During my morning commute, a company herd gaggle troupe of dancers boarded my subway car. They were young and lithe, wearing leotards, tights, and Jennifer Beale-esque tops that hung off one shoulder. The girls had their hair wound into buns. The boys were broad with postures that would make a finishing school teacher proud. Each of them carried a duffle bag from the Joffrey Ballet School. Inside the bags were probably pointe shoes and rock rosin and bandages. They were headed uptown for a practice session.
With them was a young woman, slightly older, who was their chaperone. She reminded them that their cell phones didn’t work on the subway and to get off the train at Seventy-Sixth Street.
Woman: Which stop do you get off at?
Dancers, in unison: Seventy-Sixth Street.
A burly man sitting next to me: Young people, this train doesn’t stop at Seventy-Sixth Street. It’s Seventy-Second Street.
Woman: Oh, thank you! Did you hear that? It’s Seventy-Second Street.
Dancers, in unison: Seventy-Second Street.
Burly man: Don’t want no one getting lost.
He eyed them all for a moment, making an astute assessment.
Burly man: Young people, are you going to Lincoln Center?
Woman: Yes. How did you know?
Burly man: You want to be getting off at Sixty-Sixth Street, young people. That’s Lincoln Center.
Woman: Sixty-Sixth? I’m so glad we ran into you!
Burly man: Yeah.
By the time I got off the train, the dancers were buzzing about the day ahead of them—a day of creating art, filling the space with graceful sequences, expressing themselves through movement—while I would be staring at a computer screen until the repeated clicking of the mouse caused my wrist to ache.
When I was a girl, I wanted to dance with Gene Kelly. It didn’t matter that he was well past his dancing years, or that I was only three-feet tall, or that I didn’t know a tap shoe from a pointe shoe. I decided I needed to be prepared for our eventual opus.
I convinced my mother to register me for tap dancing class, though I suspect she was well aware I would not be the next Ginger Rogers. “Are you sure you want to dance? Maybe you’d enjoy karate?” I didn’t know much about karate, but I knew Gene Kelly would not be at the local dojo.
Off to dance class I went once a week. I liked the sound the taps made as I walked across the stage. The music was fun. My teacher was kind with the patience of a saint. I had three pairs of leg warmers. We held a recital in which my group performed under bright spotlights in largely unflattering costumes, but included a snazzy boater hat like the one Gene wore in An American in Paris (below).
I was, and I won’t sugarcoat this, a terrible, and I mean terrible, dancer. (If I’m being honest, things haven’t improved since.) In my mind, I was Cyd Charisse or Leslie Caron. In reality, I looked not unlike a chicken being chased around a coop.
I stuck with dance for another year, tripping my more graceful classmates, uninhibited by my Elaine Benes moves, until I moved to other interests. I never did dance with Gene Kelly. Maybe he was at the dojo after all.
Nothing made ballroom dancer and instructor Adrianne Haslet-Davis feel as alive as dancing. “When I’m dancing, I don’t feel the need to be doing anything else. My joy is complete.” When she lost her left leg below her knee in the April 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon, she vowed that she would dance again. About six months later, she did just that. With the help of MIT prostheticist Hugh Herr, she regained her dancing feet. Here, she performs in front of a live audience at TedX Boston.
Do you like to dance?
Have a great weekend, everyone!