Memory Box (My Dancing Career)

Everything I have from my youth is located in a single box in the back of my pantry. If my parents still lived in my childhood home, I would probably have several such boxes in the garage, but they don’t, and with school and moves my entire past has been reduced to a single box. I usually get it out about once a decade and look through it, and today I decided to pull it out and reminisce a little bit.

There’s a bag with my boy scout badges and patches, including a big map of Philmont. There’s my missionary white bible and some pictures. There are diplomas, old report cards, pictures, letters, name badges from jobs. Some of my school essays are in there. As I reread them now many of them were quite creative and funny, and some tried to be but missed, but mostly they were out of the ordinary, and I can tell from the comments that my teachers were thrilled to read something different from the run of the mill stuff. I was quite a little writer as a schoolboy (no doubt presaging my future career as a blogger.).

In fact, I sometimes wrote essays not for school but just for fun. Some were thinly veiled tales based on our social circle for the benefit of my friends (beginning with my classic “The Boy Who Ate Twelve Hot Dogs and Died of Puppy Love”), and some were just for me. As I read over some of these pieces, I can’t believe what a self-absorbed little drama queen I was.

I thought I would share one of these efforts with you, as embarrassing as it is to me now. (I apologize for the length.) This is a genuine artifact of my youthful immature brain at work. (I think I intended this as part of a topical approach to a personal history when I was in a genealogy mode. I’m guessing I wrote it circa 1977.):

My Dancing Career

My first recollections of dancing are associated with those long-gone by days when I was a boy scout. My friends and I detested dancing, and when they had dance instruction nights for APYW [Aaronic Priesthood/Young Women, the then version of MIA], which they invariably did, we would slip out to Colonial [an ice cream shop near the church] for some ice cream. After all, the only dances they tried to teach us were the waltz, fox trot, etc., and whoever went to a dance where they actually danced the cha-cha? It was unthinkable! Perhaps, somewhere, someone actually performed those antique manuevers; yet, at all the dances I had attended up to that point in time, everyone seemed to merely be shifting there anatomies in time with the music. Yes, dancing was an altogether stupid affair.

The first time I can remember actually enjoying a dance was when Doug [last name omitted] instigated his famous dance marathon. It was near Christmas, and it was supposed to last 5 hours (not much of a marathon–but it was enough when one considers the apathetic attitude of DeKalb Ward towards dancing). By some freak of fortune, I ended up dancing almost the whole night with my sister, Vicki, while Barry [last name omitted] fared not much better: Cheryl [last name omitted; a grown woman, not a girl]. The outlook was glum, but through a proper attitude and the spirit of competition between Barry and myself, a possible disaster turned into a whale of a success. I don’t believe I exhibited much form, but I am quite sure I managed to keep in time with the music, which is the main proposition in dancing no matter how one moves.

Although I attended several Ward dances prior to my first youth conference in 1974, it was at this youth conference that I enjoyed my first really positive experience with dance. The conference was held at Lake Forest College, and it was here that I first started changing my attitude towards dancing. I don’t remember much about it, except that I actually had a real good time. After this experience, I went to every dance I was able to, only to be frustrated by the seeming progression of the quality of these dances from good to bad, and from bad to worse. Just as my faith in dancing was waning, another youth conference (1975) rolled around. This one was held at Rockford College, and I think it was here that the seed of dance was firmly implanted in my mind. The band was fantastic. It consisted of five blacks who played almost entirely fast disco music. Although I presently prefer rock-n-roll to dance to, it was disco that first affected me. Another year of bad dances followed, but this time I knew that youth conference would provide a worthwhile dance, and I was right. Throughout my entire high school career, I only went to four good dances (the three youth conferences, and one in Champaign). With so little experience, it seems incredible that I was able to devleop at all. However, looking back, I believe I know how I acquired whatever skills I may possess.

It began with Barry [last name omitted] imitating a little leap that Randy [last name omitted] used when he danced. I had never seen Randy dance, but it looked really neat when Barry did it. When I first tried it, it didn’t look much like the maneuver Barry had performed, but I didn’t quit. I practiced quite a bit, and pretty soon I had sufficient confidence to actually use it in a dance. After that, it just naturally developed into the leap I use today.

While my leap was maturing, I remember going to an open house at the [name omitted], and there I saw Barry imitate Randy’s arm movement. This type of motion is quite beyond description, and it is this very quality that makes it interesting. For some reason, this movement seemed to come easier than the jump, and together they made a good combination.

The next addition to my repertoire of moves came when someone commented on Michael Jackson’s (of “The Jackson Five”) ability to glide across the floor with very little effort (seemingly). I knew there must be a way to do this so I practiced it. I did most of my practicing in the church cultural hall, and I think I probably drove everyone crazy, but it eventually paid off.

Being a karate fanatic also aided my dancing skill, as I used to practice various kicks. There was a time when I could almost kick a basketball net standing flat-footed on the ground. Kicking also strengthens the leg muscles, which is very important in contemporary dance.

In my high school days, I never gave less then 100% at a dance. I remember one incident that somewhat illustrates this. It was at a youth conference dance (I don’t remember which one), and I had already danced with at least 50% of the girls there. I guess everyone was watching me, and just as I was in the middle of a dance with a rather shy girl, I got the worst cramp I have ever had in my right leg. I started hopping on my left leg, and I suppose I unconsciously kept in time with the music. At any rate I hopped to a chair where I had been sitting, and sat down to rest. I never even offered a word of explanation to that poor girl, who was left standing there with everyone looking at her.. If she was shy before, I bet whe was really introverted afterward.

If there was one event that helped to shape my style of dancing more than any other event, it was probably the “Spring Thing” (talent show) that our church put on one year. A friend of mine had organized a “skit” in which several of us were to imitate a rock band. Eddie [last name omitted], the one in charge of the act, had arranged a song entitled “People,” which was basically original, although he had added parts from different songs to lend an air of authenticity to it. He was going to man the electric guitar, and handle the lead vocals, Jay [last name omitted] was going to play drums, Dave [last name omitted] was going to “play” trumpet, and I was going to “play” trombone and handle the backing vocals. Actually, neither Dave or myself could play an instrument, we just had them on stage as a part of the ruse. Everything else was quite legitimate. Well, almost. We had arranged for some girls to scream and faint to give the illusion of a rock concert. We were the last act on the program, and when our turn came we just set up and started playing. Right then, I realized something–it sounded good! It was supposed to sound sort of disgusting and make everyone laugh, but it didn’t. Although I had been nervous before, I wasn’t while we were on stage, because there were these bright lights shining on us, and I couldn’t see anyone in the audience.

At any rate, about halfway through the song I jumped to the front of the stage (discarding my useless trombone), and I began to get down. It hadn’t been planned, it was totally spontaneous. I got quite a few compliments after that performance, which gave my self confidence quite a boost. It was really a good feeling being on stage, one of the best I’ve ever had. Ever since then, my dancing has been sort of a performance in itself, since people are usually watching me anyway.

[The below picture shows me with my friends Barry and Albert on our motorcycles circa the time I wrote the essay produced above. Amri, I apologize for the BYU-induced moustache…]



  1. Kevin,
    One of the coolest pictures ever! Nice hair!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    One of my finds in the box was a fairly extensive collection of those article of faith cards with missionary names and addresses on them (sort of like missionary business cards), which apparently I collected from my friends. I remember my card had the Friberg picture of the stripling warriors marching to battle.

    Do missionaries still get those AoF cards printed, or has that custom died?

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    About the afro: I have naturally curly hair, and I always hated it–I wanted straight hair. It was especially a problem in the 70s, when long hair was in style. One day my older sister said she could turn it into an afro for me. I was dubious, as I thought it would require a perm or something, but she said no, it just had to be cut and combed a certain way. So she cut it for me, and I began to buy picks for my hair (to this day I still comb my hair with a pick, even though I wear my hair short now). So props to my sister Sharyn, who helped me to survive the 70s with my naturally curly hair.

  4. Kevin,
    No really! It looks great! The epitome of the 70’s white boy pin-up.

  5. So Kev, are you saying those karate kicks were actually part of your dancing, or just a handy way to stay in shape?

    The picture….wow. You definitely know how to strike a pose!

  6. Who would have guessed you had this hidden past, Kevin? Your story was delightful! If only we had some 8mm home movie reels of your performance at the Spring Thing. Thanks for sharing.

    Wow, one box! I was looking for some notes I misplaced this afternoon, which provoked a deep search. I never found the notes, but I went through every nook and cranny. I actually found two items I’d been looking for a few months ago — a portfolio and a journal. If it were added up, for the period from infancy through college, I have about 8 boxes of papers, notes, letters, and drawings, plus 5 folio portfolios, 6 journals, and 2 photo albums.

    Lots of memories and also lots of junk. As we’re preparing for our move to an urban residence sans basement, the hard decisions about what is precious are coming to the fore.

  7. It takes guts to share an essay that emotionally honest. I’m not being sarcastic. Honest in the sense that (don’t take this the wrong way) it can be hard to admit just how self-absorbed youth and young adults are. I was the same way (I mean, not about the cool dancing part); I have lengthy diaries to prove it and they’re ALL about ME. I just would like to forget that fact by now and so I probably wouldn’t let anyone else in to that past in the way you let us in to yours, Kevin.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    John, I actually thought of doing this because of your extensive personal archive containging drawings from your youth. Part of me laments that I haven’t been able to save more. On my mission I sent home boxes of letters, thinking I wanted to save them forever, but when I got home and saw the big stack of boxes I knew there was no way I could keep them all. The archivist in me laments the loss, but the realist in me knows I just couldn’t keep more.

  9. Kevin,

    Great picture, great post. I have a similar set of memories about dancing while growing up (also hilariously preserved in my journals), and the buzz of church dances was really important for me growing up.

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