After the photo shoot. Ma, The Old Man and Sugar.
I like to dance. I’m lousy at it but that’s beside the point. I have two left feet apparently. I lack rhythm. Poise. And most importantly, grace. I’m a klutz. I bang into door frames and stumble farcically over cracks in the sidewalk. But I flat-out refuse to accept the mountain of corroborating evidence that even though I’m a lousy dancer, I should pack it in altogether. That’s just not going to happen. I may be in denial but I like it. Nothing can stop me from shaking my booty. Strutting my stuff. Tripping the light fantastic. And shuffling off to Buffalo. My personal history has taught me that it may not be such a great idea to dance in public. But in the privacy of my own room, I can boogie on down and dance dance dance.
Little back story. When I was six or seven I started taking ballet, tap and acrobatic lessons from Mrs. M. Although I took lessons for seven years I never really got very far. The writing was on the wall, “This girl needs to take up another activity. Like bowling. Or Paper Mache.” Ma and The Old Man didn’t see it that way though. Just as I am in denial today, they were equally blind back then to the abysmally obvious. They had no perspective when it came to my talent. Or lack thereof. I was their child. Everything I did delighted them. As it should be. But the truth is, I knew, and Mrs. M. knew, that I was never going to be the next Anna Pavlova.
My memories of Mrs. M. are vague and sketchy at best. Blurry little reveries of wooden floors and pointy toes fused with young girlie scents and self-conscious glances. Unlike Terpsichore, Mrs. M. did not find me amusing. No, I was not her muse. And unlike Ma and The Old Man, she did not take delight in my dance. But she was my teacher for seven years and I do give her top marks for perseverance and tolerance. And for not telling my parents to take my ballet shoes and go home. I was also irrationally terrified of her. In my mind she was at least 75 years old and monstrous. Realistically she was probably only 45, but when you’re seven and small, anything over thirty is ancient and intimidating.
I wanted nothing more than to have made my inept body perform better. But it just wouldn’t. In addition to lacking rhythm, poise and grace, I lacked flexibility. Especially in my legs and lower back. Having pliable stretchy elastic Gumby body parts in these two areas is undoubtedly advantageous. This particularly comes in handy when performing moves like “the splits.” I don’t advise that any human over the age of thirty attempt doing these. At least not without an Emergency Medical Team on hand to revive you and uncork your legs. Even the sound of the word hurts. Splits. OUCH.
I remember practicing. Diligently. Tenaciously. Willing my legs to flatten. Forcing them downwards towards the floor. Long before I knew what visualization was, I would lie in bed and see my skinny bowed legs getting closer and closer to the floor. It was painful. Eventually I got pretty close. If I scootched my bum just right, sort of off-kilter and leaning towards one side, it sorta-kinda looked like I was doing “it.” And that pretty much summed up everything about my dance career. I got close, and as Groucho Marx or W.C. Fields put it, “but no cigar.”
In what would be my final year of lessons, I got to participate in the annual dance recital. The Dance Revue. Two horrifying nights of performances on a Friday and Saturday, in June. I still have the blue and green program from the evening. My last name was spelled wrong throughout. In the program it proclaims that in the first half of the evening I performed in three of the “Varieties” called Recital Time, Destination Moon and Tumblers. After the Intermission, that lasted precisely 3 minutes according to the program, I also performed in a dance called Flowers Awaken in the “In A Flower Garden” feature. It goes without saying, I was a supporting player, not a soloist like Donna M or Bernice H or Barbara C or Wendy W. I probably secretly hated all of those girls. A Prima, I was not. I didn’t even make it into the Grand Finale “Around The World” feature, of which there were sixteen. You think she could have at least thrown me into the back row of Chantez Chantez or Canada The Hop Scotch Polka. Everyone seemed to be in those little numbers. Except me.
Ma made all of my costumes. Lovingly. Tenderly. Ardently. I thought they were divine. Worthy of a Princess. A Prima Ballerina. I still have those too. They’re wrapped in tissue and stored in a McNulty’s box in my storage closet. I can still feel my mother’s touch on the fabric. And it breaks my heart.
Recital Time was a snappy little tap ditty. The fabric for this costume looked like it once adorned Ma’s kitchen table. A hot pink checkered gingham number with puffy little pants and a bib-like top tied in a bow at the nape of my neck. The piece de resistance was the pointy little hat, that closely resembled a New Year’s Eve Party Favor or a small dunce cap. I think I wore the same costume for Destination Moon because the hat could also work as the nose cone of a rocket. For Tumblers I wore a simple black leotard with tights and black ballet slippers. My leotard was the wrong kind. All the other Tumblers had leotards with short sleeves. I was self-conscious and embarrassed by the lack of sleeves on mine. I never told Ma she bought the wrong kind but it was plain to see I had four inches of uncovered flesh on my upper arms. In Flowers Awaken I wore an orangey rust colored tutu made of satin and crinoline with fake silk flowers strategically attached to my torso. But thankfully there were no hats.
Ma and The Old Man thought I was marvelous, none the less. Before the recital they took photographs. They turned our living room into a photography studio. Truth was, it was nothing like a photo studio. The developed pictures were proof of that. They draped a white sheet over our floral curtains, moved the chair and end table aside and snapped away with our six-20 Brownie Junior camera. I posed in front of the sheet in my three costumes. The serious tap dancer. The smiling ballerina. The perplexed tumbler, almost doing the splits. And then after the photo session, I took a picture of the two of them with our dog Sugar, wedged helplessly between my father’s legs.
There they are, my two biggest fans. The ones who took me to lessons for seven years. Made my costumes. Applauded the loudest. Fought back tears of pride. Cherished my performances. Showered me in kisses filled with admiration. I was their tiny dancer. They were incapable of seeing my flaws. My faulty performance. And the gap between my skinny bowed legs and the hardwood floor.