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.

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

I never knew the start of your passion to dancing... I should have known it's about wanting to get the girls.

You should rent Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School if you haven't already. I think you'll really like it.