Care to dance?

Prairie Wool

Helen Row Toews

With school starting soon, although differently than usual, it got me thinking about one of the curriculum requirements for kids; namely the dance component. Often, depending on the age group participating, dance classes are met with varying degrees of either blissful anticipation, hand-clapping-joy, excitement, loathing, dread, or fear. When I was faced with this grim prospect in the tenth grade, I fell solidly into the last three.

I knew only four people (my tiny ninth grade graduating class) in the whole school of at least 600 students, and not a soul in this gym class. However, we were told we had one day to pick a partner and choose a song. Then we were to choreograph some cool dance steps for the duration of our tune and perform it for the whole class.

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I rode home on the bus that afternoon thinking desperately of escape.

Perhaps I could cite some newly found and highly significant religious convictions prohibiting the frivolous playing of long play records or repetitive movement.

Maybe I could claim the sudden overnight onset of clubfoot, or state that irreparable damage had been done to an Achilles tendon after saving an old lady from being hit by a runaway train.

Or, what if I blacked out one side of my glasses with a marker and told the teacher I’d lost an eye after being gored by a bull as I saved my sibling from certain death.

A girl couldn’t be expected to dance if her religious convictions disallowed it, right? Or if she had a disfiguring foot impairment brought on by sacrificial acts of kindness? Or, for sure if she’d temporarily lost the vision in one eye after selflessly saving her little brother, yes?

Apparently not.

With some irritation on the part of our teacher, Irene was chosen as my partner, and we were sent to a far corner of the stage to think. While Irene was lovely, she didn’t know what the heck to do either; nor were either of us up to date on popular songs.

This was a problem.

The fateful day arrived and all the other giggling girls performed intricate, coordinated and ultra-cool moves to their “rockin’ tunes.” The latest hits reverberated about the room and everyone swayed along, blissful smiles on each face.

The teacher was pleased, the other students were pleased, heck, even the janitor, peering at us as she swept a nearby floor, was pleased with these girls – and then, it was our turn.

Irene strode forward confidently, and handed the teacher an album she’d brought from home. I didn’t even know what music she’d chosen, but thought I caught sight of several men on the cover holding accordions.

Naw, that had to be wrong.

As the record player clicked into position and the music began to play, Irene grabbed me firmly about the waist and we clasped clammy hands together as she hissed, “I’ll lead.”

And we were off. Music blared as the Avsenik Brothers Ensemble launched into one of their better known polka numbers, and we began a complicated series of maneuvers, made up on the spur of the moment. Red-faced, we marched clumsily about the room with knees banging together, elbows askew, and muffled apologies murmured, until the last few miserable notes were released from the ivory keys of the lead accordionist, and it was finished.

To say there was a stunned silence at the conclusion of this event is understating things by quite a bit. Nonetheless, thanks to Irene, Slavko Avsenik, and his band of charismatic brothers, it was done and over and we breathed a sigh of relief as we, and the mighty men in embroidered shirts took our leave.

And so, in answer to the title of this piece – I think I’ll sit this one out, thanks.

Helen has lived on the family farm near Marshall much of her life. She works as a writer, EA and bus driver for her local school. This, along with her love of the Canadian prairies, travel and all things humorous, is what she draws from to write these tales. To find more of Helen’s stories or to order Prairie Wool books please go to or 


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