Happy 70th, Mark!
Hey, there! Remember me? The insane little woman with the smart mouth and great shoes? The Champagne Slut who can’t get a date? I thought I’d check in and let you know how busy I’ve been, just when The Holidays get underway and render me fully frazzled.
I’ve been doing really crazy stuff, like wearing yoga pants in public, platinum blonde wigs, and really awesome dance shoes. And a black velvet, rhinestone studded halter dress (thanks to my excellent plastic surgeon) that no dignified 63-year old woman with a pudgy tummy should be caught dead in (maybe I should call that plastic surgeon).
When we last chatted in September, you may recall that I had agreed to participate in the major fundraising event for our local center for the arts, as a “Dancing with the Stars”-type amateur. I got free dance lessons from a renowned professional ballroom trainer. I got to buy a pair of $185 pink satin shoes that I will never wear again but are almost as comfortable as my Uggs. I got to browbeat my family and friends to buy tickets and cough up money for my cause, because I had agreed to raise a minimum of $5,000. It turned out to be the easiest part of the challenge.
So, you may ask, what was I, clearly not a dance novice, doing in the group? I had been rejected in previous years because of my dance training. Finally, I was old and feeble enough to level the playing field. I haven’t had a speck of cartilage in either of my knees in over 20 years. And, of course, there was that time when I fractured my patella in two places. And I have degenerative lower disc disease (aka “sciatica” or, as I like to say, “I gots the lumbago”). Plus, they told me that I wouldn’t be judged. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain for a cause that I dearly love. I was really excited to get started. I hadn’t danced in 20 years (a production of A Chorus Line, a show about what some of us do for love).
“You’re the oldest dancer this year,” the instructor, 12 years my junior, explained at our first private rehearsal.
I shrugged. I had met my fellow “celebrity” dancers, a roster of lovely people dedicated to fostering the arts in our community. There was the distinguished retired general, the bubbly business owner, the charming couple who met on Match.com (seriously, I don’t want to hear about it), the young woman who had danced in one of my productions of The Nutcracker 30 years ago (I am so freakin’ old), and the adorable teenagers who could be my grandchildren.
“Yeah, I could tell. As long as my knees hold up, I’ll be fine.”
“Besides dancing,” he continued, “I’m going to teach you to have stage presence and connect with the audience.”
“Not going to be an issue,” I replied.
“I’m going to try to shake you up, so that if something happens while we’re performing, you won’t be flustered.”
“Not going to happen,” I smirked. “I’m pretty cool. Look, I’m 63 years old and have been performing since I was 4. Nothing throws me. Not wardrobe malfunctions. Not actors forgetting their lines. Not an audience member vomiting in the front row. Nothing.”
I was once doing “theater-in-the-round” when, despite instructions from the ushers, an annoying patron wouldn’t keep his feet out of the aisle. During an entrance in the dark, I leaned over to him and said, “Get your feet back under the table.” When the lights came up, I was standing onstage, in character, looking him dead in the eye. Those feet never appeared again.
The instructor looked skeptical. “You’ll be doing the foxtrot.”
My Mother taught me the foxtrot when I was a kid dancing to Frank, Bing, and Doris on her 78s. I didn’t want to be the nice girl. I’m always the nice girl. I really wanted to do the Cha Cha or Rhumba or something really — dare I say — sexy. The Shrew in My Head grunted in disgust at my self-delusion.
“Hmm, sounds slow and boring.”
“Not the way we’re going to do it. Think Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire gliding across the floor.” Images of a short woman (me, not Ginger), overwhelmed by feathers, sprang to mind. “I want to challenge you because you don’t seem to normally move in that flowing, elegant way.” He must have seen me in “Waltz of the Flowers” in 1981.
He demonstrated a few simple steps, as if he was teaching “Jazz 101.” I repeated them flawlessly.
“Well, you have good lines!” he said.
“I told you I was a dancer,” The Shrew in My Head rolled my eyes.
After six weeks, he was hauling me around the dance floor doing “twinkles” and “passes” to a song by Metallica that had been re-recorded to sound like a vintage 40s tune. Every week, he added something new and a little harder. One week, it was turns. I am not a turner. Never have been. I made the mistake of telling him.
“Good,” he smiled. “We’ll have more turns.”
“For God’s sake,” I complained, “don’t let me fall down.”
“You aren’t used to having people tell you what to do, are you?” he laughed.
Once, during a rehearsal break, he asked me, “Who are we going to be?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, are we the 30s or 40s? Or, maybe, Singing in the Rain? Like a black and white movie musical.”
“What are we wearing?”
“That’s what I’m wondering. The other ladies are wearing traditional ballroom gowns. I thought you could be different. A little flashier.”
“No feathers. I’m too short for feathers,” the image of a waddling duck swam around my head, “and I’d like my upper arms to be covered.” Duck lips are the only acceptable poultry flesh on aging women. I thought about Bedazzled capri pants and a turtleneck to hide the wattle that is my neck.
“I wasn’t thinking of that,” he answered. “Instead of a full skirt, maybe something straighter with a slit. How are your legs? I don’t think I’ve seen them.” I looked down at the yoga pants that I wore every week to rehearsal. I’m more Jane Powell than Cyd Charisse.
I drove right over to the Goodwill store and bought the beaded black velvet halter dress for $14. It met with his approval, but he thought it should have more rhinestones. I bought Swarovski rhinestones and glued them on (half of which fell off). I bought the platinum wig for $40 and will wear it again when I’m in the old-age home, I’m sure. I agonized over spray-tanning. I bought a vintage pair of clip-on earrings (they are to-die-for, btw). “Give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle.”
Then, it all went to hell in a hand basket. One week, one of the 8 million trees on my property fell across my lane, and I had to cancel my rehearsal at the last minute. Two weeks later, I came down with bronchitis. I went to rehearsal after six days, thinking that the virus had stopped shedding. It hadn’t. I gave it to the instructor and didn’t see him for two weeks. My dance didn’t have an ending. Not until last Tuesday. Two days before the technical run-through.
“All right,” I marched in. “Let’s get this done.”
He started to teach the new choreography. More turns. Rather, pivot turns, which ended in another turn and a run around and another turn and me on the floor for the finish. Or something like that. I never could remember. It seemed like something from Dirty Dancing.
“Wait a minute — my leg goes — where? Between your legs? And your knee is going to be where?” Because I am so damn short, I ended up straddling his knee.
[Let’s pause for a minute, so you can visualize that.]
It just didn’t work. I went home, dejected, and tried to practice, but there were no knees at home with which to practice. I returned on Wednesday to rehearse, wearing the blonde wig, safety-pinned to my hair, and the clip-on earrings. I needed to know that they wouldn’t fly off my head during the turns.
“Um, this pivot thing,” I stammered, “I just don’t get it.”
“Oh, you’ll never get it. You’ll only get it when you’ve been doing ballroom dance all your life.”
And that’s when my hackles went up. The Shrew and I were both indignant.
“So, why am I doing this?” I demanded. I said much more, but I won’t repeat it here, because it was mostly profane, and I, after all, am a lady.
“Let’s go,” he held out his hand. We went over and over it for 40 minutes. Instead of crying about it, I started preparing myself for the disaster to come. At Thursday’s tech rehearsal, the dancers saw each other’s pieces for the first time. I would have killed to be doing the waltz or the cute little Cha Cha or the zippy Mambo. My ending was a disaster. Twice. After rehearsal, the instructor asked if anyone wanted to run through their dances again.
“I’d just like to learn the end of mine,” I immediately spoke up. He worked with some of the other dancers. I waited and waited. Then, he turned off the lights. Disgusted, I tore off my dance shoes and pulled on my Uggs.
“Oh! Did you want to go over your ending?”
“No, if I’m never going to get it, I’d rather call it a train wreck and prepare myself,” the Shrew and I were really worked up.
“No, come here, and let’s do it.” I stomped across the shiny wooden floor in my Uggs. We started to walk through the final moves, but the soles of my boots stuck to the floor. I kicked them to the side and stood in my bare feet.
“Plaster the inside of your right leg to mine,” he went through the motions slowly. I followed him without thinking, trying not to cry. In the last move of the dance, I easily turned under his arm and stretched out as he slowly lowered me to within an inch of the floor.
“That was it, wasn’t it?” I was amazed.
“That was it,” he agreed, looking exhausted. I took pity on him and called it a night.
The next morning, I emailed him an apology. I’m a Type-A personality. I expect a lot of myself. Mea culpa. Blah, blah, blah — but sincere blah.
We all practiced before Friday’s preview show. My ending was better but felt out of control. On Saturday, there was another preview in the afternoon, and the pivot turns seemed to be coming together. Between shows, before the black-tie Gala in the evening, I watched my beloved Spartans beat the Buckeyes and felt all the energy leave my body. I just simply didn’t care any more.
The instructor and the emcee wanted my permission to tell the crowd that I was an e-Harmony reject, erroneously thinking that I might be embarrassed about that. Can’t you just see me rotflmao over that one?
“Of course, you can! Thousands all over the world have read about it on my blog (Why I’m a Proud e-Harmony Reject). A few more in Harford County can’t make any difference.”
After my dance (which was finally good enough for my limited standards), I was interviewed by the emcee, a local reporter, who asked if it was true that e-Harmony hadn’t been able to find a date for me.
“Actually,” I corrected her, “after I took their personality test, they told me that they wouldn’t be able to find a date for me and never tried.”
To my shock, she called over the evening’s auctioneer to take bids for a date with me. I glanced over to where The Daughter and her beau were sitting. The Daughter’s eyes were like saucers. [My entire family puts up with a lot of crazy stuff from me.]
“Well, ok,” I thought, “I’ve been on so many crappy Match.com dates, I can have coffee with anyone. And at least this one will be for a good cause.” I got into the spirit by allowing myself to be paraded around the dance floor, blowing kisses, and posing with my leg sliding out of the slit in my dance dress.
700 bucks, people. I brought in 700 bucks.
And now, the rest of the story.
It was a stunt to raise a few more dollars. There was no date. They just forgot to tell me, I guess. Oh, foolish me! I can’t even get a fake date!
Long story short, I AM a good sport. I have incredible stage presence. I never break character. I have more experience living gracefully under pressure than any one person should have in a lifetime. As one of my friends said to me this morning, “I believed it because I know you’re such a good actress.”
I am a great comedienne, because I understand that comedy isn’t pretty. Think about it. Anyone who appears onstage looking like a Paula Deen impersonator and doesn’t die of embarrassment is either a comedienne or has no shame. And probably deserves whatever she gets. However, I prefer to be the butt of my own jokes.
You know, I was planning to be cremated, but I’d love to be laid out in that wig and dress. The mourners would probably think it was all a joke and expect me to jump up at any moment into a sappy rendition of “What I Did for Love.”
I’ve appeared onstage in lingerie and revealing dance costumes. I’ve sung solos that went horribly wrong. I once even prematurely revealed the name of the murderer in an Agatha Christie play because my brain had wandered off to what I was going to eat after the show. Fortunately, the scene was so boring the audience didn’t notice, but the horrified looks of my fellow actors are permanently etched on the inside of my eyelids.
Life seemed so much more boring this morning, my trot a little less foxy. I raised $6,500. My fellow dancers, combined, raised over $102,000. When you throw in the silent and live auctions and the raffles and other donations, we brought our community a little closer to building a center for the arts. So, who am I to complain? Life is good (mostly). Soli Deo Gloria!