Social Dancing

by Ruth Chon


In 1982, my mother's two year long fight with cancer finally ended. She passed away leaving my sister, who was 13, me, who was 10, and my dad, who was petrified.

Nevertheless, he was resolute in raising us on his own. To him that meant food in our mouths, a roof over our heads, and of course, a proper academic eduation. Menstrual cycles, dating, femininity, raising two teenaged Korean American daughters in New Jersey? -- these were as foreign to him as a blue-tongued skink.

The woman he turned to for daughter-rearing advice was a superstitious Korean hairdreser (an old friend of the family) who used to tell him things like:

1. There are crazy AIDS-infected men in Time Square who prey on young girls, biting them in the face attempting to spread the virus.

2. If your daughter feels stomach ache pains, squeeze the middle of their upper earlobe while pressing the soft skin between the left index finger and thumb.

3. For bad breath, rinse with apple cider vinegar.

4. Letting your daughter go to a rock concert = teen pregnancy.

For lack of better folklore, and the mass hysteria of the 80's AIDS scare, he believed her.

In 1985, my dad gets a call from the hairdresser one night. Red Alert: There is a party taking place in the basement of a girl's (Mimie) house. She knows this because her son's Air Supply album is missing from its usual spot on the turntable. But worse: there will be dancing. Slow dancing, which my father calls "Social Dancing."

We're at Mimie's basement party. The lights are low, music is playing. I'm 13, my sister is 16. There are five couples on the dance floor, embracing, swaying to the sweet sounds of Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell. And there I was, one of the five, facing little Jimmy Nam. My slow dancing partner. However, we were a whole arms-length apart. I was a late bloomer and at the time, too young for hormones. But we were dancing. This was dancing. Before you could even say "making love out of nothing at all" the basement door busts open. It's my Dad. And I must admit we were caught red handed, dancing with Jimmy Nam. We looked like robots trying to pass each other on a sidewalk the way we dance so far apart. But my dad's eyes saw something different: AIDS, TEEN PREGNANCY, STOMACH CRAMPS, BAD BREATH, ... A MISERABLE LIFE.

Over the full blown out instrumental bridge, complete with cymbal crash and timpani roll, I could hear a my father calling us,"ROOO, COLL, COME". (our names: Ruth and Colleen). Any wee hormones that may have been nurturing at that point were instantly crushed by overwhelming embarrassment.

My dad is a man of very few words. He'd refrain from lecturing. He believed the fewer the words the more impact they held. And it worked. So in the car home, when after a long weighted silence he finally said "SOCIAL DANCING IS DEVILISH."

This remains branded in my consciousness and the understanding that my dad is a real piece of work.


Ruth Chon presently lives in Los Angeles with her sweetheart and two dogs. She is happy and has clean breath.

Her dad, Steve Chon, lives in Fort Lee New Jersey and spends his spare time teaching a ballroom dancing class.

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