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Bonzer Words!: First Dance - Part 1

Shirley Henwood finds the charming young gentlemen backward in coming forward.

Shirley writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au

Horrors! Tonight's the night of the school dance, with real boys from the local Grammar school.

We've been having dancing lessons, but not together. I wish we could have had some practises with the boys, as taking turns to lead with girl partners is confusing.

Dressed in the blue dress my mother had chosen, wearing matching white gloves, shoes and handbag, I'm ready. In the mirror I see a frightened skinny kid, with glasses.

'Do I have to go?'

'I'm not spending money for you not to go, don't be stupid, and be careful. Get on the tram, go straight there, and come straight back. If you strike any problems, speak to a policeman.'

'Okay!' I say. My sister raises her eyebrows at me.

My mother walks me to the tram stop, a few doors along from our front door, and tells me she'll be waiting there for me.

'Don't be a wallflower,' she says.

Getting onto the tram, feeling overdressed, I remember to wave to my mother, or she'll sulk for days. My eyes stare at the floor, or out the window, as the tram rattles and shakes to Symonds Street, where I cross to the opposite tram stand, to wait for the tram to Epsom. This journey holds no fears for me. We do this every school day, my sister and I.

Decorated with balloons and streamers, the hall looks festive, with groups of girls clustered like brightly coloured flowers. Some in groups, or on chairs along the walls, some giggly and excited, some just sitting quietly.

About half a dozen boys are on the right hand side, also in clusters. I wonder where the rest are?

There wont be enough for all the girls, I think. Perhaps they've all chickened out.

Making my way across the hall, I sit in one of the spare seats, glancing around for anyone I might know. I remember the dancing teacher's instructions to look pleasant, and try to put a smile on my face. I've never been able to smile at will.

A few teachers are here as chaperones, and a small band for the music. The headmistress makes a speech about how privileged we are to have the opportunity to meet with charming young gentlemen in controlled circumstances like this. I wonder what would it be like if they were uncontrolled . . . and how the new hall is so resplendent, and she is sure we're going to enjoy ourselves immensely.

Then the headmaster from Auckland Grammar School speaks. He is saying much the same things. I stop listening.

When he stops talking, I glance over to the entrance, where I can see a group of boys hanging around. They don't want to come in. The head finally goes over and persuades them. They stand around in groups, but quite a few of them stand just inside the door all night and don't participate.

Are there boy wallflowers as well?

All the girls are now sitting, waiting.

'Gentlemen, take your partners for the first waltz.' Nothing happens. Two of the teachers start dancing. Then a few girls get up and dance together. But no boy comes over to the girls, not even the popular ones.

This is going to be a big flop.

Suddenly, one of them, a good looking, dark-haired boy, saunters over. He goes straight to Merrilee, the prettiest girl in the school, and soon they are dancing and chatting. This breaks the charged atmosphere, and soon other boys, some in pairs and some alone, come over slowly, and at last most people are dancing.

Sometimes I see that a boy will be heading towards a girl, then if somebody gets there first, he veers off and goes to the next prettiest. They don't have any compunction, about hurting the by-passed girl's feelings.

I try looking interested and try to smile. One boy pauses by me, then changes his mind, and takes the girl next to me.

Is it my glasses? I would take them off but I can't see without them. Or perhaps my face reflects the frozen feeling I have inside.

'Wallflower. Don't let yourself be a wallflower.' My mother's words resound in my head. Easier said than done.

While I'm sitting, watching, a couple of girls in one of my classes come over and say hello to me. I'm tongue-tied as usual, and they soon give up and move off. They've tried with me at school, to be fair, but I can't join in their talk of boys, dates, clothes, Daddy's yacht, our beach and overseas trips. We don't even have a car.

I get teased because of my accent, ridiculed by teachers, made to read out loud and then corrected, until I wish I were back home in Australia. I feel as though I'm drowning in a different sea. I hate school, and take as many sick days as I can. My mother's not averse to having me stay at home; she's missing her home and friends as well.

Suddenly, as I'm lost in thought, I become aware of somebody standing over me, speaking.

'May I have this dance?'


Shirley's story concludes in Open Writing next Saturday.

Shirley Henwood


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