High school gymnasiums in 1975 had an unmistakable odor – a combination of sneakers, sweat and pom-poms. No amount of low lighting, Charlie perfume and Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers could change that. But we still showed up for the dances. On a Friday night in rural Pennsylvania there wasn’t that much else to do.
Guys leaned against the edge of the gym stage and girls slipped under their arms like accessories. Four hips stayed pressed tight together with legs wound and lips nibbling until our driver education teacher sauntered by with one raised eyebrow and a waggling finger. Being caught necking was quietly admired as girls who had guys looked down at girls who didn’t with a mix of pity and pride.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s endless Freebird took couples to the dance floor until the seven-minute mark, when the song broke away from fulsome ballad to screaming rock anthem. As couples returned to their post at the gym stage, clutches of girls took over the floor and danced in circles to The Captain and Tennille.
And then I heard her lyric opening notes. Maggie May. I didn’t know who Maggie was, I didn’t understand how she wore him out and I didn’t care. I loved that song. Two thick whacks on the tom-tom, a ringing guitar and Rod’s dry rasp and I was there. That night I ran out into the center of our empty high school basketball court and I danced to Maggie May. Alone.
More than thirty years later I can still remember those four minutes of my sixteen-year-old life. I remember being watched from the edges as I whirled across the floor. I didn’t care who saw me and I didn’t care what they thought of the weird girl dancing with herself. I felt free in my body. Free in my mind. I knew exactly what the rest of my life held for me. I knew I’d always be as strong and confident as I felt in that moment. And I knew I’d always dance.