Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my dancing days. Maybe it’s because I’ve been binge-watching dance team competitions and wigging out over the new Starz ballet drama Flesh and Bone. (Okay, that’s EXACTLY why.) It doesn’t take much to whisk me back to pushing the coffee table to the corner of my NYC apartment so I could give myself a “dance class” because I couldn’t afford to take many real classes on my cocktail waitress and aerobics instructor salary.
After 15 years of training at a prestigious studio and a prestigious university, I had graduated to scraping the bottom of the barrel. My very first gigs were not paying and I was joining the ranks of gals who couldn’t pull a double pirouette if I stood behind them and actually whirled them around myself. I remember rehearsing in this run-down studio in Times Square called Fazel’s that was quite literally falling apart. I couldn’t hear the music for our routine over the sounds of 50-year-old has-beens shuffling off to buffalo in the studios above us.
I had never been happier in my life.
Every day was a risk. Every day was a chance to challenge my fortitude and resolve. Every day was a grind. And every day was a day for Tina Turner.
Before each audition (or round of auditions), I would pack my giant dance bag full of snacks, water, magazines (for the wait time between calls), dance shoes, sheet music, warm-ups, and changes of clothes and accessories, especially if I was auditioning for a Broadway show at 11am and running off to a second audition for a hip-hop artist at 3pm. Then I’d put on my prettiest leotard and tights, pull on street clothes over them, and turn up the Tina.
As I loaded on three times the amount of makeup I’d wear on an everyday basis and calmed my shaking hands to apply false lashes, I’d hear Tina’s raspy voice tell me:
“I’m your private dancer! Dancer for money! Do what you want me to do!”
Yes, I knew this was a song about stripping. It was my own private joke. When I was in high school and college and told people I was a dancer, they always assumed I was classically trained, probably in ballet and jazz. (And they were correct.) As soon as I graduated, the new assumption was that I was a stripper. I’d always have to add the qualifier: “No, not that kind of dancer.” It pissed me off so much that I did the only thing I know how to do when faced with adversity: laugh.
I listened to Tina’s cheesiest (and most awesomest) song, channeling my inner Flashdance and psyching myself up for another round of rejections. “Private Dancer” got me through a lot of hard times. Those first few months of auditioning were just a series of NO NO NO THANKS BUT NO THANKS NO NO NO over and over until my self-worth was in the toilet. But you get better at auditioning. People start to recognize you. You make audition friends, who soon become your dance gig friends. And, if you’re really lucky, you become a dancer for money, doing what you want to do.