Photo: “Moe and Joe #5” by PositivelyAnne
A person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the one doing it. -My Money. My Time
I was about five years old the first time I saw Ginger Rogers glide across the television screen into the arms of Fred Astaire (they are considered the most successful on-screen dance duo of all time and well worth checking out if you have never heard of them). The memory, some fifty years old, is still so vivid. Me, lying prostrate on the living room floor wrapped in my trusty blanket; the grainy black and white images of a beautiful woman, in a feather dress, twirling and swirling and leaping across the television screen (as if she floated on air) as a man softly sings, “Heaven, I’m in Heaven…”. I don’t remember anything else about it, except that my still forming brain knew I was witnessing something magical…something personal…something life changing.
I just want to dance!
I uttered those words to my mother not long after. My mom found a beginning ballet class at our local park, so off I went: pink leotard, white tights and black ballet slippers and a zillion dreams of floating on air just like that beautiful lady on the television. The class was held in the gym and it must have looked ridiculous, to any adult in the room, to see this group of gangly little girls gathered around a waif on toe shoes under the canopy of a basketball hoop. But I didn’t care.
I just wanted to dance!
My mom, always a stalwart supporter of my dreams, soon found a dance studio in our area and I dived in, not only ballet classes, but I took tap dance and later jazz and Hawaiian (hula). I can only imagine the sacrifices my parents must have made in order to afford all of those lessons.
But I loved it. I loved tap dance; the energy of it, and with my tap shoes (named “Moe” and “Joe”), I would practice for hours in our garage with the goal of beating Ann Millers’ tap record (again for you younger readers, she was a 1940’s actress and dancer famous for being able to exceed 500 taps per minute-also worth checking out if you want to see tap perfection). I loved jazz dance and the challenge of mastering the unspoken rhythms between the notes. I loved Hawaiian dance, hula. The idea of telling a story with my body either in flowing, almost dream-like movements, or with just the simple volcanic explosion of my hips.
It made me feel beautiful, powerful, magical! I just want to dance!
Now ballet was another story and I soon discovered what it means to love something when it doesn’t love you back.
In my cherub years, public park ballet classes were fun, joyful and basically all that was required of me was to try and make it from our house to the park gym without shredding my tights! I was taller than most of the girls and already had some athletic ability so I caught on easy to the steps. I also adored my instructor, a waif like, still teenager, who seemed to float on air, just like the lady I had seen on the television screen at home.
But once I got into a dance studio environment, ballet became a whole different beast. While tap, jazz and hula dance were pretty much open to anyone willing to give it a go and learn the steps, ballet belonged to an elite group of girls: the pencil thin waifs and gossamer fairies with swan like necks, whose pristine footwork on spindly legs made one think of elfin creatures in magical forests and all things fragile.
I was anything but waif like, elfin, or fragile.
The good Lord gifted me with thighs that rival those meaty turkey legs you get at the summer fair. Powerful thighs that enabled me to leap with athletic prowess, but shook the floor when I landed. And my neck…well, I guess the best adjectives to describe it are “squat, stubby, short.” Not a hint of fragility or waif likeness there.
I was pretty much a gladiator in a tutu. Still am! My ballet instructor let me know it:
“Your legs are so…so…well, top heavy dear!” “You have turkey thighs!” “That neck, stocky like a pig!” “Be a swan, dammit…elongate, elongate, ELONGATE!”
I won’t lie to you, it was discouraging. Even ten-year old girls are savvy enough to know what adults mean when they whisper and point and outright tell you to your face you aren’t worthy. And my mom, well my mom, bless her heart, knew that, and I can remember a time or two when her vocal talons let my ballet teacher know just how she felt about her criticisms of her daughter’s chances at ballet greatness.
But the thing is, I didn’t want to be great at ballet…or tap…or jazz, even hula.
I just wanted to dance!
I wanted to be that long ago grainy black and white image of a lady, a beautiful lady, feathers wafting as her dance partner carried her across the dance floor effortlessly. I wanted to be that joy, that hope, that moment in time when there was nothing I could not do. I was floating. Lighter then air. “Heaven…I’m in Heaven…”.
So, I kept at it. I danced for years until time passed and “Moe and Joe” (incarnation number 5), lay forgotten in my closet, replaced by high school shenanigans, chasing boys and new dreams of learning to fly and to sail and to write.
Along the way, I have had more than my share of naysayers. Kids, teens, grown men and women, just like my ballet instructor, intent on making sure I understand I don’t fit the profile. I don’t have what it takes. Sometimes they have been right.
But more often than not, I’m grateful for that little girl who believed in the magic of the dance. In that grainy black and white image on a screen of all that is possible, of all that could be and will be in my life. Of all the joy, hope and beauty in the living, in the trying.
The wonderful swirls and twirls of life that weave us in and out of our dreams.
I’m grateful that I didn’t give up on her. She knows
I just wanted to dance!
And dance I am. I hope you are too!
In this positivity journey together, one positive (and negative) step at a time,