The Rumba danceWe had no discos, in fact we never heard anything about discos in the early sixties and we knew not what discos were. We knew about nightclubs and cabarets where big towns like Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur had them. Even our neighbouring districts of Batu Pahat and Malacca had them but Muar town during my growing days had none of these. The Muar Grand Paradise was more of an amusement park and although we heard there was something like a night club operating inside the area, we were not too keen to enter the premise as it was thought to be notorious with many elderly women entertaining their male clients. This entertainment outlet became famously known among my Muar contemporaries as ‘kopi korek’. I have not been into one and so don’t bother to ask me why they termed it as ‘kopi korek’.

To be modern in our own ways and to keep abreast with the ever increasing western influence, we organized house parties. That was about the only entertainment where boys and girls could get together, talked about some school subjects and asking some silly questions like ‘how’s your mother?’ when we didn’t even have a single clue how she looked like.

When we attended house parties, we must not just talk and waste out time asking some silly questions, we must be able to dance as well. House parties were not often organized because not many parents of my time were sporting enough to let their houses turned into a ‘mini nightclub’. So when we got ourselves invited to a house party, we’d better get ourselves well prepared and the most important of all was to be able to dance.

The first dancing steps I learned was the Rumba steps taught by Sahak Doktor. We were going to a party in three weeks’ time and this time we planned to dance with some girls. We had attended some house parties lately but we never danced because we did not know how to dance and this time we were adamant to dance during this coming party and to make it a night to remember. Halim, Yem and me had asked Sahak Doktor to teach us how to dance and he was ever willing to give us a helping hand. The venue was in my room and the time would be tomorrow after lunch.

That day after lunch Sahak Doktor came bringing along a portable turn table and two EP records. It was of course that of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. The three of us had waited for him immediately after our lunch and we were very excited. Sahak Doktor was a fine dancer and could dance many interesting steps. Our first lesson was the Rumba Steps and we would be dancing to the tune of ‘It’s Now Or Never’.

“Now, you watch how I dance and observe the movements of my legs”, Sahak began and the three of us nodded.

The song began and Sahak started his dancing skill of the Rumba steps with both his hands pretending to be holding the hip of his partner. While exhibiting his dancing skill, he uttered the numerical of ‘one, two, three and four’ in tandem with the movements of his legs. We watched attentively and were very eager to be able to dance. Yem was already dreaming of inviting a Chinese girl he admired named Bella. She lived in Jalan Othman, quite close to the town center. When the song ended, the three of us had some clue and were ready to begin our first lesson.

“Now follow me”, Sahak said as he took his position with the three of us behind him. Just like him, we pretended to be holding the hip of our partner. “Remember, begin with your right leg followed by the left and on the third beat use your first leg again and so on”, explained Sahak as we stood still waiting for the music. Sahak then put on the record and we began our first dancing lesson. It took Elvis having ‘to sing’ more than ten times before we could grasp the tempo.

Then Sahak told us to demonstrate our lesson individually and Yem was the first. “You’d better do it right, otherwise Bella would not be going to parties with you”, I said to Yem while Halim was smiling behind me.

When Yem began his dancing steps, Sahak thought he looked like a dead wood moving around the room and suggested that he sway his buttocks to the tune of the song. When Yem swayed his buttocks he looked more like the ‘kuda kepang’ dancer and we all laughed out loud. Then it was my turn and I did no better. I could not reconcile moving my two legs in tandem with the song. Sahak had to coach me over and over and it was Yem’s turn to laugh at me. When Halim took his turn it was even worse. He was seen dancing like the ‘ronggeng’ with his legs moving towards every direction. Sahak was however a very patience teacher and was very dedicated in his teaching skills.

In the midst of learning our dancing lesson, suddenly Elvis’ voice turned weird and the music tempo became slower and slower. The batteries were worn out and so we all chipped in to buy new batteries for the turn table. Halim volunteered to buy them at the nearby mamak sundry shop ‘kedai Kadir’. While waiting for Halim, Yem and me did our lesson without the music watched attentively by Sahak. I thought it was easier dancing the Rumba steps without the music. When Halim returned with the new batteries, we resumed our lesson until evening. On our first day of learning, we managed to dance with the steps according to the tempo and the song beat and we began to like it. When Sahak Doktor went home that evening, he left behind the turn-table so that we could keep on practicing.

After our dinner, Halim and Yem came to my room and we practiced dancing the Rumba steps on our own. After few rounds of “Its Now Or Never”, we were confident that we were now able to dance. When both Halim and Yem went home, I practiced on my own and I danced looking at the mirror grinning alone. That night I dreamt I was dancing with Sandra Dee watched by Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard.

The next morning after school was over, Sahak Doktor came to continue our dancing lesson. When he watched our movements, he was satisfied with our progress. The next lesson was how to dance with a real live partner. Sahak pretended to be the female partner and Yem began first.

Later we realized that dancing with a real live partner was quite difficult. We had to make sure our steps were perfect otherwise in no time we’d be stepping onto her toes. Somehow Sahak was quite satisfied that the three of us could dance.

“Ok guys, now we move on to the final lesson and that is to converse with your partner while dancing”, Sahak said. “First, you must plan the right subject to talk about and stop asking silly questions like ‘how’s your mother’.” continued Sahak acting like a professional dancing teacher. “Your focus should be on your dancing partner and so you must her questions relating to her own life, not her mother or father”. Yem listened to Sahak’s lecture very attentively because he needed some materials to converse when dancing with Bella. She was a Convent girl and quite talkative. Every evening he would cycle in front of her house hoping that she would be doing some gardening. Sometime he would ask me to cycle with him and if Bella was outside the house, then I would just cycle home alone.

A week had passed and by now we were very confident that we could dance with a real live female partner as well as conversing with her while dancing. In two week’s time, there was a house party and we were invited. Every night Yem practiced conversing with Bella while dancing.

It was a cold evening as the whole day it had been drizzling. The sun was always covered by dark clouds during the day and when night fell, the climate of Muar town was like somewhere in the northern part of England. That evening, Muar youth cycled to town with most wearing long sleeves turtle neck and few others with mufflers tied around their necks. The girls wore waist coats specially knitted by their mothers and those with skirts had long socks that almost reached the ankle but their skirts still looked like the one worn by Sandra Dee.

The party began at around 8.00pm and the three of us were ready. Yem was very disappointed because Bella could not make it as she had to go to Tangkak for some family gathering and dinner. Before we left for the party, we practiced the Rumba steps at the tembok of my house and we did it with confidence.

The three of us began cycling and stopped at the mamak sundry shop to buy some ‘Hacks’ sweets. These sweets were most ideal when conversing with your dancing partners erasing every possibility of bad breath. We bought a packet of ‘Gold Leaf’ of ten costing forty cents and these cigarettes became our company while not dancing. School children like us should not be smoking but we did it because we wanted to be ‘progressive’ and ‘keeping with the trend’. I smoked about two to three sticks a day and sometime none at all.

The house where the party was held was situated along Jalan Timbalan off Jalan Abdul Rahman. The area was once where most of the top government servants stayed. Most houses were very British in design with some with a Tudor façade denoting a style of architecture characterized by half-timbered with colours of black and white. The compound was very spacious with a small round-about right in front of the doorstep. The lane leading to the house stood tall palm trees and some big oak-like trees where during midnights owls hooted for female companions. The night was chilly and the flow of invitees was gaining momentum with some gate-crashers pretending to be among them.

We parked our bicycles at the front facing the main road in between many other bicycles parked earlier. We noticed many familiar faces; Salleh Uzir the cassanova, Zainal wearing a bright coloured muffler, Farouk with a long sleeve of black and white stripe and there was our dancing teacher Sahak Doktor but that night he wasn’t wearing his father’s overcoat. Kadar drove his father’s latest Mercedez Sports parked in between a Ford Prefect and a Fiat 600.

The girls came mostly driven by their fathers and some fetched by their boyfriends. Those arriving solo would received the most attention by the single males. Their skirts displayed sparkling colours of the sixties. The night was chilly and looked like not many Rumba songs would be played and they’d better had Elvis’ “Its Now Or Never” in their list of songs.

Sahak Doktor came to us after half-an hour of songs and dancing enquiring why weren’t we on the floor. There had been quite a number of songs with the Rumba beat and we didn’t know that. We told him that we could only dance the Rumba when Elvis’ “Its Now Or Never” was in the air and that song had been played earlier. Unfortunately no girls was available at our disposal. He laughed at us and told us that the Rumba beat could be found in many songs, not just “Its Now Or Never”. But we told him that we were not ready to dance the Rumba on other songs. He laughed even louder and told us that unless we had the courage to dance, we would never be able to make it for a long time. In other word we’d better dance now or never.

We did not dance that night but we enjoyed watching others danced. We were only thirteen years old and we had plenty of time to improve our courage. In the months and years to come, we were the center of attraction when it came to dancing. By then we had learned many other steps; the Foxtrot, the Twist, the Limbo Rock, the Baby Elephant Walk, the Hand Jive and few other interesting steps. We learned how to jive from Zainal who was an expert in jiving. The only dancing steps we did not learn was how to tango because not many Muar girls liked to tango.

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  1. Harith says:

    Baby Elephant Dance!…I remember this catchy song…but this song or music also relevant for school kids…whereby we will all hold each other’s back or bump and walk like a baby elephant and in a circle. In those days when the cassete tape has yet to be invented, our teacher will play this song using the 1/4″ tape spool with the other spool empty and the player was as big and heavy as a luggage that will take you somewhere for a few days.

    But unfortunately during my heydays, I missed the chance of going to such parties as the ones you had…maybe my network of friends not so big

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