By Randy Reynolds

Until Donna Archer plied me with girl-drinks at The Bleachers—Monroe, Louisiana’s favorite hot spot in the early 1980’s—I had never danced before. Unless, of course, you count the Hokey-Pokey, which I don’t. Or that time with Mary Alice Dubuisson’s mother, but that was only practice.

When my first-grade teacher said we were going to “dance the Hokey-Pokey” I tried to opt out on the grounds that I didn’t want to go to Hell, but she assured me that God loved the Hokey-Pokey (…and He probably does…along with a lot of other dances) so I did it.

In junior high (at Lee Road, near Covington, Louisiana,) when I was elected Mardi Gras King, our Queen, Mary Alice Dubuisson, invited the “court” to her house for a dancing lesson a few days prior to the ball. No way could I let my parents know that I was going to a Catholic girl’s house to dance, so I arranged my own transportation (horseback, through the swamp.) Smelling like a horse, and—in retrospect—probably dancing like one, too, I spent a fearful, guilt-ridden, afternoon at the Dubuisson home doing the shimmy-she-wobble (a synonym for dancing that my dad, the preacher, often used.) When word reached my folks that I was “involved in the Mardi Gras” and that dancing was expected to break out, they forced me to resign my kingship. Or abdicate. Or whatever eighth-grade Mardi Gras kings do when their parents won’t let them shimmy-she-wobble...

When I took my girlfriend Sherry to Homecoming and the Prom at Covington High, we didn’t dance. She sat demurely behind the stage while I (as band announcer and student emcee) served as master of ceremonies. After my welcoming remarks and introduction of the king and queen and so on, we fled into the night to be, like all good church kids, alone. Away from all that sin.

At those events, Sherry would be the only girl in the gym without makeup—her folks, as a religious principle, didn’t believe in it or allow it (and even as an adult she was scared to use makeup until, at 31, a neighbor took her by the hand, sat her in front of a dresser, and showed her what to do.) Sherry was 15 when I met her, and her only makeup accessory at the time was an eyelash-curler that she used obsessively. If she wanted to highlight her cheeks, she pinched them until they turned red. The only thing she was allowed to put on her lips was chapstick.

She went hungry at school because she was too shy to take a single bite in front of anyone else. She’d go through the lunch line at the CHS cafeteria, take her tray to a table, and sit there looking at her hands in her lap, afraid that if she looked up she’d see somebody laughing at her. When the kids around her finished eating, she’d get up as they did, and throw her food away.

I gradually, during that last year of high school, helped her become at ease eating in front of people. (I have a picture of her in a blue jersey dress mugging for the camera with her mouth full, one of the first times she ever took a bite of anything in my presence.)

She never had a fancy dress (much less an evening gown or formal) until I took matters into my own hands when she was a junior in high school. With savings from my $12.00 per week WARB salary , I bought some red velvet and lace, took Sherry to a seamstress to be measured, and paid to have a dress made. She was the belle of the ball (that is, the church-sponsored/no-dancing Christmas banquet sponsored by a Covington church.) Midnight struck at 9 p.m. for us (her rigidly-enforced curfew), but to make sure that I would never forget our Cinderella night, I arranged, soon

afterward, to have her sit for a portrait in that red-velvet dress. (Ogden studios painted in some makeup, even though she wasn’t wearing any when the picture was taken, and Sherry felt guilty about it. I thought it was pretty sad to fear that even makeup on a picture was a sin.)

Buying material together? Taking measurements? Commissioning a dress and a portrait? Teaching her to eat? Was I somewhat controlling? Yes. I told myself she needed it and I was perfect for the job because in many ways I was just like her—I knew where she was coming from—shy and repressed, a loner, a preacher’s kid, self-conscious.

Like her, I wasn’t allowed to go to “worldly places of amusement” such as the movies, bowling, skating, swimming in the presence of the opposite sex, dancing, or to parties where dancing was going on. Like her, I felt out of place associating with people who didn’t interpret the Bible the same way we did, because those people, based on what we’d been taught, were going to Hell unless they had a last-minute conversion. (This caused me to feel very sorry for the Catholics—especially the nice ones.)

I'd had even more trouble fitting in at high school than she did, thanks, in part, to arriving at Covington High in the fall of 1964 with my bandaged big toes sticking through holes cut in the tops of my shoes. This footwear, which put a serious crimp in both my social and athletic lives, was designed by Dr. Kety and necessitated by the repeated toe surgery that he had none-too-delicately performed on me... but that’s another story.

I was still a loner when I met Sherry. But I was the loner who was also band announcer, student emcee, Boy Scout leader, WARB deejay, chorus member, jokester, writer. I was also an off-and-on athlete on school teams (mostly off); I was a daredevil; and I was freakishly competitive at anything that ended with a winner and a loser--tennis, badminton, archery, horse-racing, swimming, darts, cards, chess, paper football, hangman, Scrabble, hula-hoop, bouncing a ball off the side of the house, shooting baskets, throwing rocks. Winning something—anything—was a validation that I needed every day.

So the preacher’s daughter who was way too shy and tender, and the preacher’s son, who was overly aggressive and daring, realized we complemented each other perfectly, got married at the end of the school year and moved 500 miles away to begin life anew.

By her thirties, when she was a mother three times over, married half her life and still poor as dirt, things changed. Better stated, she changed things. The young woman my father had once observed was "shy as a rabbit" just. stopped. being. that. way.  She became a salesperson and discovered that she thrived on challenge and competition. The rabbit became a honey badger.

One day during the course of this transformation, she was forced by a caring neighbor into a seat in front of a mirror and taught the mysterious rituals forbidden to her under pain of hellfire as a teen: the neighbor taught her to use makeup!  Something about the process, the look, or maybe just stepping across that line, accelerated the emergence of the real Sherry. (Patricia, wherever you are, thanks for doing that for your repressed little neighbor!)

Sherry’s first boss in Monroe—Donna—dragged her into The Bleachers in the early 1980's, convinced her to fortify herself with some sweet-tasting drink, and pushed her onto the dance floor to commit the mortal sin of dancing. Some nights, the two of them gave me dance lessons, too—my first since Mrs. Dubuisson.

Obviously, learning to dance as a thirty-something would not normally be considered an earth-shattering experience. But it was for us, because no fire and brimstone rained down and the earth did not open up and swallow us whole.


And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
Time is a real and constant motion always
Rolling us along
Tell me who
Wants to look back on their youth and wonder
Where those years have gone
I hope you dance
~I HOPE YOU DANCE, written by Tia Sillers/Mark Sanders

Everybody in radio knew that "housewife music" was the smooth, slow, calming, middle-of-the-road stuff. But the lonely, bored housewife that I left at home each morning taught me different. When she was down, Sherry would call during my show and say, "I feel so bad. Play something to get me going. Play Crocodile Rock." And I'd play one fast song after another, only the fastest, funnest dance tunes, the hot hits! No soft stuff! She'd get the housework done in record time. When I invented a format based on Sherry's preferences, we became the number one station in the nation.
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