I woke up one morning with a strange word on my mind. A word that probably means nothing to you, unless you grew up in Sherman and were a teenager in the 1940s. Oh, yes, a long time ago.

The word is “terps.” And it stands for terpsichorean. Named for the Greek muse of dance, Terpsichore.

Children who went to Sherman High School during that big-band age also went to big ballroom dances probably three or four times a year.

I never knew, or even thought about, how those dances came to be or why we had them all through the year. I only enjoyed going to the dances, most of the time. Some of the times I didn’t have a date, so I didn’t go.

The boys could go “stag.” They frequently did, unfortunately.

The girls never could. Never would. That would lead to intense embarrassment, we thought.

Those were the days.

A long time since, just recently, when thinking about the how and why, I’ve decided that a group of parents must’ve gotten together and sponsored the whole shindig. How else would it have happened?

Somebody had to rent the big ballroom on the bottom floor of the municipal building. That was a neat place, with a big auditorium, meeting rooms and some city offices, as I remember.

The Camp Fire Girls met there. We had private music recitals there. Lots of things.

But back to the dances, which were the core of our social activities.

Very truly, the whole personality of an individual student, male or female, was based on his or her ability to dance.

You hoped to be able to date a decent dancer.

You had arrived at mecca if you managed to cut a rug with a really great dancer. And there were lots of them around. Starring on the football field. Starring on the dance floor.

I went to a dance with a big blond tackle one time, and we jitterbugged together so beautifully that everybody else stopped dancing just to watch us.

That was one of the highlights of my life and remains so.

Jitterbug? If you know how to do it, I know how old you are.

For these dances we dressed up. All the girls had long dresses that were always pretty fancy. Taffeta and tulle and layers and layers of net.

My mother made most of my dresses, which were usually fairly simple strapless creations. They were simple but made of gorgeous taffeta or fancy nylon prints. I remember one that was little shiny stripes of all colors.

I had fun in a long cotton skirt with a top that had only one shoulder and a bare midriff. It was like a formal sundress.

Sometimes we also had sock hops in the gym, sponsored by the school. But I don’t remember any junior prom or senior prom. Only terps.

I went to an out-of-town college military ball with a college student once while I was still in high school. That was quite a coup.

Forty years later, at a columnist’s convention in San Francisco, I did the Twist with a Japanese high school student at a school prom at our hotel.

I have had to give up dancing. But I’m still thinking about it. How about you?

Cathy Gillentine is a Daily News columnist. She may be reached at cathy.gillentine@comcast.net.


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(1) comment

Bailey Jones

[thumbup] Alas - I have too many left feet to have ever been a good dancer. I might have done better if the dances of my youth had rules, like the Jitterbug.

When my daughter was in high school she decided she wanted to sew. So I bought her a sewing machine for Christmas. Turns out she didn't want to sew after all. So I learned to sew. That spring she decided that I should sew her a dress for the school dance. So I did. It was quite a feat of fatherly devotion. And quite a feat of daughterly manipulation.

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