Swing Your Partner

The year was 1981. I was in the fifth grade. Outside my classroom window, the trees were budding with green, and the playground called my name. Inside, I was being called to the fiery pits of the principal’s office. That’s where the bad kids went.

The principal was a tall, stern man with deep lines on his face. The corners of his mouth gravitated down. He stood up from behind his desk and motioned for me to sit. We both sat. He leaned forward, steepled his hands, and gave me a grave look. “Do you know why you’re here?” he said.

I might have had an inkling. During music class, we were learning to square dance. It was a piece of our historical Oklahoma land run curriculum. We would dress in western apparel, and our parents would be invited for the culminating hoedown. The music teacher had asked if anyone couldn’t dance for religious reasons. Despite the dance lessons I took on Mondays after school, I raised my hand. So I had lied. My religion did not forbid dancing. I didn’t want to square dance. Truth be told, I didn’t want to touch the boys’ hands. Is there anything wrong with a fifth-grade girl having boundaries?

The principal said, “You’re a leader,” along with other words that sounded like blobbity blobbity blah blah blah. In the end, guess who square danced?

As a girl, I was taught two big lessons: Be nice and respect authority. That day I learned two more lessons: Do what you’re told and what you feel doesn’t matter.

I sometimes wonder about the correlation among my fifth-grade self with boundaries, my seventh-grade self who lost them, and my adult self who is still learning assertiveness. I wonder about the roles of society and family, hormones and people pleasing. I don’t have the answers. Different people react and internalize differently. Forty years later, I realize two more things: Some lessons are hard to unlearn, but it’s never too late to try.  

51 thoughts on “Swing Your Partner

  1. Cajoling 11 year olds to do something they don’t want to do? Mr. stern principal was wrong. He should have politely probed into the REAL reason you didn’t want to square dance. Boundaries should be respected, especially the boundaries of a child.

    I’m still figuring this out too, Crystal. Here’s to the wounded healer!. 🙏❤️

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    1. This story came to me when a friend told me a story about her husband who attended a private Christian elementary school. When he got in trouble, the offense was listed in a “Book of Sins” that was kept in the hallway for all to see. I would like to hope that doesn’t happen anywhere anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well written, Crystal.
    I could easily visualize you in the principal’s office, and how stern he looked.
    But he told you something valuable when he said : ‘You’re a leader’. And you became a teacher.
    Teachers are always leaders, and influencers.

    Underneath lack of assertiveness is always the feeling that we are ‘not safe’ to tell the truth about what we are feeling.
    If you had been able to express your feelings about not wanting to hold the boys’ hands, you would probably would have been expressing the feelings shared by most of your peers.
    Assertiveness training is a process that benefits most people. It is a process of learning to have our needs and wants met without trampling on the wants and needs of others.
    Thanks for a great, and amusing post. 🤗🌼⚘

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Do what you’re told and what you feel doesn’t matter. Well that rings true with my childhood experiences. Perhaps I was a leader and didn’t know it. As for learning to square dance in music class, we learned it in gym class– and it was almost a full contact sport. Hated it.

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      1. Haha! Publish button has given me indigestion! This story is relatable in so many ways. And yes, good to be able to let go. 😊 enjoy your weekend, Crystal.
        Nina 💓

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  4. Strange how so many adults seem to think it is their job to influence children to do what they want as opposed to trying to understand where their reluctance is coming from. Encouragement is much better that insistence on simply following directives. In not square dancing for your reasons, you were still being a leader, Crystal. Thanks for sharing. Allan

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    1. Thanks, Allan. I understand how kids have to do things they don’t want, like school work and chores, which serve them in life. I still don’t see the point in square dancing. I believe I was leading in my own way, too. I’m going to let it go now.

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  5. This reminds me of when kids don’t want to hug someone but their parents force them to. Kids should be allowed to make their own decisions if something makes them uncomfortable. Learning to set boundaries is important going into adulthood.

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  6. I don’t recall anything like that in elementary school, but lots of music and stage plays, acting out stories. Dancing was introduced in junior high and high school, and then as part of the PE curriculum. In fifth grade history lessons, we did lots of art projects, even made pueblo villages for the display table.

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  7. Great post as usual Crystal, you got me thinking about my own lack of boundaries, assertiveness, and people pleasing tendencies! These are learned behaviors! Taught to us by trusted adults in our lives and ever so difficult to unlearn. I think females are especially schooled in these areas! I engage in a lot self talk when I stumble and lose my footing. The blind leading the blind so to speak! Warmly, C

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    1. Thanks, Cheryl! I told some of my classmates this story back in May, and suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I completely agree with you about learned behaviors. This is just one example that stands for a multitude.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. So interesting the memories that stay with us for a long time and how they shape us.. Some of those memories insignificant and others affect us so deeply! I wish the principal had asked the important question of why… I was like you as a kid… I rarely questioned authority even when I was uncomfortable… I think I didn’t want to come across as not compliant and didn’t want to be deemed as “difficult”… So interesting to reflect on.. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

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  9. Thank you for sharing!!… there are many in the world’s societies who do not take into account the individual freedom, of a child being able to follow his/hers dream even if it is different… in decades past, it were difficult to be an individual and follow one’s own path… in today’s world with technology and knowledge, one is seeing more and more about children being who they are and wish to be while the “old school” makes efforts to prevent it… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your day be touched
    by a bit of Irish luck,
    Brightened by a song
    in your heart,
    And warmed by the smiles
    of people you love.
    (Irish Saying)

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  10. I so relate. I sometimes find myself reflecting on the same and how difficult it is to unlearn what we internalized as children. You’re right, it’s never too late to try to unlearn them. I wonder why the principal didn’t ask why you lied and start from there? Makes me reflect on how people including myself can do better in understanding someone’s decisions and respecting their boundaries. I appreciate you for sharing your story!

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  11. So much of our experiences in childhood shape our adult perceptions. Often, I think, we are unaware of it. They run, like computer programs, in the backgrounds of our minds, directing our subconscious. I agree with you, though. With some hard work and help, our brains can be reprogrammed to think differently.

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  12. Crystal, your story is harrowing – and funny. Simultaneously.

    I wonder how much your principal was on Team Square Dance. Or was his real concern making sure none of his charges “went rogue?”

    That he made sure to lead off his lecture with admiration for your leadership qualities, tends to suggest the latter, for what it’s worth. Perhaps his “stern” demeanor masked an internal conflict, a duty to enforce the rules, no matter how idiotic he thought they were, personally.

    Not much in the Northeast as far as mandatory square dancing, but we did endure something nearly as cringeworthy. Namely, for an entire month in 7th grade, the PE teachers – both boys’ and girls’ – made us do marching. Yes, marching! Looking back now, seriously – what the ****?!?

    So, what is the deal with all of this, Crystal? Were these ordeals imposed on tweens to prove themselves ready for adulthood? “Just get ready now, kid, ’cause the real world ain’t always fun!”

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      1. The painfully hip wear T-shirts with Che Guevara. Or an edgy square dancer. Same thing.

        Never considered the entertainment those marching into adolescence would provide. How many teachers held in their guffaws until they were past the bleachers? “OMG, Ha! That’ll teach those kids!”

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