Junior and Senior Proms where the entire class would form a snake line and hop around the room into the hotel hall and back.

But during times when we were done hopping, I would watch anyone that was a better dancer. Due to the lack of sufficient boys that could or even wanted to dance, girls would dance with each other. So I would ask the girl who was leading to dance with me and she would lead herself and would just hang on. Slowly I learned and got I got better and better.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bali August 2009

Our side trip to Yogyakarta and Borobudur was a visual experience that we won’t soon forget. We are driven to the Yogyakarta airport taking back roads that avoid the center of town and see all kinds of farming with the exception of pigs and cows, if that falls within the category of farming. There are lots of chickens running around, but we don’t see anything that remotely resembles a chicken factory. It is not surprising that there are no pigs because Java is mostly Muslim besides, pigs need grain putting them in competition with humans and making them ecologically undesirable especially in the desert of the mid-east where their taboo started. Bali is Hindu and they eat pork but we are not there yet.

It is Saturday and the airport is teeming with people traveling to various part of this huge east-west country. We board our Garuda flight direct to Bali and not surprisingly find a full plane. All Garuda airplanes have 6 seats a row, with no extra leg round for anyone six feet or over, which is fine for most Indonesians, and tolerable for the rest because the flights are not long and they always have food and drink at no extra charge.

We land at Bali and for the first time, I do not have to go through customs because we came on a domestic flight. Soon we are off to the Laguna Hotel in Nusa Dua and after two security checks we check-in. We eat an excellent dinner just off the beach to avoid the wind while a trio and singer perform some light rock songs.

I wake up early Sunday morning and take off to the beach to get some sunrise pictures. I find these two workers raking up the seaweed, digging holes every 10 feet and burying the seaweed in the sand.

I see this heron like bird feeding in the tide pool and use him to add interest.
See the bird? Do you see him? His long beak is in the sun’s reflection. Enlarge.
Later the tide will come in and come close to these chairs. This is the quiet time before nature’s energy comes alive.
The AIDS/HIV conference is next door at the Weston and Judith goes and registers, and finds her students, from China and Indonesia. And she also meets with the Laguna event manager to make final arrangements for her small party to entertain her colleagues, students, government officials and others on Wednesday evening after the end of the conference. Of course, my time is spent on the beach, re-enforcing the best body tan I have ever had.

Monday Judith made plans to have two vans take her students and colleagues to Jimbaran Beach. This is the sunset beach where several seafood restaurants adorn the shore and after the sun goes down the place lights up.

There is cloud bank on the horizon this night so there will be no sun setting at the horizon, so this is the last glimpse of the sun.
The candles go on and the beach torches light up. Lights from the fishing boats add to the atmosphere along with the perfect weather and slight breeze. And I have my feet in the sand.

Wednesday the conference is over so Thursday, Judith rents a couple of vans and her ex-student Mad’e takes the group of us into the interior of Bali starting with Ubud. We have been there a couple of times before, but it was a new to most of the travelers. We split into two groups, one of whom went to the monkey forest and the rest of us wandered through the shops and markets before we gathered again for lunch. I have always wanted to get pictures motorcycles in Indonesia as they are the main form of transportation. Indeed, if everyone had a car, the roads would be hopelessly locked up.
From Ubud we traveled through mountains and rice fields where “lush” is the word of the day.
And a good time was had by all.
We ended up at Mad’e’s home before taking the 1 ½ hour return trip to our hotel, arriving worn out and looking for some hard liquor and light dinner.
We checked out of the Laguna Friday to get a change of scene. We checked into what used to be the Ritz Carlton and now is under new ownership as the Ayana Resort and Spa. We were here before when it was the Ritz. It now has refurbished rooms and carpeting which it needed before. We stayed in the club section and sat out on the balcony having a few drinks until it was time to get closer to the sunset.
Here is one of the best pictures I have ever taken.
Life is good!