His Swing Just Wasn't Her Thing

Oh, I'm glad - as Maurice Chevalier didn't precisely say - that I'm not 18 any more. Or 17. Or....

It was fairly marvelous, of course, to be still juvenile yet old enough to drive your dad's car, and to be splendidly interested, for the first time, in girls. (We were late developers.)

But the potential for (highly romanticized) excitement was tinged with social terrors. Shyness came dreadfully to the surface. Inexplicably, no one else seemed shy. Where had I been while all my peers were gaining such worldly-wise confidence?

It didn't help having been at boys' boarding schools from 7 on. Girls, it turned out, were real rather than imaginary, and they had independent, unpredictable thought-processes - an awful shock.

Phoning them was the greatest terror. "Er - I was wondering - ah - if you would, might, well ... there's this (choke) dance, well, sort of session thing - jiving - you know at the Tech...."

"Oh, yes. (Slight yawn) I go to it every week."

"Ah, yes - of course - but I - would you like to go tomorrow - with, er, me?"

"I go with Colin Allbright."

La Belle Dame sans Merci. Rival hopes ended with the heroic Colin (or whatever his name was). Not only was he 6-foot-7 with his own sports car, his father was a selfmade drip-dry-shirt millionaire. Or was it frozen peas? Worst of all, Colin could jive like a dervish.

Another baffling thing: Where did these others (usually art-school students) learn to jive? All Miss Brown's Dancing Lessons had instilled in me was the waltz and the quickstep, basic steps. Jiving you seemed to be born with. Or not.

My intense ambition was to jive with Julie Jackson (not her real name). Or to take her to the flicks. Or Guildford Rep. Or play tennis with her. Or just stand near her at the bus stop. Whatever.

One has to let decades pass before confessing things like this, but the basic Julie-attraction was her ponytail. Her complete appearance was ideal, I thought, but it was her ponytail that sealed my devotion. It was a bouncy, sleek one, leaping out high on her head and waterfalling down to her neck. This was before males began appropriating ponytails and spoiling everything with flaccid Davy Crockett-hat-substitutes that do nothing for anybody. A particularly famous female ponytail hit the screens in the 1950s. Its owner has been described as "cool ... childlike and playful ... with an insouciance accentuated by the flopping ponytail, bare feet, and jeans.''

I think Julie, persistently badgered, agreed to jive with me once. She jived (jove?) without evident joy. Woodenly. Her sense of timing to "Rock Around the Clock" and "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" differed markedly from mine.

I could not understand why she was so reluctant to exuberate. My own likableness was never, at that stage, something I seriously doubted. If I was nutty about her, it seemed only logical that she had to be nutty about me.

But then, perhaps it was shyness again, assuming misleading guises.

If I found phoning a trial, my reticence paradoxically turned into an alarming extroversion on the dance floor. That I had no idea how to jive did not stop me from doing it with relentless enthusiasm.

Perhaps, contrariwise, Julie's shyness came out as a stiff distaste for furious dancing. At least, with me. But the problem was that she also bore a teasing resemblance - though in a pristinely English way - to the insouciant Brigitte Bardot. If she was shy, why did she look like that? Was it fair?

I don't really remember, but I suppose Julie Jackson allowed me to walk her to the bus stop. But certainly not home.

Numerous waters have since rippled under multiple bridges. Today BB famously devotes her days to the protection of animals. I have no idea what JJ does, or where. She probably has given up the ponytail long since.

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