154. The Dance Class

By Peter Fraenkel

   In grandmother Sophie’s youth no respectable girl would ever wish to be seen walking with a male … unless accompanied by a chaperone.  It was, in that period, virtually impossible for a boy to meet a girl … except at a dance class. These classes became astonishingly popular, Hawks-eyed mothers or aunts would be sitting in a wide circle around, pretending to knit, but watching, observing and grumbling. Any girl who did not conform would be considered “a bit fast” and would, the old ladies concluded, never find a husband … certainly not one from a “good family”.
   Whenever grandmother Sophie came to speak of dancing, she always lauded my father, her son-in-law. He was an excellent dancer. Unlike him I did not know how to dance. I had once strayed into a tango class and found it far too complicated. Sophie expressed outrage.”You’ll have to learn. It’s high time!” She offered to pay for my course of lessons. I expressed great and undying gratitude, knowing she was not at all well off, but was unenthusiastic about going to a dance class.  But I went. One avoided confrontation with Sophie.
   I didn’t like my long-in-the-tooth dance teacher. I thought she could be a retired prostitute. I was probably doing her a great wrong.  After the great German inflation of 1922 there were a great many widows who had expected to end their years living off comfortable inheritances from their late husbands, but the great inflation had wiped out these pensions. Now they had to find some new way of earning a living. Teaching dance may have been one such way.
   More fortunate widows found themselves as lessees of large apartments.New inflation legislation  froze rents and ensured residents could not be kicked out. So they managed to let out rooms and, perhaps, even provide meals.  They were the more fortunate ones. Much of the German bourgeoisie were now impoverished through no fault of their own. Or so they thought.  But one had to find someone to blame. But whom??
The Jews!
    The wits interpreted the situation slightly differently: “It’s the fault of the Jews and the cyclists!”
    “Why the cyclists?”
    Response: “Why the Jews?”
    The old order had broken down. Young girls – outrageously – went out with young men, unchaperoned.  The dance class was no longer the only way a boy could meet a girl.
And that’s probably why I never learnt to dance.