Technology Dance – Session 14

MRS. BROWN YOU’VE GOT A LOVELY DAUGHTER – WHY WON’T SHE DANCE WITH ME?

© Written by Kenneth H. Westgate Jr. 7/1/2017

The Spring of 1966 was hot and sultry. No breeze and bright sun until nearly 8:00 pm made the temperature feel like 90 even though it was still only in the low 80’s. I pulled my bright yellow Chevelle Convertible into the YMCA parking lot about ten minutes before 8:00 pm. The crowd was already half-way down the block. Good thing they had sold advanced tickets to this dance, or I would have been out of luck. I had my ticket place carefully in the inside pocket of my powder blue summer weight blazer. Straightening me tie and giving one last glance in the mirror to see that my hair was combed, which wasn’t really necessary since I had a crew cut, I opened the car door and headed toward the line. The dance was sold out within hours of the tickets going on sale. While we had other local venues that drew top Rock and Roll acts like Notre Dame Band Stand and Castle Rock, the local radio DJ who hosted the YMCA dances had scored big time in getting a British Band to do a live performance for this dance. While I wasn’t a big fan of British Rock and Roll since I had grown up with Elvis, Fabian, the Everly Brothers, and the Beach Boys, I wasn’t sure I was going to go or not; but it was a chance to hear a live British Rock Band, so I bought a ticket and here I was. Waiting with the vast horde of sweltering teens for the “Y:to open the doors to the air conditioned gym where the dance would be held. Waiting with excitement to see Herman and the Hermits.

The line began to move suddenly in front of me and with the crowd dying to get out of the heat they moved rapidly past the ticket takers at the door and up the stairs to the gym. Music was already playing when we arrived with “Jumpin Freddy Mylander” at his turn tables cranking out Wipe Out by the Safaris. A few couples hit the dance floor while the rest of us milled about looking for familiar faces. All of us were from one of the three local high schools, William Allen, Louis E. Dieruff, and Allentown Central Catholic. With over 3,000 students in my high school, William Allen, there were bound to be a few faces in the crowd I would recognize. I spotted my friends Kenny Walbert and John Weiss and went over to say hello. John made his way to the dance floor with one of the girls from our high school before I could catch up with him, but Kenny and I spoke for a few minutes. More students poured in and the place began to feel almost as hot as it was outside even with the air conditioning. Freddy was cranking out more hits and the dance floor was now jumping with lots of couples making the gym echo to the point where you almost couldn’t hear anyone speak even when they were next to you.

I was still looking for a possible dance partner when I spotted a girl who was in my Advanced Placement History class. I didn’t really know here that well, and I wasn’t the most outgoing person you might meet, but I decided to see if she would want to dance with me. So I walked over to her and asked Kate if she would like to dance. “I’m waiting for my boyfriend,” she said glancing around the room. “Oh, whose your boyfriend I asked?”, not knowing what else to say at that point. Still glancing around the room, she said, “Dennis Miller”. I had known Dennis since sixth grade. We played on the same summer league baseball team for three years, and we went to Junior High together. I saw him around at high school, he was on the high school basketball and baseball teams and was well known in the school. We weren’t in any classes together, but we ran into each other in the cafeteria and at study hall.

“I know Dennis, he and I go back to sixth grade,” I said. Kate seemed surprised, and suddenly stopped looking around the room. “You have known him that long?, she asked” “Yeah, I don’t see much of him any more since we aren’t playing the same sports any more, but I seem him around school usually at least once a day to say hello”, I added. “I don’t know where he could be he said he would be here by 8:00 and he is supposed to take me home from the dance tonight when its over,” Kate added. “Well, I’m sure he will be here if he said he would, but any chance you would share a dance with me until he gets here?, I asked. She looked reluctant and didn’t answer at first, taking another glance around the dance floor. Not seeing him anywhere she agreed to the next dance with me. To both are surprise the next dance was not a fast dance as all of the others had been so far, but Freddy decided to turn it down and offer a slow dance possibly to cool things off a bit in the gym. “Oh, listen,” I said, we can wait for the next fast dance if you want, I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable slow dancing with me.” “Actually, I’ve seen you at other dances here and you are really a good slow dancer, so I will take a chance with you,” Kate replied. “It is all the years of ballroom dance my mother made me take”,

I quipped. She laughed, “Really she made you do that?”. “Yes from sixth grade through 10th. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes not, but I learned a lot”, I replied. The music was still playing and we hadn’t started to dance. I think we were both really unsure, but finally I took her hand, lead her to the dance floor and we began. I held her like I would in formal ballroom dance, not close at all, keeping a desired space between us. She didn’t seem to mind and actually seemed relieved and relaxed as we danced for all of about a minute and a half before the music stopped and a fast dance number came on again. We stayed on the floor and did a sort of combination of the mashed potato and the monkey. It looked pretty ridiculous but then most of the rest of the dancers looked about the same, so we just smiled and kept on dancing. After another dance or two we both relaxed and neither of us thought anything more about Dennis. After a little more than a hour, Freddy stopped the music told everyone he was taking a fifteen minute break and would be back with the featured performers for the evening. We all began to wander toward the gym exits for some fresh air. Kate went with some of her friends to the girls restroom, and I headed for one of the side exits where I knew there was a balcony on the shaded side of the building where I knew it would be cooler then the exits on the front side of the building that always got full sun throughout the day.

The sun was down now but the heat still persisted. As I walked on to the balcony I felt a strong hand grab my right arm and yank me around. “Hey you, what …you doing … dancing with my … girlfriend?”, Dennis said in very slurred speech. “Dennis, where the heck did you come from?, I shot back. “None of … your business ..and besides … I asked you first?” Dennis was half leaning on me now with his face barely two inches from mine. “Dennis your drunk!,” I replied. “No, I’m not… I only had a couple of beers with my friends here. I noticed four other students I knew who were all seniors like Dennis and I but all who were on various sports teams at the school. “I smiled and gave a half hearted wave of recognition. They all sort of grunted but also seemed to be pretty drunk themselves. They started to walk slowly towards me, staggering a bit as they lurched forward. All of a sudden the memories of being bullied as a child began to resurface and I began to sweat profusely. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, so mustering all the bravado I could at the moment I said, “Look Dennis, Kate told me she was waiting for you, but when you didn’t show up, I asked her if it would be okay to have a dance, and she said yes, so I danced with her. I would have quit dancing with her if I knew you were here, and say, why didn’t you come over and just let her know you were here?”, I asked in a forceful tone. “Look man, that’s …none of your … business, just stay away from my girl or I’ll knock your block off.” His other friends began to move in closer now in a menacing stance to back him up. “Dennis, do you even recognize me?”, I shot back. Dennis leaned in again to within about an inch of my face, he blinked a few times, gave a loud burp, and then said, “Hey Kenny, … what are you .. doing here?” “Well as you already pointed out I was dancing with your girlfriend,” I replied. “Well cut that out man… just leave …her alone!”, Dennis shot back He took a half-hearted drunken swing at me, and I easily backed away as he fell toward the balcony railing catching himself as he was about to plunge over. Fortunately at that point Freddy Mylander was introducing Herman and the Hermits so loudly, that this distraction allowed me to slip off the balcony and into the crowd packed in front of the stage as wild screams from teenage girls filled the room as Herman (Peter Noone) and his group began to perform. They gave a great show for this audience of a few hundred. Surely they were used to playing bigger venues with much better profits coming all the way from Manchester England. It was just suddenly exciting to me to realize I was getting to see them perform live even though some of the songs were barely audible over the girls shrieks and screams. The group saved Mrs. Brown You Have a Lovely Daughter for their closing encore number. Freddy indicated that there would be another half hour of dancing and the group would be around for about ten minutes downstairs for autographs. The dance floor emptied pretty quickly of a great deal of the crowd all seeking autographs, while I stayed behind. Dennis had somehow found Kate and they were now arguing in the corner by the gym stands. I started to walk over but thought maybe I should just leave them settle it themselves. As I watched Dennis tried to grab Kate’s arm, as he did she hauled off and hit him in the nose with her fist. He reeled back and slumped into the stands. His other friends were nearby but avoided Kate completely as they helped Dennis to his feet and half carried him out the back exit door of the gym. I walked closer and could see Kate was crying. “Are you okay?, I asked sheepishly. “Yes, just mad,” he can be such a jerk sometimes. I told him not to go drinking with those guys, but he wouldn’t listen so I told him I didn’t want to see him any more. He tried to grab me and take me outside, and that’s when I punched him in the nose. I wasn’t going to let him bully me again”, she replied. “He’s bullied you before?”, I asked. “Yes, but only when he is drinking. He isn’t a nice drunk at all”, she added. Not thinking I said the obvious, “ Well none of us are of drinking age anyway, so he should know better.” “What you’ve never been to a party where they serve beer, wine or some other alcoholic drinks?’, she queried. I paused, swallowed and decided to tell the truth as naive as it might sound. “Actually Kate I have only ever been to two parties since I’ve been at high school and neither of them included any type of alcohol. I don’t usually get invited to any parties, especially since I don’t have a girlfriend.” “Wow, that’s really sad”, she added why don’t you think people don’t invite you?, she asked. “Probably because I generally hang out just with guys I know from class or sports, or I am home studying so I can get into college, so I just don’t hang out with people who go to parties I guess”, I replied. “Wow!, like I said that is really sad,” Kate said. “Thanks Kate, that’s a real confidence builder”, I replied. “Oh, sorry, say they are still playing some dance music why don’t we dance a bit, maybe that will make both of us feel better”, she added. “Yes, lets dance!”, I added.

We danced for the remaining twenty minutes of the dance even dancing two slow dances at the end where she let me hold her close. It was a bit scary thinking that Dennis might be hovering around waiting to beat the heck out of me, but it also was very nice. She asked me to drive her home since there was no sign of Dennis and she wouldn’t let him driver her home if he was drunk anyway. I drove her home and then headed home myself. I decided to take the long way home. I put the top down on my convertible, and hit one of the back roads where I knew I could crank my 327 engine up release some of the pent up energy I was feeling. I finally made it home a little after midnight, having stopped at MacDonald’s for a late night burger, fries, and shake. As I sat in my car savoring the cool night air, and looking intently at the stars above, I realized I had handled myself far differently with those bullies tonight than I had as a child. As a child I was simply terrified and ran for home if I could. If I couldn’t I usually got beat up, so I often just stayed in my room and didn’t go out for days until my mom got tired of me sitting inside and forced me back out into the neighborhood. Although it was traumatic for me to move with only a month left in school at the end of fifth grade, at least I knew I wouldn’t see the neighborhood bullies that had terrorized me any more. I was wrong about that of course. I actually ran into two of them when I went to college. They were older than me. One was a graduating senior in my freshman year of college and the other had already graduated two years before and ended up being my gym teacher as well as being one of the assistant football coaches. I don’t know if they ever realized who I was because neither of them bothered me at all while I finished college. I guess they may have grown up a bit as well and probably didn’t even recognize me after all those years. Maybe that helped prove to me that even bullies can change.

Bullying continues to be a problem not only in the physical world but also in the virtual world as well. In fact as most of us know the relative anonymity of the Internet makes bullying a lot easier for many individuals. Bullying is part of a “Shame/Fear/Control” cycle that impacts not only those being bullied but actually the bully themselves. While they may not recognize this is taking place, these factors are often all at work in the bully as well, just buried under the seemingly unfeeling speech and actions of the bully. While we know that helping our students respond appropriately to the bullying is essential to their growth and self-esteem, we often fail to recognize the cycle of Shame, Fear,and Control and fail to give our students tools to break this cycle. Likewise, we don’t equip the by-standers with the tools to appropriately intervene to break this cycle as well.

Teaching our students appropriate use of the Internet, and appropriate etiquette for Internet interactions and relationships is certainly critical to preventing much of the bullying that we see on the Internet, and we need to continue to reinforce these skills every year with our students who are using technology.

We also need to acquaint them with how the Shame/Fear/Control cycle works and where it can be interdicted and how. Most bullying begins by the bully trying to shame someone else. Either by using hurtful words, passing gossip or rumors, creating gossip or rumors, post embarrassing images, etc.

These all cause a feeling of shame to occur in the person being bullied. This then becomes a fear because they know how easily this information can be spread on the Internet so that in a matter of seconds a whole large group of individuals perhaps even a whole school or local community can receive this damaging information. At this point both the bully and the recipient are jostling with an issue of control. The person being bullied is looking for some way to stop the spread and control the spread of this shameful information. The bully is looking for some additional ways to control the interaction so as to increase the shame and fear factors in the person being bullied so that they can gain more control over the situation. So how do we help our students break this vicious cycle.

First we try to prevent the exchange of any shameful information by helping our students know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to post or share on the Internet. If no useful information is out there the only recourse the bully has is to make something up. Made up data while it may have an initial impact usually doesn’t hold up in the long run because most people will eventually be able to detect when something can’t possibly be true, especially if other witnesses come forth and support the bullied person saying that none of the false data is true.

Second we must teach our students that instead of fear they need to be equipped to take simple and direct action by reporting bullying of this type to their parents, the school staff, and any appropriate legal authorities. While they may expect the bully to try to retaliate, it also serves notice to them that they have been identified and that others may now be monitoring their actions. Since many states now make cyber-bullying an actual crime, this tends to be a effective deterrent in those states where this is a provision, such as here in Pennsylvania.

Third, we need to help our students realize that retaliation is a form of Control that only acerbates the situation and repeats the Shame/Fear/Control cycle. We want our students to learn how to appropriate block unwanted contacts from the bully and how to remove and change identities if needed so as to make it more difficult for the bully to access them. Also we want to again reinforce good sound Internet behavior so that they are not making themselves vulnerable by posting things that could be damaging to them or others.

Finally we also want to teach our students how to communicate in a face to face fashion that allows for real dialog between people rather than just using digital tools. When people have to face each other in the real world it is much more difficult to pursue the bullying especially if they are on their own. Bullies as we know try to gather support around themselves because actually they are aware that by themselves they can be weak and vulnerable too, and so they will try to gather other around them. If we teach are students not to be passive by-standers and to become part of the solution by supporting the person being bullied, we will be equipping them with a support base that can counter the bully’s support base, often leading to that old-time western “standoff” where neither side has the firepower to blast the other one successfully, so they holster their guns and walk away, even if only for a time. Such a tactic again interrupts that Shame/Fear/Control Cycle giving more opportunity to end it altogether.

In our very divisive world today, it is even more important that we teach our students how to deal with bullies, since so much rhetoric today sound so much like bullying. We need to especially focus on teaching them how not to emulate adults who use social media tools to ridicule or shame others. This isn’t an option in today’s world it is a necessity.

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