I’ve been “working on a book” for what feels like forever now. What that really means is that I’ve written an outline, a couple chapters, and then have sat wringing my hands and doubting myself for the last couple years.
It’s time to get to work.
I’m going to make myself culpable here, starting now. I’ve got a bit of an intro started and would love your feedback. Would you read this book? Would you walk by my book in a Barnes & Noble (what’s that?) and go, “Huh, looks interesting,” before seeing that it’s by your annoying friend The Olive Gal and buying it out of guilt? (I’m cool with that too, but still…looking for honesty here.)
Anyway, I’m not going to give you any kind of idea what it’s about. I’m just going to leave this here and let you figure it out. And if you like it, I might leave a few more bits of it, here and there. Now I can’t not write this thing. So here goes:
Working Title: Below the Cut
Prelude: Dancing Nancy
…”could I have been Dancing Nancy? Could I have been anyone other than me?”
Other dancers got the jump on me, having been in a pair of ballet shoes before their memories were fully formed. Age three is the starting point for a serious dancer. At age three, you’re wearing tutus and tight curls and being ushered onto the stage into the lights and the awwwwws of the crowd.
There’s always at least one pee-pee accident during the show. One girl staring down at her shiny costume forgetting the steps she’s rehearsed all year long. One diva who’s gone completely off-book, freestyling for the audience whose attention she’s now taken away from the tyke who decided to sit down and examine the marley floor. By the time these girls are seven years old, they’re old pros.
Seven. That’s the ripe old age that I started dancing.
The summer before I enrolled in dance, I went with my family to see my cousin’s aunt perform in her dance recital. She had just won the prestigious title of Miss Dance of New England, and would soon go on to win Miss Dance of America. The family was extremely proud.
My mom had asked me for several years if I wanted to dance, and I had always shrugged my shoulders in ambivalence. I was too busy digging up rocks in my yard and pretending they were dinosaur bones. Too busy mixing shampoos and shaving creams and baby powder into funky concoctions and make-believing that I was a mad scientist transforming stones into rare jewels. Too caught up in reading and riding bikes and making forts and collecting dues for the neighborhood club, and burying them in the woods and later forgetting where we buried them. But then I saw Nancy, and all my childhood pursuits fell away.
Dance became the only thing I saw.
The lights dim and a spotlight shifts across the stage to find its target. A muscular yet petite redhead stands with her head bowed and her hands to her sides. As the music begins to play, Nancy springs to life, moving with purpose and power. The verse crescendos, and she launches herself into a leap so high she nearly grazes the curtains.
She lunges, she spins, she executes each step with flawless precision. But it is her performance, the pure joy behind her movement that has me mesmerized. She hits her final pose and the crowd thunders its approval, whistling and standing from their seats. Time slows to nearly a standstill—flecks of dust flutter through the deep blue backlight, and Nancy takes her bow. I turn to my mom, eyes sparkling, and breathe, “I want to dance like Nancy.”
Or so that’s the narrative I’ve come to believe over the years.
I like to tell it that way. That I saw Nancy, and that was that. That I took my first tap class, and that was that. But I think, more than anything, it was inertia. I took dance classes because I liked how it made other people think about me. I liked to think that it could make people stand and clap for me, the way they stood and clapped for Nancy. And when it did make me feel special, I kept going. I took more classes. I strived and strived and strived for the director of the studio’s approval. I yearned for the attention and the praise of the teachers. And somewhere in there, I fell in love.
What I didn’t realize, and what I’ve only recently come to know deep in my heart, is that it wasn’t dance that made Nancy special. She was just special—and she brought that to her dancing. And I, despite loving dance with all my heart, despite being singularly obsessed with it, despite knowing that dance was what I wanted to do with my life by the time I was 10 years old, I was not special. I was better than many. But that doesn’t cut it in the dance world.
Of course, I didn’t know that way back then. If I did, maybe I wouldn’t have turned to my mom that day and asked her to sign me up for dance class. But I did, and she obliged, as any parent would when they see their child taking an interest in something healthy and creative.
What my mom didn’t know was that by signing me up, she was signing away her summer vacations. Signing away thousands of dollars in tuition and dance shoes and costumes and competition fees. Signing away my participation in any other extra curricular activity.
What she didn’t know was that she’d be starting me on a career path at age seven. That almost all my friends would be my dance friends. That I’d move to New York because of dance and continue to pursue it professionally. And that, finally, dance would leave me crippled at age 25. What she didn’t know was that on the day she signed me up to dance at Charlotte Klein Dance Centers, she changed my life.