Ich bin tanzen nicht

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Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieban, acht! Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieban, acht! Eins, zwei, drei…

This is all that is going through my head right now. I feel as though it is all I can properly say, and know for a fact that it will be the only thing in my head as I attempt to go to sleep tonight. Wednesdays in German 101 with Herr Pendleton are always interesting. It is our culture day: we set aside our vocabulary and our flashcards, we watch a movie or listen as der professor regails us with stories of his mission in Eastern Germany. But today he decided to do something out of the ordinary. Later, as we were finishing, replacing our shoes and trying to laugh our utter embarrassment away, he admitted he hadn’t done it in 8 years. That in and of itself is a worry.

We all trickled in, as per usual, into our little room at the back of the gym for class. We settle in, chatting quietly or doing homework as we wait for Herr Pendleton to arrive. He arrives and herds us into the gymnasium, carrying with him er computer and speakers. He announces, with humor deep in his voice, that we will be learning to dance.

Now let me say that I really love Herr Pendleton. He is hilarious, and so excited to be teaching a group of students eager to the language. The class itself is easy going and humorous, and for most of us, it is one of the most enjoyable classes of the day. It is filled with jokes and laughter, as we stumble over a language that, sometimes, it seems, you need to have a handful of marbles in your mouth to speak.

He splits us into groups of four – two guys and two girls. We are told to arrange ourselves in squares, girls facing girls and guys facing guys. We were sure he was joshing us, trying to make us look like fools. Each sub-group (guys and girls) have a specific way to clap and move. It is essentially playing a very intricate game of Miss Mary Mack. For the first part, as we counted in German, the girls touched their knees, their collars, clapped their hands together, then high fived the other. The guys did something quite similar but merely harder and with deeper voices. The point is to continue the clapping simultaneously without breaking someone’s nose or smashing your fist into their jaw.

I seriously wish I had thought to have someone come record this class. It was chaos. And it only got worse. There was spinning, more clapping, a weird Cotton-Eyed Joe dance move the guys did, some twirling, running in circles while clasping people’s wrists, even more clapping, and a little bit of a waltz. Admist the pandamonium, Herr Pendleton stood in the center, looking much like a man trying to flag down a plane, counting religiously, “Eins, zwei, drei…”

You could tell he was enjoying it. Watching his students dance around barefoot in the basketball courts, red faced with embarrassment and exhaustion (he is quite the hard dance instructor!), muttering the numbers in German and trying to mimic what he said as best as we could, sounding like a flock of rowdy parrots. We finished, having had a bunch of fun (it is a relative word, after all), eager to return to the little back room and diagram sentences or something.

But nein, Herr Pendleton was not done. He insisted we learn a Russian dance as well. We groaned and wished we knew enough German to refuse him. Alas, we have gotten so far as to ask wie heiß du?, wie ist deine Adresse?, and wie ist deine Postleitzahl?. Enough to sound like a stalker and gather enough information to play a serious practical joke, but not enough to refuse a Russian dance lesson.

The guys gathered in a circle, surrounded by the girls. In that stereotypical fashion, arms crossed in front of your chest, the guy advances a few steps towards the lady, as the lady steps backwards in unison. There are some random stomps intermitten in those slightly creepy advances (we needed a straight face, otherwise we would collapse laughing) and a little bit of hop-scotch too. There was spinning and clapping, a point where the guy takes the girls hand, brings them forward and then sends them back out before bringing them to the center. Essentially, you dance until you have danced with every male in the circle. That is a lot of stomping and clapping. With our straight faces and determined looks, it must have appeared almost tribal.

In fact, I am sure it did. Half the football team, on their way to the locker room, decided to take up a bit of bleacher and watch the poor, unfortunate German students. And all the while, Herr Pendleton is yelling instructions to this crazy Russian dance in German, waving his arms this way and that, a huge grin on his face. You could tell he thought it was one of the funniest things he’d seen in a while.

As we finally finished, we grabbed our things from the little back room that we have learned to whole-heartedly love, cracking jokes about our lack of coordination. A phone rings. The guy puts it on speaker. It’s his Russian grandmother. We die, laughing hysterically. Herr Pendleton walks in, and asks, “What’s the joke?”

The joke is, Herr Pendleton, that “Ich bin tanzen nicht!

A rough translation: I don’t dance!

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