25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Dancing - A Very Special Event
Dancing is a lively activity today and very much liked by most people, but it is not a very special event like it used to be in the past. Dancing was a really very, very special event.
Back in the 1930’s, a young lady accepted way in advance of the day of the fiesta the dates with whom she would dance the night away. A dance usually consisted of three sets and as many as three gentlemen had the privilege to ask for a set each. Once she accepted those dates, she better keep her word or her mom, who was the chaperone, would take her home. If a young lady had a fiancé, it did not mean that she could dance the entire night with him. Romancing was for the home (if any at all). Dancing was for those special gentlemen with whom you enjoyed a good dance.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, that’s the time I was a teenager, a young lady had to have a chaperone to attend a dance. The chaperone would usually be the mother, but at times an aunt or very close family friend would agree to chaperone.
The chaperone remained outside the dance hall for the entire duration of the dance, and would take the young lady at the end. Fortunately for them, dances began at seven p.m. and ended around midnight. The dance hall owner provided special windows where the chaperones could enjoy watching the dance and keep an eye on the young lady at the same time while she gossiped with the other chaperones.
The young ladies, for their part, would sit on benches along the four walls of the dance hall and wait for the music to begin and for a young man to come and ask for a dance. If she had a special gentleman in mind, she could refuse any young man and wait for that special one to come and ask her. But all the asking had to be done inside the dance hall.
I tell you, some boys experienced some very embarrassing moments when they entered the dance hall and went from girl to girl and no one wanted to dance with them. And why exactly would a girl refuse to dance with a certain person? Don’t laugh, but this is true. He could be a little to drunk. He could be sloppy and not look neat enough. He could be an “outsider”, meaning not from San Pedro. Or the ladies would be waiting for their blue prince.
And here is a special thing that occurred at dances during the 50’s and 60’s. If a young man wanted to dance with this special girl and a boy had beaten you to her, he could simply go to a dancing couple, touch the gentleman on his shoulder, and say the word “paloma”, which means pigeon. The pigeon was the young lady, and it was the custom for the young man to let girl dance with the other person. He could turn to another couple and ask for “paloma”, or he could simply wait for about a minute and come back to the same girl and get his “paloma” back.
Now this was a custom and most men were courteous. The girls were courteous and cooperated also. But not all men were courteous. We can recall one or two guys who would turn around and punch you on the face instead of giving you the “paloma”. Of course, nobody ever went to them, but they were not very liked young men. They were considered “rebeldes” or rebels. And most parents did not want such a boy for their daughters, because they were not courteous. And the other men did not like them either and found reasons to pick fights with them. Trust me, there were only one or two of those rebels.
Oh yes, there are other anecdotes or stories you hear about dancing. Men would place a handkerchief on their hands to hold the young lady’s hands. Guys would take refreshments to the chaperone, to win her heart and admiration. A girl would squeeze your hand or press her hand on your shoulder to signal to you that she did not want you to give her as “paloma”.
Mothers would pull their daughters out of the dance hall if she refused to dance with a young man, or if she refused to be given as “paloma”. A person would accidentally switch off the lights and all the chaperones would rush inside the dance hall to look after their daughters. And the worst thing about dances is to have a girl sitting in the dance hall and nobody would come and ask her to dance. It was because of her personality, or because she was known to reject dancing with everyone. For her, I am sure, dancing was not a very special event twenty five years ago.