Dance it out

For about 20 minutes every Friday evening, I am home alone. 

This is not a frequent occurrence in this life I've built. It only happens if I time my work departure well, if I duck out a few minutes early and catch the right train. If that happens, then I get home before my husband and my toddler, who are jamming away at baby music class. I walk in to an empty apartment, a tornado of toys and stuffed animals and sippy cups on my living room floor, to lights on in every room. 

There is always a text from my husband: I left a mess. Sorry. I'll clean it up. 

But I don't care about the mess, it can wait. Instead, I put on music and I throw myself a solo dance party, because goddammit, I deserve it. 

What I look like, probably.

What I look like, probably.

These days I am all into Carly Rae Jepsen, because her new album is poppy and bright and makes me feel like I am running through a field of technicolor daisies, and I blare it and I shimmy and I jump and I slither and I laugh. I get excited. 

I am an old lady but I could move well, once. As a kid I danced and tumbled and cheered, and in my twenties you could find me in hotel bars, moving to whatever beat was playing, powered on dirty martinis and youth. 

When I was pregnant and on vacation with my friends I danced, we all danced, and I realized I had lost my rhythm. My balance was all off, what with my belly and all that excess energy and heat. And I don't think it's come back, because I can't quite find that rhythm-is-gonna-get-cha groove I used to find so easily. But I don't care. 

I love getting older, but if there's anything sad about it it's that your opportunities to dance just decrease. 

So I'm making my own opportunities. 

Dancing shoes

astonish-me-by-maggie-shipsteadI'm reading a book set partly in the ballet world (Astonish Me, Maggie Shipshead) and eavesdropping on three young men, dancers too, on the A train tonight, talking about how their new choreographer actually respects them, how this dance is different from the others before it. How this choreographer saved them from walking out that day, from quitting dance altogether. Dancing is a commitment. If you ask me I'll tell you I was a dancer as a kid, but as an adult it's pretty clear that what I did back then wasn't dance, it was mime. Routines, memorized. Sometimes when the lights were just right, bouncing off the sequins dangling from our headbands, it was more than that, maybe, but only sometimes. At my tiny dancing school in New Jersey in the 1980s, dance was a jazz warm-up set to Janet Jackson; a series of back walkovers set to (still inexplicably) an old, slow, sad song called "Send in the Clowns." Dance was French braids backstage, blue eyeshadow, long rides in our minivan, clouds of hairspray. Dance was missing out on school field trips to Ellis Island because there was an important dance competition in rural Pennsylvania, and we needed the day for travel.

I was a dancer until one day I decided I wasn't, and that was that. Preteen me realized I was never going to be a professional dancer, so why continue? High school me realized I was never going to cheer in college,  so why continue? I suppose that's just who I am; I wake up sometimes and realize something that had been a part of me has broken away in the night. What did dance bring me, I wonder. Besides great memories and a flair for being onstage, what did all those years do for me? So what that I still perform tap routines when no one's looking? Was it worth it?

I've still never been to Ellis Island, even though I've lived in New York for years, and the answer is still yes, will always be yes.




Stage fright

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 6.10.16 PMMy parents put us in dance classes when I was four. At my first recital, I walked out on stage, clad in my red sequins and some messy feather headpiece, ready to dance to "76 Trombones." But then I looked around, waiting for the music to begin, my cue to start tapping. I was horrified to discover this wasn't dance class anymore, where I got to stare at myself in the safe mirrored room. Instead I was facing hundreds of people -- all of them strangers -- who had the luxury of sitting in a comfortable, dark seat while my forehead itched under the lights and sequins. No one told me this is what performing would be like. I burst into tears.

The music started, but I couldn't stop crying. All around me, my friends were shuffling and flapping, feathers flying in their eyes. But I couldn't move, I couldn't get over the tragedy of being unprepared for an audience. Finally, someone crept out on stage to escort me off. (My twin sister stayed, unaffected by my tears.)

Somehow, luckily, I got over that. I continued dancing for another decade and never had stage fright like that again, which I like to believe set me up for a lifetime of being mostly unafraid of public speaking, but that's just a theory.

This week I went back to my roots. Remember the "Friends" episode where Monica goes to a tap class to confront the woman who's stolen her identity? Ever since then, I told myself I'd go back to an adult tap class, especially once I moved to New York. Well, I've been here for 11 years now. It was time.

Back I went into the safe mirrored room, lined with a barre and a sense of purpose. When I was around nine I was named a Baby Starlet at my dance school and got a tap scholarship, which meant I got to attend class with the older girls who, at the time, felt like superstars, with their long legs and high-heeled tap shoes. I stood at the barre with them every week, my pride at leaving my peers behind helping to hold up my head just a little higher. Smokey Robinson would blare from the overhead speakers and we would warm up, leg by leg, ligament by ligament. When the tap instructor this week turned on Stevie Wonder from an old-fashioned boom box in the corner, it felt almost the same, like this was it, I had come full circle.

I'm in the middle of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In (who isn't?!) and she writes about the quote that most resonates with her, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?," and I guess my answer is, I'd tap.

So here I am, new tap shoes in hand.