For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a dancer. My friends took dancing lessons. Why not me? After begging and pleading with my mother, she finally consented.
I was ecstatic until I climbed the steps of Ms. Movita’s back porch, opened the door and descended down the steep wooden steps into her basement studio. Fear and insecurity welled up inside and turned me into a speechless vegetable.
I’d been here before. I’d watched my friends do pas de bourrees’ and plies’. I knew the names of all their moves from First to Fifth Position, Sautes’ and everything else in between.
I watched the first class dance to the beat of Ms. Movita’s piano which she playfully pounded while tapping her gigantic pink ballet slipper up and down in time with the music. If a student had a problem, she’d leap from her seat and demonstrate the proper foot position all while banging on the piano. Her fingers flew over the keys, her head nodding in cadence. She’d repeat this exercise until the student got it right. In her class, no child was left behind.
Ms. Movita’s hair was carrot red and tied in a lump of curls on top. When she sang out commands to her troupe every vibrant part of her was fully engaged. Students whispered behind her back, but on the floor she expected complete obedience. There was no-nonsense or sloughing off in her presence. You either did your best or she asked you to leave.
I waited in the parent seats until it was my turn to join the class. Since I was a beginner, she added me to a group that had been dancing only a few short months. The first 30 minutes were spent on ballet and the next 30 minutes on tap dancing. She had agreed that I could dance in my stocking feet until my mother could purchase the needed shoes. How long was this arrangement to last? I had no idea, but my heart was prepared to dance forever.
When it was my turn to perform, I felt like an over-baked pretzel; stiff and unbending. It had looked so easy for the other girls. They smoothly folded into fifth position and fourth. Would I be able to imitate their perfection?
Every night in our living room, I practiced pointing my toes, doing my plies’ and stretches. My parents applauded while straining their necks over and around me to watch their favorite T.V. programs.
After school, I walked to Ms. Movita’s house so I could watch the other student’s lessons. Her door was always open. If I could hear the piano, I knew a class was in session. I let myself in and quietly took my place on the sidelines. Then I’d go home and practice what I’d seen.
And then tragedy struck. My youngest and dearest uncle Vern was killed in an automobile accident. He had served in World War II and survived Hitler’s rampage only to come home and get killed in an auto accident when someone ran a red light. The irony was overwhelming.
Vern was my father’s brother and the baby of the family. The sorrow and agony suffocated everyone. I cried for days, remembering how he walked into our house singing: “It’s only me from over the sea, I’m Barnacle Bill the Sailor.” He’d lift me up on his shoulders and I thought he was strong and invincible.
After the funeral, things went from bad to worse. A wave of darkness and negativity crept over our household and into the neighborhood. This gloom invaded every aspect of our lives. All of a sudden, my mother had no money for dancing lessons let alone ballet and tap shoes. There was no time for frivolity and play. We wept on the inside even when we weren’t crying outwardly. Part of all of us died that year.
After school, I still visited Ms. Movita’s classes. The twanging piano and the lively students picked up my spirits, but they also saddened me. I realized I would never become a dancer.
One day, Ms. Movita asked me to leave. She said the open back door was only for dancers, and that the chairs were for parents and new students. I was crushed and disappointed. In defiance I danced even more at home. Ms. Movita, my mother couldn’t stop me! No one would stop me from dancing.
Later when I had a family of my own, I was still dancing in the living room. In our culture, dancing was considered frivolous and money for lessons was out of the question. I danced to the music, anyway. I told people it was good exercise and that it helped me stay in shape. When the children were young, they danced in wild abandonment with me. As they grew older, they thought it was silly. They teased me whenever I’d try to dance the latest craze. I’d become “old hat.”
Finally, my dancing shoes were put aside. I vented my creative energies into writing and painting. But I still have a dancing heart.