I’ve already written in this space about school dances back when I was in Grade 7 and 8 at Bessborough Drive Public School. In hindsight, I considered those dances to be a significant rite of passage. At the time, the notion of “slow dancing” just blew my mind. Standing on the periphery of the Bessborough gym with the lights off and the psychedelic light show flickering on the walls, courtesy of a bowl of coloured water, a student blowing bubbles through a straw, and an overhead projector. I remember my stomach in knots as I mustered the courage to approach a wallflower girl on the other side of the floor. First-time experiences tend to make a bigger impression and stay with you longer. I still remember those dances 50 years later, particularly when the DJ played slow songs.
So, by the time we made it to Leaside High School at the tender age of 13, I figured I was a wily veteran of after-school dances. Well, not exactly. There were a number of significant differences in school dances at the high school level. First of all, often the disc jockeys we were accustomed to at Bessborough were replaced by actual live bands. To be honest, I’m not even sure I’d ever seen a live rock band when I arrived at Leaside High in the fall of 1973. Over my years at Leaside, we somehow attracted some big-name bands. Believe it or not, Rush played at a dance in my Leaside years, though I honestly don’t remember being there. Perhaps I was lamenting the distinct lack of slower songs. Dancing to fast songs was hard and I’m quite sure I looked ridiculous when attempting it. Moreover, slow dancing was just more, well, fun. We also had the Stampeders and Goddo play live for dances. Those names may have receded from public consciousness now, but they were popular bands back then.
And man, was it loud in the gym with all those flat, hard, and shiny surfaces. The sound ricocheted off the walls and the floor and the ceiling until it enveloped us in an incredibly loud maniacal maelstrom of music that occasionally sounded like a real song, though not often. But we loved it just the same. To see the energy of the musicians on stage doing their thing made me want to learn to play guitar.
I think it was our Grade 13 formal where the Ian Thomas Band serenaded us. They had several hits on the radio over the years and I remember being really impressed with how tight they were as a band. Being dressed up formally in a fancier offsite venue (it was Ontario Place that year for us) gave the dance a different, more grown-up vibe. Being in a tux tends to moderate your behaviour, not that mine was questionable to begin with. I was a good boy.
But there were other differences between dances at Bessborough and Leaside High. The dances in high school were in the evening, usually on a Friday night. That seemed cooler than our Grade 8 dances that ran from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. with our parents parked outside waiting to pick us up afterwards. Hard to be cool as you climb into the backseat of the family station wagon. So, there was just something about going to a dance on a Friday night that made us feel a little more grown up. However, there was often some drama around those dances that usually involved a few students experimenting with alcohol before showing up at the gym. It seldom ended well for them, but certainly spiced up the proceedings and kept our tongues wagging in the school hallways for days to come.
Arriving at high school, I found life was more complicated. In primary school, my principal concern each day was what my mother would be serving us for lunch. But in high school, life changes. You begin to think about your future and what courses you need to take to be eligible for that university or college program. There was more stress in our daily lives. So, we needed those dances to blow off steam and decompress as we learned how to deal with the pressures of life as a teenager. I remember those dances fondly, though I don’t think I’m any better a dancer now than I was back then. And I sure wasn’t great then.