When Dancers Aren’t Graceful

As a dancer, it’s sorta my job to have control over my body, to be in command of every muscle and fiber so that I can move through space in a physical art form. I think that’s why most people assume that dancers are graceful people offstage as well.

But for me, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

dancers aren't graceful

Recently, I had to attend a photo shoot for a dance company I’d only rehearsed with twice.  I didn’t really know anyone in the company well either, so I already felt a bit self-conscious.

Now, let me pause here and state that I am not in what I would say is my “fighting shape.” It’s been over two years since I have danced consistently, and I’ve lost a bit of strength and stability, which translates to “I’m not feeling as spry as I used to.”

Given all of that, yeah, why not get in front of a camera and try to look photogenic in a room full of strangers? Sounds like a great idea! What could possibly go wrong?

Because there was no set choreography yet to capture, the photographer crammed the three other dancers of the piece and me on a tiny square of dark grey background paper, and under very little direction, asked us to improvise a bit to get some photos taken.

If you’re thinking, “Man, that sounds awkward,” you’re completely correct.

It had about the same result you’d think it would: odd, ill-composed photos with perplexed looking dancers.

To change things up a bit, the choreographer decided to have us improvise one at a time.  We were directed to perform a few movements to get about four to five photos a piece, then exit so that the next person could run on in to the frame and start dancing.

I stood on the side, waiting my turn, and when it was time, I did what I was told.

I ran on.

And as soon as my foot hit the grey paper, I started to slide.

Like, in slow motion. Limbs flailing. Unable to prevent disaster.

Down I went, like an exaggerated banana-peel-on-the-sidewalk skit, all the while screeching like an opera singer.


In any other situation, like with my last company for example, once I hit the ground and assured folks I was physically okay, everyone would have gotten a good chuckle. Heck, I might have even peed my pants a teeny bit from laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of the situation.

But in this instance, no one was laughing. Well, I kind of was. But then I quickly stopped when I realized that everyone was just staring at me, stunned, mouths agape, not sure what to make of this aging lunatic that had just flung herself on the ground like a fish out of water.

After I lay there on the floor for what felt like 24 hours, the photographer finally ran over, and I thought, “Oh, thank God, someone is coming to my aid.”

But really?  He was just trying to frantically save his background paper, smoothing out the edges and re-taping the whole thing down so that we could get on with the shoot.

The choreographer and the other dancers eventually started to make sure I was all right, and I reassured them that the only thing hurt was my pride as I lurched myself upright.

But deep down? I was mortified. Humiliated. And I certainly did not want to get my picture taken anymore.

It was all I could do not to pack up my gear, dramatically sling my bag over my shoulder, and yell “that’s it, I’m outta here!” before storming out and slamming the door behind me.

But I didn’t.

See? I tried to take the high road. The mature route. The harder option. Even though it sucked balls.

One of the dancers tried to make me feel better and tell me that it wasn’t as bad as I imagined, and that I fell very gracefully. To which, I giggled politely while hiding my tears and thanked her for trying to make me feel better.

However, the crinkled marks on the background paper told a different story of disaster and defeat.

I couldn’t high tail it out of the studio fast enough once the photo shoot was over, and having a week where I didn’t have to face the same people helped heal my wounds. So, now? I’m almost over it. Almost.

Thankfully, the photographer swears he didn’t capture my embarrassing moment on film but I am waiting for some kind of GIF of me falling over and over on a loop to make it’s way on the Internet sometime soon.

When folks like Jennifer Lawrence fall in front of an audience of millions, it’s adorable and endearing.

But when I fall in a room full of people I barely know, in a situation where I’m supposed to, you know, move like I’ve been dancing forever, I just fall flat.


After a couple of days, I could tell the story and laugh about it. Because, c’mon, falling is pretty funny.

I guess it just goes to show that I’m never too old or too experienced to get humbled. That life will continue to knock me down, and it’s up to me to decide if I’m going to get up and storm out of the room, or stand up and get my picture taken, red-faced and all.

With grace, of course.


Do you have any embarrassing stories you can share to make me feel better? 

The Father Daughter Dance

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you were probably flooded with tons of photos this weekend.  Dads in suits.  Daughters in dresses.  Maybe with a corsage.

And it could only mean one thing.  A Father Daughter Dance.

Father Daughter Dance

And if you’re my friend on Facebook, you saw my posts, too.  My four year-old daughter was escorted to her first dance by her father, who was just as excited as she was.

We got the invitation a month ago, and before even asking my daughter if she wanted to go, my husband was all in.  But would my daughter want to attend?

Do unicorns fart rainbows?

Of COURSE she wanted to go.  How could she not want to attend The Ball of the Elementary School circuit?

Let’s consult some criteria for my little girl’s party attendance, shall we?:

  • Would she be able to dress up?  Yes.
  • Would this be an excuse for glitter?  Of course.
  • Would she be able to eat cake and spin and twirl to the brink of vomit?  Absolutely.

My daughter is a girlie girl.  One who bites at that Disney romanticism of princesses and balls and true love hook, line and sinker.

She loves wearing dresses.  If it sparkles, it’s beautiful in her eyes.  There are enough princess costumes in our house to outfit an entire preschool class.

And yet, she also has a hard edge that I love about her.  She likes pink and purple, but her favorite outfit du jour is her all-black goth ensemble.  My little girl rocks a tutu over jeans like nobody’s business.  She would wear my son’s old Darth Vader costume in a heartbeat.

Still, she’s a firm believer that date nights require shunning pants in lieu of more frilly attire.

So, we went to a department store and picked out a dress for her big night.  It was understated, with just enough sparkles, but with plenty of fabric to fan out like a tent when she spun around.

As we stood in line to check out, she asked what I would be wearing when her brother and I went on our big night out while she was at the dance – Steak ‘n’ Shake and the LEGO movie.  I told her “probably jeans and a sweater.”

Oh no…you can’t go like that.  Here, Mommy.  HERE’S what you need to wear on your date with my brother…

And then, she dragged me to a mannequin donning a floor length, single-shoulder, pink and orange ombré prom gown with a bedazzled waistline and shockingly asymmetrical back cutout.  Oh, and don’t forget the train.

I respectfully declined.  Can you imagine showing up to the 6:45 LEGO movie, surrounded by tween boys, in sequins and chiffon?

But I digress. Back to my daughter….

She knew that the Father Daughter dance was a special occasion.  One she’d get to play dress-up for.  We even went to a kiddie salon and got her hair done for her big date.  Because Mommy has two styles in her arsenal:  Down.  And disheveled ponytail.

However, I was concerned that I was feeding in to the beauty frenzy.  Fueling that all-too-well-known insecurity and concern with appearances.  That I was sending her the wrong message.

So in exchange, I went well out of my way to let her know that she didn’t need a sparkly dress, fancy hair or a schmear of lipstick to be gorgeous.  That she was a strong, smart girl who was beautiful inside and out, just the way she was.

But you know what?  She didn’t care.  She wanted to be transported.  For one night, she wanted to feel like a princess.  Glamorous.  Fancy.  With a touch of gloss.  And I’m glad I got to help her feel special for that Father Daughter dance.  Feminism be damned!

Well…just for one night.

Let’s just hope that whatever date she happens to bring to her first real dance, he’s as excited and adoring and gentlemanly as her father.


Has your daughter attended a Father/Daughter dance?  Did she find it magical?

Be sure to continue the conversation by leaving a comment below, on or .

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.

From one dancer to another…

dancer It’s recital season!  Time to get our children primped and ready for the stage.  Some for the very first time.

Like my daughter.

This Saturday she will debut her dancing body for all the world (or at least a high school auditorium full of parents) to see.   She can’t contain her excitement about it either.  Her costume is ready.  We’ve even bought makeup.  And she’s been practicing every chance she can get.

It’s weird to see my daughter prepare for a dance concert.  It’s not anything like my experience as a professional.  At her age, she’ll get to run her 1.5 minute piece once at dress rehearsal, then that’s it until the show, when she’s to arrive no more than 30 minutes prior to the start of her recital.  One of six going on that day.

Six. Freaking. Recitals.

She’ll get herded in to a classroom with 50 other kids where she’ll be expected to sit quietly for over an hour, but instead will probably run as wild as she can until her hair bow falls out and she looks like the Tasmanian Devil.  She will get on stage without any warmup and dance her heart out to Julie Andrews.  And it will be the best day of her entire life.

When I was a professional, performance week was a stress-inducing string of long nights and mad dashes to Target for last minute costume, hair and makeup items.  Slap on parenting and working on top of it, and by the time the show arrived, I was almost wanting it to be over already.

I said almost.

But not when I was young.  As a kid, I LOVED recital time.  I felt fancy in my costumes, like a “real dancer.” I relished in the energy of backstage (or the large janitor’s closet of the Shriners building.  Whatever.).   But mostly I looked forward to the giant ice cream sundae that awaited me after the show.

As I helped my daughter get ready for her dress rehearsal, a few old tricks of the trade came to mind. Things I hadn’t thought about in a while, but had taken for granted knowing as a dancer.  Things my daughter might need to know, from one dancer to another.

Like how to go to the bathroom in full costume without taking your leotard all the way off.  (Hint: it’s easier if everything is made of a stretchy lycra/polyester blend).

Or even better, the ability to completely remove your tights without getting fully undressed.  Knowing how to shimmy and a bit of flexibility can go a long way.  I remember doing this in the front seat of the car on the way home from dance classes, hoping no truckers peered down to see what I was doing.

As I got older, other weird things I learned were tidbits like the magic of baby powder as a sweat and odor mask.   That it was helpful to always have superglue on hand for splits.  Oddly, hairspray works wonders on static clingy costumes.

I had all sorts of rituals during performance week. If dress went well, I had to wear the same warm up clothes every night of the show.  I could only eat certain foods at very specific times.

I had to get ready in a specific order:   a bit of basic makeup in the dressing room, followed by class, my own warm up where I’d make sure to get in certain exercises, then running specific parts of pieces.  Then back to the dressing room for the rest of my makeup, do my hair, put on my costume, perform some weird yoga breathing and I’m off.

And it all had to be done in that order.

I believe my daughter’s order will be:  Fight with Mommy while getting makeup done, get in costume, get out of costume to go potty, get back in costume, play Ring Around The Rosey until on the verge of puking, then head on stage.

As it should be.

So, as you send your babies off to their recitals this week, let me leave you with one last insider tip.

It is forbidden to say “Break a leg” or “Good luck” to a dancer before a show.  Instead, if you really want to feel “in the know”, you should tell them MERDE.

For those of you up on your high school French slang, it means Poop.  Or Shit.  Take your pick.

The history being that in the time of horse-drawn carriages (and lots of horse dookie around), when dancers walked in to the theater, they’d warn each other not to step in the poop, or “merde.”  Basically, a fancier way of saying “watch your step.”

Saturday, will mark my daughter’s first dance performance, and a first for me, too.  The first time I will watch her perform.  The first time I will catch that excitement in her eyes that I remember so well.  The first time I will applaud crazily for her after she blows her kiss and marches off stage.

And the first time I will tell her merde.

Merde, tiny dancer. Merde.




Dorothy the dancer…

We spent last week down in Orlando, visiting Jon’s family for a big celebration.  His grandfather turned 90 years old and his grandparents celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.  There was a big party filled with all sorts of relatives in a beautiful garden.  Let me tell you, nothing makes you appreciate your youth more than spending New Year’s Eve with a bunch of octogenarians.

Photo by Melanie Holtsman via Flickr

Photo by Melanie Holtsman via Flickr

Since we were down in Mickeytown, we hit up some parks, but avoided Magic Kingdom because we’d heard the crowds were ridonkulous with the opening of the new Fantasyland.

Lest we let our kids suffer character withdrawal, we compromised by making a reservation at Cape May Cafe for a character breakfast our last morning in town.

Say what you will about buffets, but I love the food here.  Little mini-waffles shaped like Mikey Mouse!  Five different types of egg dishes!  Buttermilk biscuits so rich they’ll give you a coronary!

The kids loved stalking Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy and went nuts every time one of them passed by.  I feel fairly confident that Miss P goosed Donald in a effort to get his attention.

But my favorite part of the experience?  Meeting our waitress.

Dorothy. photo-2This little old lady with a hearty New York accent who bent over backwards giving us refills and letting us know when a character was on his way.

As I got to talking to her, I discovered that she was a retired dancer.  And the former nerd Specialist in me jumped out and started prodding her with all sorts of questions.  Hearing her story. Wishing I could have lived that life.

Working in the stacks of one of the most prestigious dance collections in the world, I came across some pretty amazing people.  Sure, I ran in to some crazies too.  But the older dancers had such fantastic backgrounds.  Some of them came in to volunteer, and once they’d start in on their tales, I couldn’t help but listen.  Even if I’d heard that story a few times already.

The dancers of that generation seem to have had a blast.  There was more work.  Work that took them places.  Places more exotic than the L train to some sketchy loft-turned-studio in Bushwick.

Living here in Ohio, the dance community seems so spread out, so sparse, so disconnected.  I long for that feeling of community.  That satisfaction of working.  And, to some degree, the aches and pains that come with working your body too hard for too long.

One day, I’ll finally be able to let go of this feeling that I’m a shell of a dancer. An imposter.  A fake.  A phoney.  Either I’ll find motivation to jump back in to the studio, or I’ll feel ready to say goodbye.

Whatever happens, whenever that is, I hope one day I’ll come across a stranger 30 years younger than me and find out we have this art form in common.  That she may want to ask me questions about my career.  And that I’ll be able to answer her with a smile on my face, a fond look in my eye, and have the warmth to take a photo with her.