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.

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.

Getting a leg up…

Back in the day…

I didn’t think that dancing twice a week really had that much of an impact on my physical condition. I mean, I’ve been dancing for so long that it isn’t really aerobic exercise. In most rehearsals, if we weren’t running the show, there was a lot of down time; sitting around waiting for my part to come up, hanging out in the dressing room while the company ran a piece I wasn’t in; lots of stops and starts.

But it’s been four long months since I’ve danced. It’s the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken. I didn’t even take that long of a break after having my kids. Initially I thought I’d really enjoy giving my body a rest from the pounding it had taken over the years. But now? Man, I miss it.

I miss the physicality of it, the three-dimensional movement through space, the power and strength and flow and energy of dancing. I’ve tried giving myself a barre here at home a couple of times a week, but it sure doesn’t compete with the rigor of class.

Here in Ohio, however, my options are extremely limited. When we moved to Denver from NYC, I thought I was nailing the coffin shut on my dance career, but was pleasantly surprised by how much dance there was in Colorado. Hoping to find the same experience here in Ohio, I’ve been met with the opposite: a stunning realization that there ain’t a whole lot going on.

What I also didn’t expect to miss was the extra calorie burn I didn’t even know I was getting.   Don’t even get me started on how rapidly I’ve been gaining weight. At first I thought maybe I had a thyroid problem, that’s how fast I was packing pounds on. Sure, maybe I need to get on a more consistent pooping schedule, but I haven’t been this big since I was pregnant with the kids. Guess I took those hours of dancing for granted. Gone with my slimmer figure is also my core strength, rotation, and flexibility. It only took two months for my body to shut down and feel old. Like a wheel grinding to a screeching halt.

While I’ll save the emotional toll this has taken for a later post, right now I’m trying to recover my body from the bowels of Couchpotatoville. I know it’s a long slow process, but I’m determined to get back in the game. I’ve started going to the gym again, taking a yoga class once or twice a week from a teacher that gently but firmly pushes me. And I’ve gotten my ass on the elliptical machine.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

The last time I used these evil contraptions cardio machines, when it asked me my age and blinked that “35″ as the magic middle age, I had to press the DOWN button a couple of times to get to my correct age.  Now?  I have to press the UP arrow.  A few times.  Man, that stinks.  At least I still get to press the down arrow for weight, because if I had to pound on the up arrow, the gym would get an shitstorm of obscenities.

Even though I’m trying to get active again, it still doesn’t compare to how my body felt while dancing.  Months ago, I felt strong, vibrant, toned and sturdy.   Now I feel rickety, brittle, and…aged.  It feels a little like starting over, or more like I’m starting from zero.   It’s a hard journey back to feeling strong again, but I’m determined to work on it.  I can’t continue to feel the way I do, it’s not healthy.  Physically or mentally.

Plus, I can’t afford to buy new pants.

What do you do when you’re in a physical rut?  How do you get yourself back on track?

Drive-by post…

I’d love to stay and chat for a while, really I would.  I’m typing this while also attempting to get my gear together to head to the theater, wrangle the kids’ stuff for the pool for then the sitter arrives, answering emails and trying to stretch.  Oh, and add “trying not to throw my daughter’s monitor across the room because she defiantly avoids nap on the day I most need it.”  I’m thisclose to starting my period so I’m a hormonal mess.  Child #2 is on my hit list for the day….

Gone are the days when I could relax and pamper myself on show days.  Prior to kids, I would try to sleep in, take a nice long hot shower, eat a late lunch, maybe get a massage, make sure I had adequate hydration, do some yoga or something before heading to the studio.  

Today?  Let’s see…   I’ve been up since the crack of dawn; dropped my son off at camp; took my daughter to dance class; spent an hour taking her on errands (all the while fending off pleas of “I want this…I need that…” ; made lunch for Miss P, our bird, and finally myself – Doritos were the most nutritious thing on the menu…; put P down for a nap that she didn’t take; and avoided a colossal meltdown (that would be MY meltdown, not anyone under the age of 6).  I have yet to do one thing to prepare myself for this grueling show ahead.  I will be stretching in the car.  I have just had my first few sips of water for the day at 3:30pm.   There’s a big box of Target box wine on the counter with my name on it, and if it’s gone by the time I get home tonight, hell hath no fury like a PMSing mother. 

As they say in the dance world before a show…MERDE

Merde indeed…

Was that a tumbleweed that just rolled by this blog?

Yeah, yeah, I know.  I haven’t posted anything lately.  In case you missed my post about The Unitard, I had a show last weekend.  Which involves lots of extra rehearsals where you stand around for hours in costumes, under toasty bright lights, alternating between trying to get warm, then dancing, then getting cold again, and repeat.  As an aging dancer, it’s brutal on the body.  And I’m not used to spending that much time away from home, which has check marks in both the Pros and Cons columns.  The show itself went really well, although the audience was less than plentiful.  I can’t blame them, I wouldn’t have traveled out in the snow on a weekend night to see dance either if I wasn’t getting paid for it.  But I felt pretty good about my performance, anyway.  Sunday was spent in Recovery Mode, resting a body that felt like it had been run over by a stampede and eating everything in sight.  I’m only now feeling like I’ve re-entered my life’s atmosphere and it’s, what, Wednesday?  Yikes.

And if last week wasn’t enough, I have tomorrow to look forward to.  Jury Duty.  That’s right.  Eight hours serving my civic duty.  I’m totally dreading it.  It’s not just the worry of serving on a jury and all the strain that puts on my role as Mother should I get selected and have to scramble for childcare, or even the hours of trying to kill time before the end of the day.  It’s the stress of getting out the door at an ungodly hour in the morning with two kids.  By myself.  I basically have to leave at 7:15am.  AM!!  That’s 15 minutes before Miss P usually wakes up for the day.  Both kids have to be dropped off at before-care and sit there for hours before school starts, then stay much longer in the afternoon.  The guilt that coincides with that is overwhelming.  It’s just one day though, right?  9-10 hours of daycare never killed anyone, right?  RIGHT?  Reassure me, please!

On a slightly different note, I may have also landed a job!  I can’t really talk about it yet, but it’s part-time and I’d work from home a few hours a day.  It might mean getting up at the crack of dawn, and figuring out how to work around getting some one down for a nap poses its challenges.  And I might not even get it.  But I’m hopeful about the possibility of using my brain in non-parent mode, and bringing in a scant amount of bacon.  It might just make the cost of therapy easier to swallow…