When I grow up…
As a high school Spanish teacher, I am constantly asking my students, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I am curious about what they want to do with their lives, especially when they are not excelling in my foreign language class. I have even posed the question to my 4 year-old grandson, figuring that it is never too early to start on career plans. Right now Max is considering a future as a race car driver or as a doctor. I told him that he could do both. Remember, the late Paul Newman accommodated his love for acting and race cars so why not a physician and a NASCAR driver?
I still have some things on my “to do list”. Even though I am approaching my 60th birthday, I feel I have lots more time for growing up
One of the items on the top of my list is to be a Rockette! This desire has been with me ever since I saw my first live performance. My Nana knew that I had an affinity for dancing, so when I was about 5 years old she treated me to a Radio City Music Hall adventure in New York City. “Silk Stockings” was the 1957 featured black and white film starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. I remember feeling my tiny white palms pressing firmly against the plush red velvet fabric anchoring me to my seat in anticipation of the show. Center Orchestra. Nana must have saved for a long time for those premier seats.
Every time Fred and his gorgeous leggy partner went gliding across the huge screen, I imagined myself right next to the duo, in concert with every step. Each twirl and spin lifted my spirits higher and I tugged on my crinoline petticoat to keep it from shifting as my skinny legs twitched with excitement. I fantasized that I was his next partner and I was sure that I could perform with equal expertise.
When the movie ended, the famed Rockettes tapped out on stage for the finale. Their glistening, sequined outfits immediately captured my attention. I was in awe. So many legs! So close together! Such perfect kicks! The precision of the movement of their lean, trim bodies left me mesmerized. At the conclusion of their performance, I was almost in a hypnotic state and dizzily danced my way down the fancy carpeted aisle and out into the brightly lit lobby with my Nana in tow.
Since we did not have a dance studio in the small town where I grew up and I had no tap shoes, I had to improvise to carry out my dream. Four shiny Orange Crush bottle caps, four small carpet tacks, one large wooden handled hammer, four flimsy cotton balls, and two red Ked sneakers with white rubber toe pieces were collected in order to sidestep the traditional route. One afternoon, like a master cobbler, I was hard at work in the back corner of our old red barn.
With a mighty swing of the hammer, the sharp point of the tack pierced the metal bottle cap and drove the small circle into the bottom of the thick sole of my shoe. The menacing point continued through the foam rubber insole, coming to a resting point of about 1/8 of an inch above the padding. I repeated the process three more times until the homemade tap shoes were completed. Concerned with the tiny spikes on the inside of my footwear, I spun the cotton filament with my nimble fingers around each point, forming a delicate barrier. When I laced up my size one sneakers, I still slightly felt the four sharp tips poking through the puffs of cotton, piercing my tender feet. However, pain did not detract me from my goal. “The show must go on!” I recalled hearing once. My audience awaited me.
I saw my faint reflection in the dusty, double-pained window in front of me. A chipped, gilded mirror rested on the floor to my left. It captured my petite silhouette which caught my attention in my peripheral vision. Dragging the mildewed leather album closer, I gingerly slipped out a thick plastic 78 LP disc from one of the brown paper sleeves and reverently placed it on the worn olive-green felt of the nearby old crank style Victrola. I gave a hearty turn on the rusty metal arm of my music source. Suddenly, out of the small front speaker came a loud, raspy baritone voice accompanied by a slightly out of tune melody.
“Sink the Bismark” was my first selection and working on pure instinct, I frantically started tapping away as I tried to keep up with the beat. I scraped my toe and heel back and forth on the uneven concrete floor. Click, click. Tap, tap. I was dancing! Hop, hop and a twirl. I was a star! Next I selected the “Ragtime Blues” followed by “The Garbage Man Blues”. They all sounded good to me. The crude music echoed in my ears like a symphony and the pulsating rhythm transcended to my anxious feet, which were now very sore and slightly bloodied.
“Just a few more steps,’” I murmured. I didn’t want the magic to end. Then a risky high kick nearly sent me flying into a nearby sawhorse and into a pile of paint cans. But my smile doggedly remained on my face until the final bow. Curtsying not once, but twice in front of the mirror, I bade farewell to my audience.
“Good bye Mr. Astaire, good night Miss Charisse,” I whispered as I tiptoed barefooted towards the beckoning dinner bell. I put my tiny red sneakers beneath the wooden stairs in the back corner of the barn in anticipation of my return. The bottle caps now read “_range _rush” from the friction of my dance frenzy and tiny dots of fresh blood decorated the insoles like pretty polka dots. The stage was now quiet as I skipped away.
Forty-five years later I took my first formal tap dance lesson. Although I felt that I was already an experienced dancer, I enrolled in the beginner’s class. I sadly realized that indeed I was a beginner. The steps were not the same as the ones that I had done in my barn as a child. I succumbed to the temptation to revert back to my old habits of scuffing and hopping around like a wounded kangaroo. The teacher did not appreciate my impromptu routines and placed me at the back of the line so that I could model the others and not distract the ones who were actually following his directions.
After each weekly lesson, my fun meter slipped a little more until I decided to cut my losses and bail before the first recital. After that, back at home in the basement, my individual practices picked up and the enjoyment returned.
Today, I am still hoping to grow another few inches to make the height requirement for the Rockettes. When that happens…I know I will be ready to join the lovely high-kicking ladies.
What do you want to do when you grow up? Whatever it is, don’t give up on your dreams!