Day 23,705: How My Dad Kept Me Off My Toes.
I was never meant to be a dancer, but it didn’t mean I didn’t try. I got the bug around 9 years old, too old at the time to be considered serious. Frankly, I’m not even sure I got the bug at all. It’s very possible my mother enrolled me for the exercise, one of the few exercises considered good for girls in my day.
Extracurriculars were not like they are today. No one took me. No one stayed while I plied. No one picked me up on a regular basis. In fact, pick up and drop offs of any type were considered real luxuries. I took the bus. Unescorted.
At some point I got good enough to be allowed in the annual performance held at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. My mother wasn’t allowed backstage, did not do my makeup beforehand, and didn’t hover. We were in the hands of the dance instructor and her volunteer corps. The family was in the audience. Being on stage was the first time I experienced dance as fun. It was also the end of my short career.
When we got home that night and after I bubbled about the day, my mother took me aside to let me know it was a great night for sure, but that dancing was done. “Why?” I wanted to know. And here was the answer.
My father could see that I liked it too much and that dance was a difficult career – more so in those days – and it wasn’t the life he wanted for me. Dance lessons were to stop. I had had my run. It’s very likely, the cost of the lessons had been burdensome for some time, but I never knew. It’s equally likely he knew my talents lay elsewhere. It’s also likely he considered it frivolous from the beginning and didn’t consider me as overweight as my mother might have. But that wasn’t the story I was told.
My father rarely made pronouncements about my future, so this pronouncement was taken seriously. I was smart and, therefore, could be a teacher or nurse. Not a dancer. It was delegated to my mother to break the news to me. She must have done a good job because, to my recall,
I didn’t regret giving up the lessons to any large degree. I was sure, however, from a young age, and told many that as much as dance wasn’t my calling, neither was teaching or nursing. I was too much into Lois Lane, Nancy Drew, and Marjorie Morningstar.
In middle school, I met Robin, a lithe serious dancer who was working to qualify for ballet school instead of college. I don’t know how she fared. In middle school I also met Barbara, another serious dancer who, unlike Robin, was not lithe and did not have a dancer’s body. I learned from Barbara to enjoy going to the ballet to watch performances. Last I met Barbara, a much smarter girl than I, she was a bank teller. Her family had even fewer acceptable career choices for her than mine had for me.
In short, I was never the dancer that Robin was, nor the aficionado audience that Barbara was. I was just a kid who took some dance lessons, but they were not in vain. Today I do plies as part of my regular exercise routine and still enjoy seeing others do things I could not dream of achieving.
Years later I came to realize the Paper Mill Playhouse was no small gig. Maybe if my debut performance had been a high school gym, my father may have been less certain of closing the curtain on my dance gig. But, the Paper Mill it was, and my shoes were hung up that day.
Frankly, if truth be told, I more missed taking the bus downtown, and the free time I had getting m back and forth to the studio. Perhaps, that’s what my father was really more worried about – me running amok downtown. I’m sure that was a distinct possibility, more so than me ever being a serious dancer.
Staying Focused on Gun Sanity. The Wear Orange movement was started in 2013 after Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year old majorette, was shot and killed in Chicago after performing as part of President Obama’s second inauguration. Orange, the color worn by hunters so they can be seen in the woods, was designated the color of the ongoing movement to help the nation better also see how our young are being hunted and killed in our streets daily.