In my freshman year, I was lucky enough to attend Warren Wilson College, a liberal, rural, private institution that only had 500 students at the time. To this day I regret transferring to another school after only one year, but WWC had done away with my major, and, frankly, the place is obscenely expensive, and all the “gee, you’re an awfully smart young girl” scholarships had dried up.
I loved that school to the very core of my being. I loved the small class sizes and the gorgeous campus nestled in North Carolina’s Swannanoa Valley, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. I felt cozy and safe there. I will be passing through again soon, to visit the piece of my heart that will always remain there. The only downside to the place is that it was like living in a small town with no way out if you didn’t have a car, which of course I didn’t. So in an effort to stave off boredom, I attended the weekend dances in the basement of the student union.
I had never attended dances in high school. I would never attend dances in any other college. But at WWC, attend them I did. This was so unlike me that it stuns me when I look back. WWC brought out a lot of amazing things in me.
A lot of drama played out in these dances. It was like all the school gossip got to be acted out on one central stage. You never knew what was going to happen.
For example, my friend Jenny (not her real name) liked a guy named Carl (you get the picture), but those feelings were far from reciprocated. It was becoming a rather hot topic, because Jenny was pining away for this guy, and he couldn’t have been less interested. Rather than letting that be that, though, Jenny was persistent in her efforts to get this guy to propose marriage and have 6 kids before the school year was over. It had all the students collectively shaking their heads.
For some reason the other day I was thinking about one particular dance in which Jenny decided to put all her cards on the table, so to speak. We tried to warn her. We really did. But her head was too far up in the clouds to hear us.
On this particular night, Jenny decided it would be cool to wear an oversized, care-worn satin teddy that she had borrowed from a friend. To that, she added a pair of baggy jeans and a jacket. To complete the ensemble, she donned the same ratty tennis shoes and white knee socks she always wore while washing dishes in the cafeteria. Apparently this was all supposed to be sexy and yet somehow revealing of her amazing personality. She was convinced that this was the night she would win Carl over.
I had gotten to the dance ahead of Jenny, and had planted myself in my usual wallflower spot, all the better to observe the various goings on. I would sometimes dance at these events, because the custom was just to kind of dance alone in a large group unless you were officially coupled up. So if enough close friends were around, I’d get out there. But mostly I enjoyed watching and gathering intel.
Carl was already on the dance floor with a group of buddies when Jenny walked in. She immediately made a beeline for that side of the room, and stood on the periphery, waiting for Carl to catch a subtle glimpse of satin and become instantly smitten. I doubt he even noticed she was there. (He was clueless and/or indifferent, and she was extremely short.)
She kept sliding back and forth along the edge of the dance floor, so that she’d be directly in his line of sight if he looked up. I say sliding because she had taken off her shoes. Jenny liked to dance by sliding her socked feet back and forth as if she were skiing. She wanted to be ready to slide onto the dance floor when the inevitable invitation came.
She schussed there for about a half hour, staring at him the whole time, completely enraptured. He had to have known at this point. I was starting to feel really sad for her.
Hint taking wasn’t her strong suit, obviously, and communication wasn’t his. I had to admire her determination and persistence, but people were starting to laugh at her and I hated that for her. That was the only silver lining to the fact that she only had eyes for Carl. She was oblivious to the fact that everyone was watching.
Finally, she decided she would just have to make him see her. So she joined the large group of individuals on the dance floor, and slid in his direction. The bottom of her socks must have been black by now.
She got right in front of him, and then slid her jacket and her teddy strap off one shoulder. I think she was expecting the world to come to a sudden stop when she did this, but of course it didn’t. He didn’t even look up.
It must have taken some effort not to see her at this point, because she was a good foot and a half shorter than he was, and he was looking down, after all. I could only assume that he knew exactly what was going on and was trying desperately not to have anything to do with it.
He turned slightly away from her, so she put her teddy strap back up and straightened her jacket and then slalomed past a few of his friends so she’d be in front of him again. And then she performed the same shoulder-baring move, as if she expected magic to happen.
Nothing. By now I as picturing myself watching this whole thing through spread fingers. I wanted to run out there and save her from herself. I wanted to tell her she was awesome and she should never feel like she had to try that hard to be loved. (And also explain to her that if she did feel the need to try that hard, it entered the realm of sexual harassment.) But I knew it would do no good.
At this point, Jenny had pulled her jacket wide open, and she was shimmying her all-but-nonexistent breasts at the poor guy as she threw back her head and closed her eyes. She looked like Steve Martin in the Two Wild and Crazy Guys routine in Saturday Night Live. I don’t think that was intentional. It was heartbreaking to watch.
And then, a sort of magic did happen, but it wasn’t what Jenny was hoping for. Without any signs of having communicated at all, Carl and all his friends exited the party en masse. So many left all at once, in fact, that it left Jenny all alone, shimmying on her deserted part of the dance floor, eyes closed, as her teddy straps slipped ever downward.
Fortunately, all her friends at the party seemed to be operating under an umbrella of ESP as well, because without any plan, we all immediately got on the dance floor and surrounded Jenny, so when she opened her eyes, we were there. And we all danced that way for the rest of the night.
Tears slid down her face as her feet slid across the floor, but at least her friends had come to her rescue. That was something to see. More than a few of us had tears in our eyes as well.
As a mating dance it had been an epic failure, but it was a masterful show of solidarity that you don’t see very often nowadays. What a pity. We as a society sure could use it.
As far as I know, Jenny never attempted to court Carl again. We’ve lost touch. And even if we hadn’t, I suspect this would be a sore subject now. I wish her well, and hope that in the subsequent decades, she has learned moderation to go with her amazing determination.
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