When I was four years old I began taking ballet classes. Clad in a black leotard, pink tights, and pink ballet slippers, my best friend Suzy and I entered the glorified trailer that was the original home of the Augusta West Dance Studio together. In spite of being terrified by the ancient, chain smoking receptionist Tikie and disappointed that I’d have to wait months to wear a tutu on stage, I fell in love instantly. I loved the New York City Ballet towel on the wall. I loved my teachers, Miss Cindy and Miss Diane (and later, Miss Bea). I loved the Coke machine in the dressing room that sold grape soda in tall glass bottles. And, most importantly, I loved to dance.
|The Rainbow Connection – 1982|
Two years of ballet were followed by a year of tap, a few of jazz (oh, the thrill of finally being old enough to take jazz!), and then tap and jazz. Each spring brought the three most exciting days of the dance year: 1) learning what song we’d dance to in the recital, 2) the costume unveiling, and 3) the recital itself, the one time a year we performed on a proper stage. Backstage was magical* and chaotic, as teachers and volunteers tried to wrangle hundreds of excited little girls, swiping aggressively red lipstick across our mouths and begging us to please tinkle before we went on stage.
|Lord only knows but it was tap – 1985|
Performing was great, especially as a front row regular (which I was, thank you very much), but really I just loved dancing. I was a quick learner, which came in handy when I got older and got to go to dance conferences with the Junior Company. Standing in a sea of young women (and a handful of brave young men), learning routines to “U Can’t Touch This” and Madonna’s “Hanky Panky,” I realized I was not one of the best, but I knew was good. And that ain’t bad.
|R.O.C.K. in the USA – 1989|
I gave up dance for the theater in eighth grade, a tough call since I’d been promoted to Apprentice Company. Luckily, I was in chorus at school, and that meant I’d get to dance some. This was long before Glee and the glorification of the show choir. Our routines were not complicated–a few grapevines, step touches, and jazz hands would get us through whether we were singing “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” or the Chiquita Banana song. Once a year we’d spend a whirlwind day and a half with a professional, who would teach us choreography for a 40 minute Broadway** medley, which we performed the evening of the second day. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and my favorite weekend of the year.
|Some Batman-inspired song that wasn’t Batdance – 1990|
I never danced on stage again after high school, but I was an enthusiastic dancer at parties, clubs, bars, weddings, home . . . wherever the spirit moved me. In 2009, five years after my diagnosis, I signed up for a class to learn the ubiquitous “Single Ladies” dance. I enlisted a handful of coworkers to join me and showed up in ancient Umbros and a tee, optimistic but not foolhardy enough to follow the studio’s suggestion that we bring high heels. It started out okay. My brain grasped the steps just like it used to. My body was slower. Still, I hung in there and was terrible but happy. Emboldened, I signed up for a Britney Spears class. Again I started okay, but my body grew clumsier the more tired I got. I rammed hard into the women to my left, apologized, and headed for the bathroom where I cried the ugliest of cries. I knew my balance wasn’t great, but was it really this bad? I pulled myself together enough to finish the class. But I never went back.
|Note the trophy! Dance Makers conference at Myrtle Beach 1990.|
Now I know my limitations. I can indeed throw my hands in the air, but waving them like I just don’t care is not advised. Nor is moving my feet. On a good day, I can shake my ass and move my upper body without support for minutes at a time. Bracing myself against a wall and/or human is usually required. On a rare club visit, I discovered that I do well sandwiched between two people . . . but that isn’t appropriate in most settings.
|Rodgers & Hammerstein medley – 1993|
I often cry at weddings. The ceremony used to be the trigger. Now the tears come when I sit on the sidelines at the reception. How great is grabbing your friend when “Hey Ya” or “Poison” (or whatever your jam might be) comes on and hitting the dance floor in a sort of eternal return*** celebration of who you were and who you are? I’ll tell you: it’s really, really great. I miss walking like a normal person, but I really miss dancing like one.
*The glorious Sutton Foster grew up in my home town and was one ballet class ahead of me. Everyone knew and loved her, and I met her backstage at my first or second recital. She was super nice.
**One year we had the indignity of performing a Beatles medley. Neither the Beatles nor our chorus deserved it.
***I took a religion class in college that was WAY out of my league, and this very cool concept is the one thing I retained from it.