Adelaide, 1990

Hang me for a sucker
On the plains out of Narrabri

 

I was 11, desperately wishing I could be hung for a sucker (whatever that meant) if it got me out of dance practice.

Although Woodville Primary embraced modern technical marvels like dot matrix printers, the school stubbornly clung to tradition for the Year Seven graduation social. No cutting a Bacon-esque footloose in our Reebok Pumps. Instead, the school subjected us to a torturous series of choreographed dances older than stale donuts from the canteen – the waltz, the LA hustle, the bus stop and the progressive jive.

Although Tucker’s Daughter was a hit in 1989, a parsimonious teacher must have held onto the cassingle for the following year. The classic Aussie rock song about the boss’s daughter lusting after a sweaty Ian Moss swinging a hoe in a CAL-cotton row probably didn’t send the best message about sexual harassment, but it dropped some fully sic beats for the progressive jive.

Tucker’s Daughter was the soundtrack to my prepubescent shame. I dreaded the weekly dance practice in the lead-up to the big evening of reserved rug cutting. Mrs Quinn, our old battleaxe of a teacher, forced each boy to select a girl for a partner. It was far worse than picking teams for sport because you had to actually touch members of the opposite sex instead of hurling a Nerf ball at their head.

For a chubby, nerdy Year Six just there to make up the numbers for the Year Sevens, it was a cruel exercise in ritual humiliation. I watched kids pair off two by two in a Noah’s ark style display of playground power dynamics. The popular boys in their Hypercolour t-shirts picked the popular girls in their denim ra-ra skirts. The sporty boys in Adidas tops picked the sporty girls in Reebok tops, possibly figuring their cardio was good enough to last the hour. A mixed assortment of girls with puppy fat, glasses, mismatched clothes from Big W and embarrassing bowl-cuts – or all of the above – remained. The human equivalents of the weird orange fudge in the Roses box waiting for a matching mob of male dregs.

The progressive jive was the great equaliser on the dance card because the girls moved around the circle to eventually dance with every boy. But the starting position did less building up and more tearing down (slap my knee bones to the ground). The opening bars of Tucker’s Daughter will forever be associated with the interminable wait of holding the clammy hands of a socially inept male counterpart. The enforced, strange grip – as loose as possible and yet extremely heavy, uncomfortable and poignantly weighted – belonged only to Mrs Quinn’s evil realm of the music room and a short window of time when teachers could get away with making students touch each other against their will.

Finally, the crackly PA kicked onto the lyrics and we were off. To this day, I can still recall the simple steps of the progressive jive to the beat of Tucker’s Daughter. (YouTube can verify.) Left-right, left-right, out-in, out-in, lacklustre twirl, move on. Briefly inflict my touch on boys who saw me as a walking dictionary, avoid the gaze of the sporty boys since I dropped that catch at cricket, return to my rightful place as handmaiden of nerds.

But at least I could dance. I moved my purple stirrup pants and knock-off velcro Dunlops with military precision, judging the tempo and progressing through to the next partner on time every time. Unlike some of my so-called betters who clumsily banged into me with oaf-like incompetence. Evidently rhythm could not be as easily acquired as a pink double cassette battery powered ghetto blaster. Or, in the words of Mossy, everything you want don’t come from holding out your hand.

 

 

Jo Hocking is an Adelaide-based writer with short stories in Pure Slush's anthologies, Sloth (2018) and Wrath (upcoming). She enjoys poking fun at pretty much everything.