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A dance that spans across generations

With dance, they say it's all in the timing. So I guess that's how this column came about.

Back in 1960, my friends Carol, Sharyn and Alice and I decided to do the Charleston for our school variety show. Only problem was, we didn't know anyone who really knew how to do the dance.

In the 1920s, our mothers were just toddlers and most grandmothers we knew were still fresh off the boat. They were hardly into the dance-hall scene. But we had a teacher, Mrs. Houck, who had silver hair and dressed very stylishly. Might she know, we wondered?

My friend Carol finally got up the nerve to ask, "Mrs. Houck, did you ever dance the Charleston?"

Not only had she danced it but she still had some of her outfits. So Mrs. Houck became our mentor and before we knew it we were onstage. Our stellar performance even led to a couple of gigs at women's clubs and nursing homes.

Flash forward to 2006. While helping Girl Scout Troop 1386 from Knight Elementary School with their writing badge, their leader lamented, "I can't believe what we have ahead of us. For next year's father-daughter dance, the girls voted for a 1920s theme and they will have to dance the Charleston. There's no one alive old enough to remember anything about the Charleston. What are we going to do?"

Before I could say a word, one of the girls must have seen my silver roots showing because she asked me, "Miss Susan, did you ever dance the Charleston?"

I no longer have my dress, but I dug out my 46-year-old 45RPM and zapped out a mass e-mail asking if anyone had a record player with a spindle. I couldn't find one anywhere. People suggested I search the Internet for a downloadable copy of the song, but the version I wanted by Eddie Condon was nowhere to be found. But then one of the dads, John Canfield, came to my rescue. He somehow cleaned up all the scratches, converted that old 45 into a CD, and gave copies to all nine Girl Scouts.

As for the dresses, here's where the Internet did come in handy. The moms researched period clothing and did printouts from various Web sites. The girls voted on their favorite style, and Valerie Otalora's grandmother, Elvia Medina, made all the dresses from a bolt of bargain fabric they found at Wal-Mart.

Next Saturday night, the Girl Scouts will show their stuff at Winfield Hall in Duluth. I know they're going to do me proud. And I speculate that in 2060, there are going to be nine silver-haired ladies who can teach the Charleston the same way they learned it in 2007 from someone who learned it in 1960 from Mrs. Houck, who did the real thing back in 1920.

How's that for timing?

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.