Back when I was a kid walking the mean halls of Lakeview Elementary School, I absolutely loved gym.
It was my favorite class, times 100,000. I loved flag football and dodge ball and pickup hoops. I loved climbing the ropes and sprinting toward cones and long treks up and down the rolling back fields.
There was, however, one day of gym I abhored with every bit of my soul
The day Slim Sterling came to Mahopac.
It happened once per year. We’d shuffle into the gymnasium, change into our “sports clothes” and be told—in a chipper voice—”it’s square dancing day!”
He was a guy in a cowboy hat and, I believe, bolo tie. I knew nothing of the man’s origins, background, beliefs, personal life—only that the next hour would absolutely suck. I was, remember, a boy with no remote interest in the opposite sex. I didn’t want to twirl with Kim Cutter. I didn’t want to do-si-do with Anyssa Santo. I didn’t want to allemande left with Corinne Lee or roll away to a half sashay with Caroline Massey. No—all I wanted to do was get the fuck out of there with my dignity and sanity intact.
Alas, it was not to be.
We’d spin and twirl and stumble awkwardly. I’d grab a girl by the hand, sweaty palm to sweaty palm, wishing I were in the nurse’s office or—at that moment—the nearby morgue. To be clear, in case there is some doubt: I HATED square dancing.
A few moments ago, I was directed to Slim Sterling’s obituary. He died 19 years ago, and along with teaching square dancing to bumbling pre-pubes was also the former head of a long-ago country group, “The Saddle Serenaders.” He held a BA and masters in education from NYU; was a dad, a grandfather, a husband. His nickname, “Slim,” was brought to life when he was a 14-year-old 6-footer who weighed but 140 pounds.
Mostly, Slim Sterling clearly lived for sharing his profound love of square dancing. To quote the obit: “Since 1952, Slim has been square and folk dance specialist for the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. He was featured caller at national square dance conventions throughout the country. In addition, his professional appearances, both as caller and entertainer, have taken him from Maine to Florida. Slim has made television appearances in the New York area and has guested on both educational and entertainment shows, while his radio credits encompass more than a dozen stations in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Slim is a member of the Westchester Recreation and Parks Society, Caller-Lab, the International Association of Square Dance Callers and Leaders, and Callers Council of New Jersey. He is licensed by ASCAP and BMI. “
Sitting here, 48 and long removed from my prime non-square dancing prime, I find myself mourning a man whose existence caused me to shudder.
I find myself wishing I’d given Slim Sterling and square dancing a bit more of a chance.