View From the Bandstand

Over the years from the bandstand I have witnessed some rather strange scenes on the dance floor.

At our weekly residency at a pizza parlor, there were some “characters” out there “dancing.” One, whose name was Henry, always gave the band wives trepidations when he approached the group’s table looking for a dance partner. Henry’s idea of dancing was to bounce on the balls of his feet as if he had springs on the soles of his shoes. The ladies found it hard to follow him or even to know what to do! But Henry was quite oblivious to their puzzlement.

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Another strange dancer—but a very likeable guy—was a retired banker who “victimized” his wife of many years—a delightful if long-suffering lady. He would get out on the dance floor with her, but then not move positions, simply holding her in a dance posture while standing in the one spot and, with a stiff leg, banging his foot flatly up and down on the floor several times, then switch to the other leg and do the same; and after that he would walk a couple of paces and repeat the process. But he did beat his feet in time to what we were playing.

Yet another odd dancer was one who did not follow our rhythm. He danced to different music than we were playing. His wife would always patiently try to follow him, but he was hearing music perhaps from another planet, and he had not been imbibing in anything other, perhaps, than a drink or two. His dancing was completely without measure or timing; he would turn sat random or spin her around with no relation to what we were playing, and I couldn’t bear to watch him for more than a few seconds at a time, otherwise I was thrown off and my timing went south.

One young woman eschewed dance partners altogether. She danced solo all night long, wearing some kind of soft dance slippers. She deftly wove between dancing couples, keeping perfect time to the music with moves some of which resembled ballet figures. I never once saw her collide with anyone, and only once did I see her dancing with a male partner—or any partner, for that matter.

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Finally, I must mention a couple that did not so much dance as put on a kind of floor show. They dressed rather flamboyantly, the man with tight pants somewhat suggestive of a bullfighter’s and a long sleeve shirt with mother of pearl buttons and a frilly front. He was not young, having a mane of silver hair but a trim physique. His partner (wife?) was a good few years younger, it seemed. She would wear a dirndl skirt with silk blouse and what appeared to be light, rubber-soled athletic shoes . At some given moment known only to them, he would get down on one knee in one corner of the dance floor, while she would go to the opposite corner. Then on his cue she would run across the dance floor and then launch herself into the air toward him. He would catch her—or at least he managed to do so every time I saw them go through their routine. I was always tempted to give them a crescendo drum roll and end with a rim shot and crash cymbal, but I never did for fear it would unnerve them and result in an unfortunate finale.

Born in Dundee, Scotland, Bert Thompson came to the U.S. in 1956. After a two-year stint playing drums with the 101 st Airborne Division Band and making a number of parachute drops, he returned to civilian life in San Francisco, matriculating at San Francisco State University where he earned a B.A. and an M.A. He went on to matriculate at University of Oregon, where he earned a D.A. and a Ph.D., all of his degrees in English. Now retired, he is a professor emeritus of English at City College of San Francisco. He is also a retired traditional jazz drummer, having played with a number of San Francisco Bay Area bands, including And That’s Jazz, Professor Plum’s Jazz, the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, Mission Gold Jazz Band, and the Zenith New Orleans Parade band; he also played with some further afield, including Gremoli (Long Beach, CA) and the Phoenix Jazzers (Vancouver, B.C.) Today he reviews traditional jazz CDs and writes occasional articles for several publications.

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