By Mack Samples|
On July 10, 2001 my wife and I boldly ventured across the Ohio River and made
our way to Indianapolis for three days of ballroom dancing. The Indianapolis gathering, sponsored by the Southern Rhapsody Dance Society of Nashville, is one of the few
remaining venues where you can actually dance to the big bands. Moreover, you get
to dance at the famous Rooftop Ballroom which was the setting for some of America’s
premier big bands during the 1930’s and 40’s. Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, the
Dorsey Brothers, and even Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys visited the Rooftop
frequently during the glory days of the big bands.
The “big bands” now are much smaller than they used to be, but they still play the
old arrangements. Most of the bands still have the four saxophones out front but the
brass sections are much smaller. It warms my heart to see that most of them still
feature the acoustic stand-up bass. It’s a joy to watch and listen to the bands even if
you didn’t dance. But, sadly, most of the band members are well into their senior years, a reminder that the “big band’ sound won’t be around much longer.
But the thing that strikes you about the event is the dancers themselves. The overwhelming majority of them are well into their 70’s and some of them in their 80’s.
The men bend on a tux and the ladies adorn themselves in fine gowns. These are not
wealthy people. Not at all. Most of them are retired people who worked hard for a living. One of the favorite friends I have made at the event is a retired American Airlines pilot who now lives on a horse farm in Mississippi. These are the people who made America what it used to be.
These are civilized people, Americans with grace and good manners. They know how to behave and conduct themselves with dignity in a social setting. It is an absolute joy for me to watch the old guys steer their partners around the floor. They dance a slick foxtrot and an even slicker waltz. Some of the couples appear to almost float around the floor. The rumba, cha cha, and tango come almost natural to them because they have been doing it all of their lives. Many of the couples have been married fifty plus years and have never stopped dancing.
And the ladies, well, they are something to behold. Even in their very senior years, they maintain their beauty and poise. They are very obviously proud to be female and
are free from the hang-ups that appear to haunt modern America women. You do not see
any lady with a ring in her nose, or on her lips, or, heaven forbid, on her tongue. There are no bodies marred with large tattoos.
There are no obese people on that dance floor. Both the men and the ladies look thin and fit, probably because they have always been active people. If everyone wasn’t so old, it would restore your faith in America. But as you look out on that floor you realize
that you are looking at what used to be, not what is.
As I drove back home toward the security of my holler, it occurred to me that it took the British four hundred years to civilize the world. It took America only the last half of
the Twentieth Century to un-civilize it.