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You Can’t Dance

You can’t dance. I know this because I’ve been to enough wedding receptions, socials and bars with dance floors to notice that North Americans don’t know how to dance. They hold their partners and shuffle across the floor, but neither party would know a dance step if it bit them on the ankle.

This is actually quite a change because eighty years ago every Tom, Dick and Harry could do the Fox Trot, the Waltz and the Jitterbug, and plenty more knew the Rumba, the Tango and the Conga, among others. I’m making a point here, not trying to be personal. It gets worse.

You don’t know how to play the piano. This is easy; how many houses these days even have a piano? Not many. Contrast this with the situation before the war when everybody had a piano and both boys and girls could hammer out a dance tune. Check a black and white movie, find a dance scene, check the band. There’s the piano. Casablanca is a good place to start.

Why does this matter? It matters because the piano is the easiest way for one person to create music someone can dance to. Done on an electric organ, where you can add a percussion section, and suddenly you’re the life of the party. Or you would be if anyone could dance, which as you’ll remember, they can’t.

You can’t touch type. Again, every woman who entered the labour force up till the 1970’s could touch type like a fiend, 60 words per minute, no problem. Nowadays? Well, yes, they can touch type with their thumbs on a cell phone, but on a keyboard? Nope. Not that it matters, none of them want to be secretaries anyway. Or authors, presumably. Or journalists.

You can’t ride a horse. Oh, you can get up on one with some help, but as soon as your Kentucky thoroughbred starts to trot, you’re in real trouble. To manage this mid-speed step you need to know how to post. Posting involves rising and falling in the saddle in time with the horse’s step. It’s easier on the horse, and much easier on you. Or it would be if you knew how to post, which you don’t.

OK, so let’s try some skill quintessentially Canadian; paddling a canoe. You don’t know how to paddle a canoe. I can prove this by asking you one question: which end of the canoe do you sit in if you’re paddling alone? Front? Back? Time’s up. The answer is you paddle from the front seat facing the rear. That way you’re closer to the centre of the canoe and better balanced. You’ll have to use the “J” stroke to steer, but you don’t know that either. Sigh.

Finally, you can’t dress yourself. When I say “dress,” I mean dress like a gentleman. Here goes. First you put on your socks, then your sock garters. What? Sock garters; you have a pair, yes? Then boxer shorts. A T-shirt or vest. A shirt with eyelets for cufflinks. Your trousers with pleats. Your suspenders. Your cufflinks. This is business dress, not fancy dress. Your highly polished Oxfords.

Your tie, tied with a Windsor knot. Your suit vest. You can put your gold pocket watch in the left lower pocket of the vest, and the watch fob through an eyelet with one of the buttons. Now the jacket. Keep one fresh handkerchief for the ladies in a lower pocket and put another in your breast pocket, two points up, or three. This only leaves your wallet, keys, fountain pen, tie-clip (optional), coat, gloves and revolver (optional). Done.

Except how many people have a pocket watch these days? Not many. Cufflinks? Oxfords?

My point in writing all this is that we consider ourselves very advanced these days what with the Internet and cars with lane avoidance alarms. But we aren’t. Hardly anyone can shoot a deer, dress it, and carry it out of the bush. Few people can use an axe to chop down a tree. Starting a fire without a flint and steel? Not that either.

We’ve lost so much, so many skills, and we don’t even realize it. Unfortunately, in the civilizational collapse to come, we’re going to realize it real hard, real quick.

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  • Frank Hilliard

    Frank Hilliard is a former AP, UPI, and CBC TV News reporter who received training in driving, and shooting the main armament of, a Sherman "Firefly" with the Queens York Rangers.