Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 2

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Will Appear

A scrawny, redheaded chap of about thirty had been watching us dive off the jetty after school, clapping and shouting encouragement. An embarrassing creep in dire need of exercise, he followed us into the changing shed, dropped his togs and started towelling himself, rambling on about 'sand between the toes'. His skinny white legs and flabby belly made me want to puke. Geoff giggled and we all looked away because he was getting a hard-on. Then he stood up on the bench and started rubbing his groin and playing with his cock – red and raw like uncooked meat; asking questions to make us look at him.

We threw on our clothes and took off. A nut case I couldn't help feeling sorry for. I sort of understood why he was doing it, but not with that body!

If he'd been a tough guy with muscles then at least he'd have been worth looking at. As it was, he was lucky he wasn't beaten up. A few weeks later, on the beach in front of the Surf Club where I was a pretty useless lifesaver [although I carried the flag at surf carnivals], Leon, who'd just won an award for the fastest time to swim out, 'rescue' a drowning man, bring him to shore, and start resuscitation (Holger Nielsen – mouth to mouth not having been invented), put on a similar act, but with such flair he became a legend.

It was a quiet afternoon – no one drowning – and he'd been annoying two other guys by yanking down their Speedos when they stood up. Their girlfriends were laughing and I could see the guys were planning revenge, so I whispered a warning.

He winked, loosened the string in his waistband, then hoisted a girl over his shoulder and strolled toward the water. He hadn't taken ten paces before one of the guys raced up behind and pulled his togs down to his ankles. Instead of dumping the girl, he simply stepped out of them and, muscles rippling, bronzed buttocks firm and the girl still struggling and shouting, he picked his way between sunbathers, tossed her into a wave and sauntered back to a round of applause, cock swaying proudly. If he hadn't already been the most popular guy in the club this would have done the trick.

In the fifties, 'real men' played rugby, drank beer, and leered at sheilas from the 'stag line' at dances. I had an aversion to both alcohol and rugby, danced till I dropped, sang, acted, laughed aloud, painted, walked straight, chatted with girls, read novels, and listened to classical music – a perilous path to negotiate and certainly not deliberately chosen. The sole explanation for my antisocial behaviour, gained through hours of introspection, was that my brain had been programmed in the womb – an inheritance from a maternal uncle who I resembled physically as well as mentally.

Free will? Forget it! Try choosing not to eat, sleep, or breathe. I felt as if I had no choice over whether I wanked, paid my debts, or even which swimming togs I bought. Ok, we can choose to do or not do certain things, but our inbuilt urges can get very strong. It's easy to choose whether to have honey or jam on toast, or which shirt to wear, but I reckon that poor bloke just couldn't help flashing to us teenagers. And Leon couldn't help succumbing to the urge to drop his togs, just as I couldn't resist doing things that gave me pleasure and hurt no one.

Childhood was safe but uneventful. My parents had little formal education and, being somewhat in awe of their smart-arse son, had the sense to leave me to my own devices while providing necessities but no luxuries. If I wanted more, I had to earn it. Puberty sent powerful sexual urges that had me clambering naked out the window at night, climbing the trees in the back yard like Tarzan; doing pull-ups until I got my rocks off – simply to be able to sleep.

When that no longer did the trick, I'd carefully make my way to the beach about a kilometre away; hugging the shadows of hedges, trees, and walls that bordered the dark sandy roads. There were no street lights.

Aflame with exhilaration, I imagined the headlines: Naked Kid Haunts Streets. After a swim, I'd slink home the same way, impatient for bed and 'release' as I relived the thrill. One evening, Dad was standing at our gate, smoking. I hung around in the shadows until I began to freeze. There was nothing for it; I had to go in.

"Been for a swim?" he asked, as if running naked to the beach for a swim at 10 o'clock on a cold evening was perfectly natural.


"Bit cold."


"Had you worried, didn't I?'


"In future, wear your togs."

"Good idea. G'night, Dad."

Mother's façade of pleasant tolerance was eggshell-thin and easily cracked. Thick ankles, solid figure, and a tendency to hirsuteness fed bitter disillusion and spite for women who were wealthier and more elegantly appointed. Unsurprisingly, friends were thin on the ground.

Dad's gentlemanly speech and demeanour, and refusal to criticise anyone or be involved in an argument, ensured he was universally liked. I'd watch him negotiating with clients and reps; disarming, charming, until they offered more than he'd asked for, being sufficiently rewarded by a boyish smile of incredulity and a smiling, "You're a gentleman!" uttered with such sincerity, he'd made a friend for life. Any success I've had in the manipulation of people, I owe to him.

At the beach, Mother would sit in a long-sleeved sun frock arranged to conceal her upper arms and ankles, gossiping about everyone in range. Dad, broad-shouldered, slim hipped, beautifully muscled, hairless and energetic, would be running around in the same pale grey woollen togs he'd worn at school – a strip of perilously thin fabric held up by a white webbing belt with a slightly rusty buckle.

He was well hung, and to see him jogging back up the beach from a swim was a memorable experience. Unlike other guys' fathers, who spent the day under umbrellas swilling beer to swell burgeoning bellies while thighs and arms grew thinner, Dad let us climb on his shoulders to dive off, built sand castles, and turned bright red.

In the evenings, I had to smear calamine lotion all over him and later peel off the skin in great sheets. His body refused to tan.

High School was a half-hour ferryboat ride across the harbour and presented no intellectual problems – apart from boredom. It seems odd that teachers couldn't make learning stimulating, even for the top 15 boys in a large school. The only memorable things were performing in concerts and plays, athletics, and wrestling instruction from a young exchange teacher from Kerala.

Our instructor was lean and tough with a thin moustache and sweat that smelled of herbs. He wanted us to wear a loincloth like his, because that's what they wore at wrestling schools in India, but the other guys took one look at his brown bum and clung to their Phys Ed. shorts as to a life jacket; covertly sneering at the 'black curry-muncher'. Then, when they realised they weren't going to learn how to kill an opponent with a single blow, they changed to boxing.

I've no idea of the teacher's name and I don't recall exchanging a single word that wasn't about wrestling. He was obviously pleased that I continued and was prepared to wear the loincloth. I was never sure if it was my dedication to the sport or my bare bum that persuaded the sports master to allow us to continue, despite the lack of other students. It was wrestling that taught me I could defend myself physically as well as verbally, and gave a boost to my burgeoning self-confidence.

Friends were easy to come by if you wanted to be part of a social group or gang. I didn't. I'd have loved to have a really good friend with whom to share secrets, but there was no one like that, so I created a respectably gregarious façade that led teachers to think I was popular, but a bit of a flibbertigibbet – not suitable to join the hallowed band of Prefects. A false but welcome assumption. I'm both reliable and trustworthy, but have no desire for power over others.

The social image I was after didn't include mixing with physically unattractive, stupid, or vulgar people, so I avoided them. My trick for survival was to appear non-threateningly eccentric; but that didn't include going to prize-giving to collect the beautiful silver cup I won for singing! Real men didn't sing and I'd kept my participation in that competition a well-guarded secret. Every school day was like a never-ending tightrope dance. If my observable differences should ever be perceived as a threat to the shrine of manly vigour, I'd be dead.

A giant of a lad, ineptly named David – Goliath would have been more appropriate – a mooncalf whose brain had been warped when a falling tree crushed his skull as a kid, was hatchet man for a gang of would-be teddy-boys who had taken it upon themselves to decide who was manly enough to live.

Every now and then some poor guy would appear on the school ferry bruised and nervous. No one dared complain, as that would prove they weren't a 'real' man. Inevitably, my turn arrived. They reckoned I talked too 'posh' and needed taking down a peg. It started with David dropping a bag full of schoolbooks on my toes and asking how it felt to be in the top class.

My first impulse was to knee him in the cods, which would probably have resulted in brain damage as severe as his. Instead, I answered politely that it was probably the same as he felt in the bottom stream, then ran for my life!

Rumour had it he was a whiz at making model aeroplanes, so the following afternoon I cornered him on the way home – he was quite tame when alone – and asked as if I really cared, if he would teach me to make models because I was so useless at those sorts of things and I really admired people like him who were good with their hands. He puffed so far up with pride I was on the point of seeking shelter from what was looking like a Hiroshima type event, when he invited me home.

His mother was pleased he'd brought home a human instead of the usual animals from his class, and provided fizzy fruit juice and sultana cake – not a good combination. I'd brought a starter kit and we spent several hours in his sweat-scented bedroom… cutting, gluing, breaking, re-gluing – me making sure I was useless and offering suggestions that made him snort with disbelief. He would patiently explain and correct my every move, until we both agreed it would be better if I chose another hobby.

He seemed reluctant to let me go that last evening, and kept showing me his 'treasures'. Then suddenly he blurted, "When the tree fell on my head it damaged my pituitary gland."

I was impressed, having not the slightest idea what that was. "That's why my voice is high, and that's why… look!" He whipped down his trousers to expose a hairless crotch and a penis as large as an eight year-old's, with balls to match.

I looked into his eyes. He was crying. How could I console him? I realised he wanted me to be his friend – someone in whom he could confide his darkest secrets. But I had secrets of my own that I would never share with him. From somewhere I dredged up an anodyne. "There are more important things in life than sex, David. Character's what's important; and deep down you're a really nice bloke."

What a load of crap. From the dozens of people who have confided their secret hopes and fears over the years, I've learned that sex is the most important thing in just about everyone's life. Why people tell me their secrets I don't know, but it always feels like a compliment and I never betray their trust. But as for humans being the apex of evolution… muddle-headed seems a more apt epithet.

Years later, on a visit to my home town, a fluting soprano hailed me on the street. David had grown as large as the chief eunuch of a Turkish harem, had a good job in an office, and seemed reasonably, if wistfully adjusted to his lot.

Winning, in the conventional sense, has no interest for me. The only thing I want to win is my independence. I enjoyed tennis, but everyone in the club was obsessed with the "Ladder" and playing in weekend competitions against other clubs. I could never understand that. For me the game is fun enough. By putting up a fair fight but usually losing the match, I earned the reputation I desired; OK for a social game, but don't have him in the team!'

Elderly spinsters had a habit of falling in love with me, and Kath was no exception. I gardened for her and, as she disliked driving at night, as soon as I got my licence I drove her to plays, concerts, the ballet, and anything else she wanted to see; my payment, a free ticket. No one else I knew was interested in theatre or classical music, and I couldn't have afforded to go on my own. She also lent me her car if I needed it. Dad wouldn't lend me his.

Kath wrote and illustrated children's books that were suffused with pathos and a weird sense of humour. She'd sit on her patio pretending to write, but I could feel her eyes following me. She told me about her twin brother who had gone to London, and showed me a sepia tint of a naked young man with a long, unattractive head, standing in slightly too elegant contrapposto before a classical pillar.

I didn't let on that Mother had told me Keith had been too smart for the police and skipped the country before they prosecuted him for being more interested in men than women. Mother was obviously pleased at his escape, and so was I, although I didn't think it had any relevance to me… I had a girlfriend. But sadness pricked me whenever I thought of him in exile in London where he owned a private hotel.

"Keith is not ashamed of his body," Kath announced as she passed the photo across.

"Neither am I," I responded, reminding her of Cupid's Dart.

"You wore a fig leaf!" she snorted, as if it had been a cop out. "I had to – the law says...."

I knew what she was doing, and she knew that I knew what she was doing; it was a game I became proficient in over the years; bantering around the subject until both are sure they want the same thing – me to take off my clothes. We both knew I would prove I was as good as her beloved twin by gardening naked – but it would have been impertinent to have simply dropped my tweeds and started mowing.

Ladies like to keep their reputations unsullied and be treated as if they harbour no impure thoughts. I'm pretty sure Kath was a virgin who'd chosen to remain faithful to her brother.

In winter, I painted her ceilings and in return, she taught me to dance. Not classical, but in the style of Isadora Duncan, whom Kath admired. It was another important brick in my temple of self-confidence. Buoyed on the exuberance of Rossini overtures I became a wild satyr, pure energy without constraint, performing for an enraptured audience of one; which, I discovered a few years later, is infinitely preferable to a discordant audience of hundreds! Indeed, 'one' is perhaps the perfect audience, because the performance can be fine-tuned, and altered according to the responses, assuring success. And there's no malicious gossip afterwards.

Once, when posing for the illustrations in a book she was writing about a dancing bear, she explained that the poor things only danced because their owner jerked roughly on a collar that had sharp spikes facing inwards, causing terrible pain and damage to the neck. I felt sick. In her story, she explained, the bear was a metaphor for the human condition. Most people have mental nail-studded collars that are jerked by the law and the expectations of others.

"Look around you!" she said angrily. "Everyone is dancing to the tune of conformity, suppressing their individuality. And for what? To have the same respectable little house in the same respectable street, with identical children being brainwashed into becoming boring, respectable slaves of commerce! If that's living, I don't want it!"

I couldn't speak. It was as if an electric current had shot through me. She had just explained why I avoided getting close to others. I'd unconsciously avoided their conformity that waited like quicksand to suck me in.

"Please don't become like that," she said softly. "You have the wit to be yourself, and the opportunity. Don't waste your life."

"I'm not a dancing bear," I shouted, dancing wildly round the room. "I'm dancing bare!"

It took several seconds for her to get the pun, but when she did, she smiled. "Well, I hope you keep dancing bare all your life; it's the best way to avoid that collar."

At other times, like every adolescent, I was plagued by self-doubt and fears of inadequacy. Why wasn't I like everyone else? Why did I back out of the parties that all the other guys and their girlfriends seemed to enjoy? Why did I prefer to go to dances alone and dance with a different girl every time the music changed? Why did I like sitting for hours on top of the mountain gazing out over the sea? Why did I want an all-over tan?

None of those things seemed like choices – they were things I had to do. Why was sitting for hours in a car, petting, kissing and 'feeling up' my girlfriend the most boring activity on the planet?

I came to the same conclusion as every outsider who remains sane; I am what I am, and it was pointless to fight it. This brilliant self-analysis did not, however, prevent my experiencing a constant sense of impending doom that kept me vigilant.

In Mathematics, I sat beside Ronnie and we'd feel each other's erections through our pockets. His was huge! Sometimes he'd take it out – a smooth, shiny monument in ebony! I loved wrapping my hand around it, feeling the heat and the spasms when he came, although that was dangerous in class as he grunted a bit when ejaculating.

We never met outside school. I lived a half-hour boat-ride away; he a long bus trip in the opposite direction. He was sharp, quick, and cute, and I was consumed by equal quantities of lust and jealousy.

Exactly ten years later, my partner and I were walking briskly along the streets of Wellington – there's no other way to walk in that benighted city if the wind's behind you – when a physically worn man in a sad, brown suit (no one should ever wear brown) approached timidly and said, "Rigby! It's me! Ronnie."

I was on a flying visit, due to return to Paris the following week. He was on his way home to a mortgaged box in the outer suburbs where his wife and three kids waited, squalling for food and scraps. His government job was secure – but boring and ill remunerated. He was sad, beaten, and tired, and my heart shrivelled in pity.

Sexy little Ronnie had become a pathetic 'dancing bear'. It was several days before I could shake off the horror of what might have been my fate, had I been afflicted with a desire for women, marriage, and kids. My partner was as shocked as I to view the effects of heterosexuality on someone about whom I had waxed eloquent on more than one occasion.

University differed from Secondary School only in the freedom from petty rules and teacher supervision. Unversed in the art of discrimination, first-year students bond easily and lightly, scurrying to form gangs of like-minded souls with whom to argue, socialise and strut. Those on the outside are pitied; those on the inside pay the heavy price of conformity. Groups curtail as well as support, and group dynamics bend multiple wills to act as one.

Invitations to pub-crawl so I could get bombed out of my mind and compete in the technicolour burp stakes, didn't appeal; even when regaled with tales of Alan's vomit-map of the world in colour! Goodness knows what he'd been eating!

Being allergic to waste, crowds, and the tongue-loosening effects of alcohol, I'd excuse myself from most socialising, usually managing to keep my reputation as a 'good bloke'. Born hyperactive, self-control has always been a priority and early on became second nature.

I was friendly with everyone, but joined nothing. There were plenty of other loners – but for them it was seldom a choice; they were socially unattractive and usually a bit crazy.

Peer pressure and the hierarchical crap that permeates heterosexual male society, transformed my embryonic scorn for humanity into aversion when I realised that most guys' gregarious urges are stronger than their yearning for autonomy. I began to fear the mindlessness of the group. Like everyone else, I want approval, but not if it costs me my soul! I sought a friend – not friends. I was prepared to be a lone ranger until I met someone who shared my interests and was interested in me.

During my first year I studied, kept fit, did a few photographic shoots for newspaper advertisements, modelled for both the University and Tech. College Art departments, played Jack Chesney in Brandon Thomas's Charlie's Aunt, earned a few cheers as Lord Godiva in the Capping parade, and maintained my independence.

In my second year, I changed digs. The house was old and smelled of rot. Ten rooms on two floors for twenty young men; each room containing two lumpy beds, two small wardrobes, two small chests of drawers, two school desks, and two hard-backed chairs. Showers, toilets, kitchen, and laundry shared the cold concrete basement. A bitter old bible-bashing Christian with a drink problem inhabited two rooms by the front door, from where he guarded his domain as jealously as Cerberus. When he wasn't wandering the house enshrouded in a miasma of life's disappointments, he'd be checking we weren't brewing tea or making toast on illegal appliances in our rooms.

Waita, my roommate whom I met swimming lengths of the tepid baths, was tall, lean, and impenetrably dark, with a head as wise as the kingly eponym of his country. A parsimonious Anglican scholarship left him little spare cash, and I was born fundamentally frugal, so we explored the pleasures available for free in a port city; secret bays and coves that enabled me to keep my bum brown; the cheapest theatre seats; the pie cart, reading in bookshops, the run-down University gymnasium, and nine hours of sleep that were essential to us both.

We'd been sweating over assignments for an hour one night when Waita begged a favour. Coming from an alien culture – his words – he was at a loss as to how to treat females. He had taken a girl to the pictures and then back to her digs, where he shook hands and left her. The following day she had snubbed him. When he asked her why, she said he'd insulted her by not kissing her. It sounded like a case of delayed racism to me, but to let him down lightly I said she was clearly a slut and not good enough for him

"I'd like to have kissed her," he muttered, "but I don't know how Europeans kiss! Teach me!" It took several minutes of pleading to convince me he was serious, but once persuaded I gave of my best, and afterwards we agreed that, in the interests of frugality and logic – we were both very strong on logic – it wasn't worth forking out a couple of pounds to take a girl for a meal followed by the flicks, when we could eat at home, sit in the cheapest seats, keep fit at the gym together, help each other to study, and had each other to kiss.

The most interesting and useful thing I did that year and the next, was take acting classes with Heath Joyce, a somewhat famous English director of plays and pageants who'd come to New Zealand to work with the local repertory society. I was lucky enough to be given major roles in two large productions at His Majesty's Theatre: Shakespeare's Henry the Eighth and someone else's When Knights Were Bold.

My 18th birthday present from the state was the call up for an Army Medical. A score of us were told to strip and wait in a cold, bare room. The only naked guys I was used to seeing were at the pool, the gym, or beach, so I wasn't prepared for such an unappetising pack of scrawny, pale, droopy young men. There were pigeon chests, narrow shoulders, wide hips, slack bellies, spindle thighs, knock-knees, sweaty feet, pimpled backs, hairy bums… only one looked healthy enough to touch. Judging from their talk, however, they were all God's gift to women.

One at a time we were called to a desk at the end of the room to be weighed, measured, and inspected for fitness. The young doctor was handsome in a neat, militaristic way, so I gave him my best smile, which he ignored. He weighed me, checked my reflexes, pulse, blood pressure, lungs, then without warning, grabbed my balls.

"Have they always been this big?"

"I think they were smaller at birth," I quipped.

His lips drew to a thin line. "Don't get smart! Any lumps?"

"Not as far as I know."

He kneaded softly and I sprouted a sudden, hard erection. He took a wooden ruler and before I could withdraw, whacked it down on my knob. I thought my entire shaft had shattered. The pain! I gazed through streaming tears at the poor, shrivelling thing and stifled a sob of agony.

"Filthy queer," the doctor hissed rather too audibly, grabbing my shoulders and turning me round so he could look up my bum for haemorrhoids.

It took two days for the tingling to stop, and weeks for the horrifying realisation that someone thought I was a queer, to dissipate. I knew I wasn't! Queers were weak pansies with floppy wrists who giggled loudly and did their hair all the time. Queers were like that perverted creep who flashed at us in the changing shed! The horrible old man with horseshit breath who had tried to feel me up in the evangelist tent at the beach when I was ten, was queer! The unwashed sailor who'd invited Graeme and me onto the bridge of the coastal steamer when we were 12, and then stroked my neck and slipped his hands up my trouser leg, was queer! I'd run for my life from both of them in fear and loathing! The middle-aged man who'd appeared and plonked himself down beside me when I was sunbathing naked in the sand hills when I was 16, was queer. I'd been unable to move when he began to stroke my bum. Brain almost blank with fear, I made excuses so he wouldn't restrain me, grabbed my things and bolted. There was no way I was queer!

I was tougher and fitter and better dressed than just about anyone I knew! I'd been asked to judge the University Beauty Contest that year! That proved I knew about girls. I just wasn't ready yet. I confided my dreadful secret to Waita and he agreed; we were certainly not queers! Nevertheless, we took our gear off his bed and mussed it around to look as if he slept in it.

The year flew by and suddenly Waita was flying to Sydney, from where he set sail for the Solomon Islands, leaving me bereft. I received a postcard from Norfolk Island. Despite having paid for a cabin, the Australian stewards had refused to let him go inside the ship. Cabins were only for whites. He'd had to sleep on deck and beg for food at the galley. Twenty years later he occupied a position of importance in the Solomon Islands government, and Australian officials were wondering why they weren't loved.

In my third year, most of the guys I started with had invested in steady girlfriends who demanded they quit spending so much time with their mates. Several had married. I was Best Man for my best friend's wedding. Coffee-houses and bars were filling with cubic miles of hot air expelled during interminable metaphysical debates.

Increasingly a stranger in a strange land, I booked a berth on a ship that would sail for Europe at the end of the summer break. I'd have gone earlier, but needed the holidays to earn more money. Three years of penny pinching had earned me the fare, but I needed enough to survive for a few months once there.

Modelling jobs for Life Classes had dried up because fat and ugly was the new fad. Popular artistic wisdom decreed that my body type lacked character. I tried manning petrol pumps at an all-night service station, but without my eight or nine hours sleep every night, my brain dissolved, so ended up working weekends in a market garden.

Exams over, I slogged for ten weeks in a grain store where I built up a stunning array of muscles in all the right places, and discovered that labourers can be just as smart, pleasant, interesting, and amusing as academics, and a lot less bitchy.

Then, one star-filled calm evening, two months before my birthday, I waved a tearless farewell as tugs dragged the ship out into the stream. My paranoia had reached alarming proportions. I saw danger on every side. I craved the security of anonymity before my dread secret was revealed. The truly bizarre thing was I had not the faintest idea what that secret was! I just knew I needed a place where I could be 'myself' without fear of condemnation. I longed, as I had not longed for anything in my life, to walk along the streets of a vast city where no one could possibly know me, or care who I was or what I did. It sounds histrionic, but twenty-year-olds are full of noble sentiments and melodrama. That's why they make perfect soldiers – ready to sacrifice their lives for a dream.

"Never will I return," I vowed as the propellers thrashed into life, sending a shudder through the ship that echoed my own shudders of relief.

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