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The Day I Froze on the Dance Floor

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By Kulbhushan Kain

School children during the sixties in Dehradun were a bit like the children in Victorian England. They could be seen – but not heard! Parents preferred sending their children to single gender schools, more so in the case of the girl child. It is not surprising that my sisters, my brother and I went to study in the Convent of Jesus and Mary (CJM) and St Joseph’s Academy, respectively. Both schools were exclusively for girls and boys and managed by stern and conservative Irish nuns and monks. Their mantra of beating adolescence, leading to attraction between boys and girls, seemed simple – don’t let them meet – at least not often enough!

However they did meet each other quite often. These meetings took place during common bus rides, school fetes and the District Sports meets. Since CJM and St Joseph’s were run by Irish brothers and sisters, they were paired as “brother –sister” schools! During the District Sports Meets, it felt great to hear the girls from CJM rooting for athletes of their “brother school” St Joseph’s and vice-versa. This was inevitably followed by girls from Welham vociferously rooting for the boys of the Doon School!

Somewhere down the line, the school administrations of St Joseph’s and CJM decided that more interaction should be allowed between the boys and the girls of the respective schools. It started when girls of CJM of the Board Classes came for extra classes for Physics and Chemistry to St Joseph’s to study from the celebrated Mr GC Gupta. These classes were held after school hours and in the Physics Lab. The boys and girls started to get to know each other much better and the ice of shyness began to thaw. Similarly many boys (including me) would take extra classes from the redoubtable Mr HP Sharma, the iconic teacher from CJM. The result was that the senior boys and girls of the eleventh grade of the two schools came to know each other fairly well.

The biggest breakthrough came when it was decided that ‘socials’ would be held between the outgoing classes of both schools. ‘Socials’ were get-togethers at which dancing was followed by snacks. The first social was held in the year 1970, and the next in 1971 when I was the school Head Boy.

It was a major breakthrough. Those days, dancing between boys and girls was restricted to the drawing rooms of parents who were friendly with each other. Dancing took place under their eagle eyes. There was none of the dancing that takes place these days. Dancing was not like an advanced form of gymnastics those days. Classical dancing was encouraged and I remember my sisters being taught classical dance at home by a very serious looking dance master who used to cycle three times a week from Patel Nagar to teach them! There weren’t any discotheques and people were wary of dancing on the streets.

In the ‘60s, the popular western dance forms were the Jive, ChaChaCha, Ballroom, the Waltz and the Twist. Chubby Checker had introduced the Twist which someone rightly described “as appearing as if someone was stubbing out a cigarette”, with one’s shoes on a dance floor. Chubby Checker was an icon who all of us tried to imitate. Shammi Kapoor also ‘disrupted’ the staid and formal dance culture by gyrating his body which left many of us in awe and embarrassment. He sang, twisted, lay down, rolled, shook his legs, head, arms and hips in unimaginable angles – who can forget him dancing to the beats of “Yahoo, koi mujhe jungle kahey”, “Badan pe sitare lapete huwey”, “An evening in Paris” and many more. He perfected the “art” to such an extent that many said that Elvis Presley copied him!

My first brush with dancing in front of a ‘crowd’ came when the much anticipated social with CJM took place. I remember it very, very vividly. I even remember the colour of the shirt and jeans that I was wearing.

As the school ‘Head Boy’, I had to get the dance session rolling by asking the CJM School ‘Head Girl’ for a dance. Since it was the first social, the loose ends had not been tied. For example – what in case the Head Girl did not dance? And that is what happened!

She refused on the plea that she did not dance! It was the most embarrassing moment of my youth and took place in the full glare of all the staff and students. I must admit that she was extremely apologetic and as embarrassed as me. She had apparently informed the relevant organisers that she did not dance. But then faux pas are not planned.

I froze on the dance floor. I knew everyone was looking at me. I did not know where to look.

Suddenly, I saw Mrs D’Souza walk up to me and ask,

‘Kulbhushan, can I have the pleasure of dancing with you?”

Of course I was ready, because Mrs D’Souza was an iconic teacher and everyone would have given their life to dance with her. To this day, I remember the farewell not for the refusal of the dance but for Mrs D’Souza’s gesture. Images of her dancing flit across my mind as if it was yesterday. Being from Goa – dancing came naturally to her. She was fabulous.

It may also interest you that the CJM Head Girl got married to an officer who retired as the Army Chief! Also, sitting next to me and boosting my pricked ego were two of my best friends – one who retired as a Chief Secretary and the other as Vice Chief of Army Staff!

(Kulbhushan kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)