Every adolescent remembers the adults who were his or her most important teachers. Sometimes the most.influential are not the official ones in school, at church, at clubs, or in organized sports. Sometimes the adult who teaches best and influences most is the unlikeliest candidate in town.
Dancing Carl is about the lessons in living and loving that two adolescent boys, Marsh and Willy, learn from Carl Wenstrom. Known to the boys as "Dancing Carl" because of his strange yet graceful movements on the ice rink, he is an unlikely teacher. He often appears drunk in public, seldom changes his clothes, lives in a corner of the warming house at the town skating rink, and is the subject of local gossip. A hundred rumors fly about him: he is mentally unbalanced because of his war experiences; he drinks because of some deep guilt; he hides some awful criminal past; he escaped from a mental institution.
Yet Carl is admirable in many ways. He drives bullies from the hockey rink by the mere force of his steady gaze. Amid the chaos of the warming house he kindly helps children with skates and jackets. When a new woman comes to town and skates at the rink, Carl acts like a knight of the Round Table in wooing her. Gradually his reputation among the town's adults changes, but only Marsh and Willy learn the hidden story which his dancing tells.