Growing up in Odessa, everybody knows football reigns supreme. I can still recall at age 5 or 6 sitting between my mom and dad watching my beloved Odessa High Bronchos take the field against some visiting team from out of town.
I just loved the pageantry, the colors, the band, the competition, the game... and, of course, later when puberty rolled around, the cheerleaders all decked out in their spiffy red-and-white uniforms. Mainly though, it was just being with my parents.
Even today, when I get a whiff of cigar smoke, it takes me back to the good times of ol’ Chunky Hendricks (my parents’ good friend sitting in the row in front of us) lighting up his old stogies throughout the game. Nervous energy for him --- fond remembrances for me.
So it was a few years later, when my mom asked me if I might like to take ballroom dance lessons, she was met with --- “Oh, Mom... dancing’s for sissies!” I mean, it was my own mother who used to sing along with the tune of the day: “You’ve got be a football hero, to get along with a beautiful girl.”
Well, that’s where I’m headed.
Maybe she knew that as a sixth-grader measuring 4 feet, 4 inches and weighing 70 pounds, I wasn’t exactly destined for gridiron heroics. Whatever ... So I was a little perplexed one day, when Mom picked me up from school and headed in the opposite direction from our house.
Next thing I knew, we pulled up in front of a place I’d never noticed before. The marquee outside said “Montilla’s Ballroom --- Dancing for the Young and the Young at Heart.” Uh oh... I sensed this was not going be good.
She escorted me in there to meet Marjorie Montilla, who along with her husband, Tito, were the dance instructors. She greeted me warmly and then started telling me things they do in the various dance classes.
I just sat there.
She said “In our classes we learn the Fox Trot, the Cha Cha, and everybody’s favorite... the Jitterbug. You like girls, Charlie?” I uttered an unenthusiastic, “Yes, ma’m.”
“Well, you just get ready, because your world is a-fixin’ to change. There’s about twice as many girls as boys your age taking lessons here. AND... And... We’ve even got one variation of the jitterbug where you’ll get to dance with two girls at the same time! How’d you like that?!”
By this time, my demeanor had begun its transformation.
Mrs. Montilla continued “We’ll have dance parties, cookouts, live stage performances at the Scott Theater, and then at the end of our 10-week session, we’ve got a grand gala celebration to show off all we’ve learned together. How’s this sound, Charlie?”
Sign me up... this is where I’m headed!
This was my first exposure to any type “culture” outside the West Texas ways of football and sports. For three years plus I took lessons and learned much more than how to scoot around a dance floor.
I was taught the appropriate manner of going through a receiving line, the proper etiquette of asking a girl for a dance, and why it was a good thing to invite a girl to dance when no other boy would. These were some of the social graces I was learning that gave me a confidence far beyond those adolescent years.
Many years later, at my 25-year high school reunion, I had one gal come up to me and introduce her husband to me saying “Paul, I’d like you to meet Charlie. Just so you know, he was the best dancer in school.” I’d never thought that way. Caught me totally by surprise.
Then fast forward another 25 years or so to last summer, and here I was with wife Carolyn attending the musical play “Always... Patsy Cline” at the Plaza Theater in Cleburne. It happened again.
We’re sitting there enjoying the show, when about half-way through the performance, here comes “Louise” (one of the two main characters) dashing up the aisle, and out of all people, points directly to me and says “Come with me, Big Boy. You’re my partner for this dance!”
Oh my, totally unexpected! Before I even had time to think, I was down front and center waltzing away with this star of the show in front of some 300 folks. Not perfect by any means, I was able to hold my own as I held her in my arms. Whew! Sorta glad when it was over... but still.
Then a couple of months ago, a lady sitting behind us at church, just out of the blue said to me during greeting time, “I saw you dance at the Plaza. Not bad for a Baptist!”
So as it goes, though I exchanged football cleats for dancing shoes, I still got along with a pretty gal, and married Carolyn 38 years ago.
Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.