It happened in the 7th or 8th grade. Modern dance. In gym class. A sort of dream come true and a nightmare in the making.
It was the seventies, and this was the kind of free-spirited thing that sounded so cool. I knew what cool was – that elusive quality some kids had and kids like me didn’t. But this – this made perfect sense to me. It was something I knew I could do well. Of course, I assumed this kind of dance was brand new, but soon learned it was old. Which somehow made it even better.
The teacher said we could be part of a team and pick a song and pick our moves. Two friends from Elementary school were in my class, and we decided to be a team. We chose the theme song to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. One friend wanted to be the bad so she would wear black tights and a black leotard to match her hair. The other wanted to represent ugly although with her red hair and purple leotard she was anything but. That left me and good. And white. Mostly.
I was young, slender, strong, and ready to dance.
We practiced as often as we could, and all of us loved the way we could get lost in the music – still always aware of each other, and in sync with our own dancing like never before. This was not a school mixer where the three of us stood on the sidelines.
We were wallflowers transformed.
To me, modern dance was this funky mix of ballet and any move that felt right. Besides words, it was personal expression at its greatest.
The teacher invited our parents. Having an audience could have made me nervous, but it didn’t. It wasn’t about me. My friends agreed. The most important thing was the music and moving. I felt like a graceful flower in the sunshine dancing to the song and rhythm of the breeze.
People sitting on folding chairs lined the gymnasium wall. I caught my mom’s eye right away and saw her smile. She sat with my team’s moms. Yeah – this was going to be good. Mama would see me at my best. Sort of.
I danced my heart out and felt like I’d nailed it. My short performance was me hitting the home run instead of striking out every time someone handed me a bat. I’m so not kidding.
The applause for our routine was louder and longer that it was for the others. We couldn’t believe it. The other kids and the women smiled like they meant it. When we were dismissed to greet our guests, I ran into my mom’s arms for the ultimate well-done hug.
She held me close and whispered in my ear, “That was beautiful, but honey, you’re wearing black underpants.”
Yes. I was. And to make matters worse they were the bikini kind.
My outfit was my dad’s white Sunday shirt, white tights, and white undergarments. Because good didn’t wear a leotard. Good was all innocence and all white. Good had to flow in modest purity.
And then there was my version. Ufda.
Mama wasn’t angry, ashamed, or being mean. She was preparing me for the not so nice comments that might come, and she knew I didn’t want them to remember me that way. Besides she knew I’d rather have her tell me than anyone else.
The truth was unavoidable; all those watching saw my costume malfunction when I jumped and reached like never before.
And never again.
Gym was my first-hour class so I had a whole day to worry about what the other moms and kids were thinking and might be saying. About what my gym teacher thought.
All day the girls teased and the guys who heard said typical gross stuff trying to sound all manly and accomplishing only to sound like goofy teenage boys. I wished I could get up the nerve to ask the nurse to send me home sick, but decided to stay hoping they’d be done with it that day.
My teachers commented publically on what the gym teacher told them in the teacher’s break room. About my grace and beauty as a dancer and my natural ability and my talent.
My cheeks were red-hot, and I almost cried each time. They thought I was humble, but I was afraid they would mention my unmentionables. They didn’t. But I couldn’t appreciate their kindness humiliated as I was by my accidental bold badness.
Mama did all she could to ease my shame and fears at home. There were hugs. Kind words. Cookies. And so much love. By bedtime, I was exhausted but sleep evaded me as I wondered over and over again how something I had meant to do so right had ended up being something else.
From then on, I danced in my room. Alone. Where it didn’t matter what I wore. Eventually, the dancing stopped.
Until lately in the fall stage of my life.
I dance alone in a windowless room where no one but God can see me. I don’t dance for Him like some do, and I don’t believe He minds. I’m pretty sure the One, who created me gets me as I move gently to Itzak Perlman (yes, you can dance to Tchaikovsky), Andre Rieu, Kenny G, and others.
The years of enthusiastic leaping and exaggerated reaching are over. My moves are so gentle they might not be called dancing at all, but the other day I threw in a twirl. It was unexpected and may not happen again although I was so delighted I giggled. Like the girl I used to be. It felt that lovely and for a second almost young.
These days, although it might still matter in the secret places of my heart, cool isn’t even a consideration. The grace, talent, and agility have been replaced with caution because I don’t want to get hurt. Even a hop gone wrong could be dangerous. And that twirl? After the giggle it scared me, and I was trying to figure out how to explain any potential future injuries to Jon and the paramedics. I decided on, “I took a wrong twirl.” Yeah. I know.
But this thing I call dancing feels so good, so right, and so me. Because it is.
Until Next Time,