Saturday, September 1, 2007

Dancing at the Tropicana

Dancing at the Tropicana

Austin, Texas

8.5" x 11"


In an earlier post, I mentioned that Saturday just didn't seem like Saturday without seeing a good, old cowboy movie. Well, on the same note, Saturday night, just doesn't seem like Saturday night, without a date to go out to eat and dancing. That doesn't happen anymore, but those were some good memories.

In the sketch above, I showed a memory of one Saturday night in the 1950s when I visited my friend from high school, Kathryn, who was a student at the University of Texas. I was a student at Sam Houston State Teachers College(now University) in Huntsville. I took the bus and visited with her for the weekend. Those were memorable visits, and were always fun.

The University was so much larger and, of course, the city of Austin was much larger than Huntsville, too. There wasn't a whole lot to do in Huntsville. There were movies, a drive in, and a couple of restaurants. But, the county was dry, so no nightclubs-or drinking. If we wanted to dance, we only had the Student Union building on campus; a little room built onto the back of a trolly car/diner (Mr. Ben's) , with an old jukebox; or we could drive out to State Lake, or drive across the river to a couple of nightclubs. Not everyone had cars, so we spent a lot of time hanging out in the SUB at the dance floor. I know I spent more time there than I did in class, once I figured out that there was no one there to chase me to class with a switch like my mother had done! And, no one cared if you went or not, for the most part, to many classes. You might get a visit to the dean's office if you missed too many of some classes, or you might get dropped from the class, or flunk, but no one was going to yell, scream, drag you there, or follow you with a peach tree switch..

Sam Houston and Texas' colors were the same, orange and white, so my SHSTC clothes let me fit in with the UT styles. I could sit in on games with the other students, in my orange felt circle skirt and my white sweater and angora collar, and fit right in.

Sometimes, we would go on campus, sometimes we would go to the big football game, and usually we would double date and go to eat and go dancing.

Keep in mind that I was 16 when I went away to college. Most people were 18. But, I loved going dancing, anywhere, even better than eating.

This particular time, the boy I usually went with, couldn't come, so another boy came with my friend's date. They were Aggies, and that made the dates particularly outstanding. We always wanted them to wear their uniforms, with their senior boots and all, but they were glad to not have to wear them and usually showed up with slacks, sports coats and ties. Back in those days, A&M was an all male, basically military university. Almost everyone was in the corps. And they sure looked good in those uniforms! Even the most homely boy looked good in one of those Aggie uniforms and was sought after as a date .

We had met this group of boys when a small group of students from the A&M Methodist church came to our small town church nearby to meet with the MYF group. And several people started dating. We were about to go off to college, they were going to be seniors.

I wasn't crazy in love with my usual date, but he was nice, smart, and he was an Aggie, and a senior, after all. And we did have a nice time on dates.

Well, this time, I did fall head over heels for this new date. I still call him "the cutest little Aggie you ever saw"! And, to make things even better, not only was he a senior, and cute, but he was also in that wonderful Aggie band.

We went out to eat, which was something that I was relieved when that part of the date was over. I had not gone out to eat much, and, of course, I didn't want to order something that would be too expensive for the students to have to pay for. And, I was a very picky eater. Kathryn had told me that breaded veal cutlets was a pretty safe bet, and not so expensive. So, that's what I ordered almost every time I went out. That, or chicken fried steak. I worried that my manners may not be good enough or that I would make some kind of big mistake while we were eating. It was always delicious and, if I remember correctly, we would get food on a platter, for about $1.50, or maybe even less. And a Coke for 5 cents. ( I always hoped that he would eventually ask me out enough to the point where he would order a Coke with two straws for us, but things never progressed that far. )

After eating, we went dancing. One spot in Austin was called the Tropicana. I remember they had little glass ashtrays with a green palm tree on them. We brought ashtrays home as a souvenier of the evening. That summer, when I returned home and had the ashtray in my room, my dad had a fit and wanted me to take the ashtray back. Sort of upset my memory of the wonderful date I had. I cried and the ashtray stayed. But it got lost in all my years of moving around.

I thought about doing this picture as a painting for quite a while, and have finally done a sketch. I want to do it fairly large, eventually, in oil paint. While I was starting my sketch in a waiting room, a young man looked at it and I was amazed that he recognized what it was. He said he recognized it as people out dancing in the 50s because of the clothes and the orchestra. So, maybe this picture will be interesting to someone else, too.

Today, I have been playing around with more shading on the drawing, and I like some of the things that happened, but I'm not happy with other areas. I think they will work better in oils than in pencil. I printed a copy and did the shading on that so that I didn't damage the original, in case I like that one best. I posted two versions so that you can see how this develops. I like the shading on his face, his tie and shirt collar, and my hand, on the last version, but I'm not happy with the shading on his jacket or his neck, yet. I like the background over his shoulder.

I was trying to get the effect of how it looked when I was dancing with my Aggie date, the darkness of the Tropicana, dancers on the dance floor, including my friend and her date, and the orchestra.

I can still remember the light on the side of his face, the lower part of his ear and his neck, and the tweed jacket he was wearing. But, I cannot remember what I was wearing! I left myself out of the picture, except for part of my hand on his shoulder. On the last version, I did try to use an eraser to pull out part of the back of my head, but I really don't like how that worked. For one thing, I would have been a bit taller, but then my head would have cut off the background that I do like. More work to do on this one.

As dancing ended, we drove up to Mount Bonnell and looked at the lights over the city. Very pretty, with a gentle breeze. I do remember that, before we went out, I used a little "Wind Song" cologne. (Can't remember my clothes, but I can remember the perfume!) I still associate that cologne with Mount Bonnell.

There were a few more dates with him, before he graduated and moved on. I kept up with him as much as I could, without intruding, over the years, and was sad to hear that he died a few years ago.

Still, through the years, there have been lots more dates, in more places, with dinner and dancing on Saturday, and other nights.

Now, I'm just happy if I can eat supper in front of the tv set and watch the British comedies on PBS on Saturday night. My knees wouldn't let me dance now if I did have someone to dance with. But, it is nice to have those memories. I know that you must have wonderful memories of your own. I hope that you are still making some good memories that you can draw on in the future.

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