The UPSIDE of GYM CLASS

words HARRY READ

High school physical education conjures up a different emotion in all adults. If there was one course that could fill a therapy couch with a multitude of memories, gym would lead the way.

I am not saying it would all be bad, just that P.E. opens all participants to that which they are the most protective of—their strengths and weaknesses. From the first day of class where you pick your locker, meet your cohorts, drop your clothes to put on your gym shorts and then enter the gym, you are exposed to all.

No, this is not an essay on the gains and pain of gym class, but rather on a wonderful activity that will level the so-call “playing field” and allow all students to begin on the same skill level, then advance together as a class. By the end there is high energy and smiles that would warm your soul and last not just for days but, in many cases, for months.

Introducing social dance to a group of freshman takes both the compassion of a caring soul and the intensity of a WWF wrestler. In the beginning, you are, in many ways, like moving the herd to slaughter, but stopping just short of the slaughter. The posturing by these young whippersnappers is amazing and once corralled we are ready to begin.

First, we have the girls take a seat and the boys stand in line. I begin with a short walk down memory lane that sets a hook, which revolves around my dance exposure in high school and that my dance partner is still my dance partner for the past 53 years. I then present the history around social dance, describe how to request a dance, then let the boys select their first partner. This is an event where patience and fortitude are a must. I would compare it to trying to move a mule into a pen when the mule is not interested in being there. After a lot of work, all dance partners are on the dance floor and we are ready to begin. The next class the we reverse these roles and the girls choose their dance partner and the fun begins again.

Now, I know what you are thinking: What about those that may not align with the two gender identities? That is addressed early and embraced right in the beginning of the class. Also, after the first lesson and basic dance leads are established, gender and partners are open to all.

At this time, you can feel the energy in the class. The couples begin to circle up, girls on the right, and they all join hands into a large circle. Everyone is at the same level here—they are all nervous, apprehensive and making a ton of noise. They are ready.

We begin with a large circle dance playing either an Irish tune, or my favorite, sweet bluegrass from Kentucky. Large group allows teaching the basic calls at the same time and encourages the students to help each other to learn. Do si do, grand right and left, circle left and right, promenade home and swing your partner are examples. Once the basics are taught, let the dancing begin.

From large circles we move over the next five days into smaller circles, then to squares, and finally to contra or New England–style line dancing. The music is blasting, the dancers are shouting and the energy is nonstop till the bell rings to move on. They are now dancing the Texas star, grand right and left through, duck and dive, and balance and swing. Everyone is looking forward to the next class; they all have smiles on their faces.

Once the word is out, the class size swells with students from study halls and even teachers filling the gym.

As this unit comes to close, a unique transition has taken place. You will be witnessing a different class, one that will be more open to new experiences. The students now look forward to what is next and are energized for any new venture.

No matter what your past experience was in gym class, if you want to get it right, find a local contra/country dance place, put on a flannel shirt, grab a partner, get on the dance floor and let it go.

FAVORITE ...
Maine view? Thuya Garden of Northeast Harbor.
Drink? PG Tips, a strong English tea.
Maine restaurant? Chase’s Daily in Belfast for breakfast. Yum!
Place you’ve traveled as an adult? Arizona.
Shoes? Timberland desert boots.
Way to relax? Evening walks in the Maine off the beaten track.

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