The Road to Lincoln Center is Paved in Ketchup

When I was a professional dancer, I performed in a wide variety of venues. While I loved performing in luscious and grand concert halls, it was the “alternative” spaces that proved to be more memorable.

Someone’s living room in a loft in Bushwick, where your dressing room was literally a closet.  Outdoor festivals with rickety stages the size of a matchbox.  Cold, unforgiving floors in the middle of art galleries that wreaked havoc on your body.

And sometimes, high school gyms and assisted living cafeterias.

The last dance company I performed with survived on grants.  Some of these grants stipulated that the company perform a certain percentage of community outreach.  Lecture demonstrations in public schools and other places became an avenue that successfully fulfilled several critical issues.  The choreographer received money to create their work, while simultaneously educating the general public about their craft.  Plus, it provided us dancers with some good old-fashioned cash.

In any given season, our company would perform at over 30 public schools, to Kindergarteners all the way up to high school kids.

Most of the time, the kids were receptive.  But every now and then we’d get the occasional school that was on the brink of becoming unraveled.  And those kids never gave two shits about watching dance.  They were just happy not to be stuck in a science class taking a test.

We’d also perform at the occasional retirement home.  Usually we’d get placed in the cafeteria, and I’d always come away at the end of a performance smelling like ketchup or mustard or Salisbury steak.

In a similar way, this audience was grateful for the distraction from their normal routine.  Sure, some of them would fall asleep or talk the whole time, but they looked at us differently than the school kids.  There was some appreciation in their eyes, perhaps a bit of nostalgia as well.  And we’d always get the comment from someone that they wish they could move like us.  Just one more time.

Inevitably, one resident did try to take us on.

We were going through our choreography for spacing before the residents were sent down, and one woman had gotten there early.  During a break in our pieces, this vivacious, gregarious woman came out to the performance area and declared, “I still GOT IT!”

Then proceeded to shake what little she had left.  We all stood and watched her, amazed that she could still move so well for her age.

And then I felt something skitter by my foot.

Right as I looked down, the woman shrieked.

“My TEEF!”

In her dancing fervor, her dentures had wiggled free and jettisoned across the room, landing near me.

None of the dancers knew how to react.  We just stood, looking at the woman, trying to judge the situation.  Should we laugh?  CAN we laugh?  Because, man, I really wanted to laugh.

Then she burst out laughing in the best, heartiest belly laugh I’d ever heard and, through her whoops and hollers, mumbled some gummy response about how her teeth wanted to get out and dance as well.

That experience was worth more than the $80 I got paid to perform for her.

It was so memorable that I can still visualize the cafeteria, still smell what they had for lunch, and can still hear the sound of clattering teeth on a hard linoleum floor.

Yes, I might not have had a wildly successful career, or even one where I was paid a lot of money.

But, sometimes, an octegenarians’ teeth and a handful of memories can be enough.


  1. Never in a million years did I expect your ending!!!!! LMAO!!!!! Thanks for cracking me up! You are amazing and I can’t thank you enough for always entertaining me when I come here!!! xoxo
    Kathy Radigan recently posted…Sex, the City and my Mom: a review and a postMy Profile

    • Glad I surprised you a bit, Kathy! Thanks so much for your sweet comment, I really needed it today.

  2. So glad you shared this! You must have had such amazing experiences, and I’m sure you can never get this one out of your mind!
    TK recently posted…Bloggy Reads of the week (7.09.2013)My Profile

  3. Wow ! Amazing experiences you have with you . I am also very fond of dancing and whenever i get chance i perform in events to fulfill my dream of dancing . Its my passion .
    Jones recently posted…Cool Brown Hair Color IdeasMy Profile

  4. This was the best professional dancer doing outreach story ever. “Her TEEF!” Bless her heart. You are better than I. I would have screamed. Or burst out with a huge guffaw.


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