Technology Dance Part 1 — Awkward First Steps


At the start of this school year, I’d like to share a story with you that may help illustrate what I understand the new Information Technology National Guidelines for the 21st Century and the Diocesan Plan for Implementation to be like and how I view it personally.  I hope this story will hep you capture both some of the vision as well as some of the challenges we all face in this regard.  It is the Diocese intention to begin integration of the new standards starting in the 2009-2010 school year and continue over the next two or three years to implement more of these standards.  Some of this initiative at our school will be included in our preparation for the Middle States Re-certification.  My hope is that will find the journey ahead as exciting as moving fluidly over the dance floor like in the story that follows.  Close your eyes for a moment before you begin reading the story and try picturing yourself as one of the contestants on the popular “Dancing with the Stars” television program.  After you have had a short flight of fancy, come back and read the story and the information that follows.  The story is actually drawn from my own life experience.

When I was 11 years old my life as a typical boy was interrupted unexpectedly by an event that even I had absolutely no input to and absolutely no control of.  In some ways that is pretty typical for any 11-year old boy or girl; however, in my case, the situation was a lot more unexpected than I could have anticipated.

One Friday after school I found my mother in my room pulling out my Sunday Church dress suit from the closet.  I thought this was extremely odd since she only ever did that every few weeks to make sure our coats and pants were properly pressed before going to church.  She was also getting out a dress shirt and tie from the closet.  When she pulled out my black dress shoes, I was really quite confused.  I proceeded to inform her that it was only Friday and that church was still two days away.  Expecting a response like, “I know but I’m just getting a head start on things for the weekend.”, I awaited her response.  The next words I heard were, “Oh, these aren’t for church, this is for your dance class tomorrow evening.”  “ My what?” I muttered, now totally convinced I was in the wrong house or that this must be some incredibly bizarre punishment being meted out for lying about my brother being responsible for breaking the lamp in the living room.  I just stood there incredulous as she proceeded to fill me in on some of the details.  She had signed me up for ballroom dance classes at the w”omen’s Club on Saturday evenings from  6:00 to 9:00 p.m.  This would be every Saturday night from the last Saturday in September until the last Saturday in June.  I had to wear a suit and tie and was expected to be on my best behavior around the little girls who would be our partners at the dance class.

There was a growing feeling of panic and nausea as I contemplated the prospect of not only having to spend three hours dressed in a suit learning how to do some crazy dances adults did, but also that I was going to have to do them with girls.  As my panic grew I tried to think of a dozen reasons why this was really a bad idea.  “But Mom, what about basketball practice, my paper route, music lessons, and you know how Dad wants us to have our homework done before Sunday evening or we can’t watch “The Wonderful World of Disney as a family?”  I must have been really desperate to throw in the homework excuse.   Mom brushed all those away with a simple, “Well I guess you’ll just have to do it Friday evening so you won’t have to miss TV on Sunday because you are going to the dance class.”    Having been a dancer herself as a young child and continuing through high school I understood my mother’ passion for dancing.  She still had her tap shoes and tap mat in the basement, and she would get them out periodically to show us steps she had learned many years before and could still do with very little effort.  While this was certainly impressive, I had no inkling that she was somehow plotting to include me in her desire to have another dancing member of the family.  I thought of fleeing to the protection of my dad since he surely wouldn’t want his budding baseball and basketball star to be “tripping the light fantastic” on some ballroom dance floor with a bunch of girls.  Unfortunately, I had learned that my dad never contradicted my mother’s decisions, because in matters like these that involved the expenditure of money, my mother always spoke with my father before taking any definitive action.  I knew my dad not only knew about the dance classes but had already given his consent.  My fate was sealed.  There was no way out.  Dancing classes were as inevitable as death and taxes for this 11-year old.

I sat nervous and disgruntled in the back of my father’s 1956 Silver Oldsmobile Sedan as my mother, younger brother Barry, and I drove to the Women’s Club just about 10 minutes from our home.  Those 10 minutes would seem like a death row “Dead Man Walking” stroll on this evening.  My mother had become a member of the Club just three years before and I had been wonderfully oblivious to the secret goings on of the group.  It was only now that I had become aware of their heinous plan to capture young unsuspecting boys, like myself, and turn them into “dancing sissies”.  The recently starched collar of my dress shirt and the metal clip on my “clip-on tie” dug into the flesh of my neck as I squirmed in my seat.  I contemplated making a break for it as the car pulled up into the driveway next to the main entrance of the Club.  Unfortunately, my mother had strategically placed my younger brother in the seat behind my father blocking my exit in that direction, and she was quicker than a jackrabbit being chased by a coyote as she opened her car door and then mine.  Grasping my hand firmly in hers, she pulled me from the car and led me toward the open door of the club.  I kept my head down like a sheep being lead to the slaughter, doing my best to avoid any potential eye contact with images of my friends standing nearby; gawking, slapping their baseball gloves in delight as they laughed hysterically while I was led into “Fox Trot Hell”.

As we entered the club, we swung to our right and through a set of immense doors into a huge open room with glistening chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  The wood floor was polished to perfection and seemed to be half a football field in length.  At the far end was a stage.  On the stage was a grand piano with a large balding man seated there, apparently awaiting some instruction as more unsuspecting children filed into the room.  Along each side of the room was a row of wooden chairs.  On the far wall, a bevy of girls ages 10 to 15 sat or stood in their amazing array of colorful dresses and white gloves.  On the wall next to where I was standing sat or stood boys in the same age range, most of whom seemed to be desperately clutching the sides of the chairs and wrapping their legs around the rungs so there was little chance that one of the girls from the other side could pry them free in an attempt to drag them out onto the dance floor.

As I surveyed the scene I did notice a few of the older boys glance across the room, smile shyly, and not toward one of the older girls who smiled and then turned back to talk with her group of friends.  I thought this was a bit strange, but then again, at 11 one doesn’t really have a great deal of understanding about the incredible changes that take place when young boys and girls suddenly hit puberty.  My mother whispered, “ have a good time”, into my ear as she let go of my hand and left me standing alone near the row of chairs for boys.  I had no idea where she was going.  I wanted to turn and run after her, but as I did so, I was pushed back by other mother’s dragging their victims into this hall of torture.  Little did I know, that my mother and the other members of her cult were only going to the balcony above the dance floor to sit and gloat over their accomplishment of having hoodwinked their children into this forced pre-pubescent boy-girl socialization.

Suddenly the lights in the room flashed on and off and there was the distant sound of clicking castanets as a tall woman with long black hair and piercing black eyes entered the room and moved toward the middle of the dance floor.  Our dance instructor, Miss Claire Mack, had been drilling young men and women in the finer points of ballroom dancing for many a year.  While she looked like a version of Chita Rivera without the fruit hat, she was no one to be thrilled with or even joked about in public.  The older boys and girls hurriedly retreated toward their seats but did not sit down.  They turned toward Miss Mack and bowed and curtsied as she strolled past them.  The “newbies” like myself stood in utter terror as she approached us with a broad smile and with a wave of her hand swept us back toward the chairs.  “Greetings to all of our new pupils, welcome to the wonderful world of ballroom dancing, please take your seats as I explain our procedures to our new pupils”.  She spoke with staccato precision and paused for emphasis between phrases.  She clicked her trademark castanets again as she moved back toward the stage and was handed a microphone by the piano player.  “For all of you new students, when you arrive please find a place to sit or stand until I enter the room”.  “Young men are to bow from the waist like this”, she paused to demonstrate the proper posture and the degree of bending required, and then waited while we each attempted to duplicate her movements.  Young women are to curtsy like this”, she again demonstrated for the girls and waited for them to practice as well.  “While I am walking down the line of chairs I will inspect each one of you to see that you are wearing proper attire.  Young men are to have their ties properly tied or clipped on, have their shoelaces properly tied, and will keep one button on their coats buttoned at all times.  Young women must be wearing shoes with straps, and must all be wearing a pair of white gloves.  At no time are the women to remove their gloves during the dancing sessions, and at no time are the young men to touch any exposed skin on the girls arms, shoulders, or backs.”  “Well of course, who would want to touch them in the first place, she must be out of her mind”, I thought.  “Failure to meet these standards will require you to leave the dance floor and sit with your mothers in the balcony for the rest of the evening, and your mothers will pay the extra fee for you missing your lesson,” the woman went on.  For a moment I thought there was a loophole to all of this nonsense.  If I messed up and took my tie off and put it my pocket I could head to the balcony, but that part about the extra fee was the lynchpin.  I knew my dad would be furious if it cost him more money for me to try and avoid the lesson.

“Now”, she continued, “we will pair our new students with their dancing partners for this evening.  All new students please step forward”, she commanded.  I thought of just staying where I was in line pretending I hadn’t heard the instruction, hoping that would mean I wouldn’t be paired with one of the rather eager looking girls across the room, but suddenly there was that snap of castanets nearby as she shouted, “Quickly young men, we don’t have all evening”.  Obviously, there was absolutely no need for encouraging the girls who seemed to be panting like racehorses in the starting gate to get to the other side of this immense hall and drag one of us onto the dance floor.  Miss Mack was no pushover she had absolute control of all of us on her dance floor.  She would dictate exactly what would happen each second of the session.  She went up and down the lines selecting partners that seemed to be of approximately the same height as their partners.  In the event that there was not a suitable height match, you were frequently stuck with someone who was either four inches shorter or six inches taller than you.  Either way, you stood out from the rest of the bunch and afforded a bit of quiet snickering from the other pairs of dancers.

As I waited my sentence to be passed on my dance partner for the first night, I did my best to quickly scan the potential candidates to see who I would most not like to be paired with under any circumstances.  As my eyes darted up and down the line, they stopped transfixed on a girl my age, who stood about three inches taller than me, with long ringlets flowing down over her pink dress.  I knew that face, but I had never seen her look this way.  Oh no, it wasn’t possible, I had moved clear across the city hoping to escape her.  Elaine had been my neighbor from Kindergarten through the first half of fifth grade.  She lived just four houses away from me growing up on Tacoma Street in East Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Elaine had a terrible crush on me at this point in our lives.  She had invited me to every birthday party and always made sure that the only chair left at the table was the one next to her when I came to the party.  She even had the audacity to kiss me on the cheek when I was leaving fifth grade to move to the West End of Allentown a good 30 minutes away from my old neighborhood.   Now there she was standing across from me smiling and winking as she did each day of our school year together.  “Oh God,” I prayed, “please don’t let Miss Mack pick Elaine as my dance partner”.  “I don’t know what I can offer in return God, but I”ll confess that I really broke the lamp in the living room if you just let me off the hook and maybe assign me to that little redhead standing to her right”.  God has a wonderful sense of humor I’ve learned over the years, and promises of vague confessions of guilt in the midst of panic, seem only to stir Him to new heights of amusement, so naturally , my dance partner for that evening and initially to my great dismay, much of the next four years, was to be Elaine.  Elaine on the other hand could not have been more thrilled with God’s favor that day.  A year later she had moved on to other love interests and I was just a dance partner.  I had moved on to new infatuations myself, but surprisingly we not only learned to dance gracefully together, but did so well that we won a  junior competitive ballroom competition in the Waltz category.

I learned to dance many steps in the four years that I spent in those classes.  The Waltz, Fox Trot, Cha Cha Cha, Rumba, Samba, Tango, Jitterbug, even the Twist, to name a few.  Of all those dances, I found my greatest love was the Waltz.  It was a dance of sweeping style and graceful rhythm, great passion with a controlled flair.  In competition dressed in tails with my partner wearing a beautiful weeping gown and long elbow-length gloves, we actually felt powerful, graceful, elegant, and there was the enchantment once the music began that I don’t think I can fully describe.  I didn’t think I could learn any of those things in the beginning, let alone do them at a level that enabled me to be competitive and really good at it.  I didn’t think there would be any practical use for these dance classes but was surprised to find that they improved my balance and timing on the basketball court, and helped me use those same skills in collegiate fencing years later.  I also discovered I liked dancing so much that I never missed a dance at the YMCA from 9th Grade to 12th, and I continued my dancing through college and graduate school.   The style of the dances changed in that time, but my love for being on the floor and sharing the pulse of the movement and sound and the joy of sharing the dance with a partner never left me after those first torturous moments at the Women’s Club all those years before.

Now, what is the point of this story as it fits into the issue of Technology Implementation at our school?

First, whatever new standards, procedures, and/or policies that are introduced most will come at us without our input or without our control, like my dance classes.  So when New National, State, and Diocesan Standards are adopted in this area of Information Literacy and Technology we simply need to recognize that we are going to have to adapt to them whether we like them or not, just like I had to settle into the dance classes.

Second, while we often receive some paper documentation regarding these standards much of the implementation process is often thrust upon us and we don’t have all the details, we are simply asked to do our best to include them in our daily classroom curriculum.  I didn’t know any of the steps for any of the dances when I started lessons, and often we won’t know the steps we are to take for implementation.  We’ll just have to follow along and hope that we will be able to grasp the steps with practice and improve on them as we practice them.  Like learning complex dance steps we may start of with a few simple forms of the dance, and then gradually be introduced to the more specific nuances that make the dance more intricate and intriguing.  We have to put one foot in front of the other until we acquire the rhythm and balance in order to move smoothly across the floor.  We will need to take small steps at first so we don’t lose our balance, but attempting those small steps will help us refine our techniques over time.

Third, I didn’t get to pick my dance partner, and essentially you didn’t either.  You are stuck with me for the moment as your technology and information literacy dance partner.  I will do my best to be a good dance partner and lead you through the process of change, teaching you as much as I am able to help you grasp the concepts and procedures and move through the process as gracefully as possible.  Like learning any dance there may be times that I accidentally step on your toes.  I’m not deliberately trying to do so, sometimes I’m just moving ahead of you because this is my area of expertise and I know which way I should be going and you don’t yet.  If you trust me, I’ll try to make the process as painless as possible and as enjoyable as possible.  I’ll do my best to open new vistas and new rhythms and help you explore the dance to make it an enriching part of your life.

Finally, when I started the dancing lessons I didn’t think there was going to be much long-term benefit or carry-over into other areas of my life, but I was very surprised to find out that there were benefits in the other areas of my life as well.  I hope that you will find that learning how to use technology better and learning some of the new information literacy tools will make using technology in your day to day life easier, and may enable you to learn how to use new forms of information that will be impacting our lives for years to come.  I can’t say for each of you what areas of your lives you will find these things most useful outside of the school environment, but I know from my own personal experience you will be surprised if you are willing to engage in the process.  So, in the words of Lee Ann Womack, “I hope you’ll dance”.

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