Heel (Smack) Toe (Smack) Pas de Bourrée

I attended an open rehearsal of the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater last night. Incredible.

Do not ever pass up the chance to see dancers (or any artists) working in such an intimate setting. While the electric excitement that washed over me when I saw Prince at the Summit back in the day still gives me goosebumps, I’m not sure I could make a list of even 5 major capital-P performances that have had the same impact on me as seeing Doug Sahm at 2:30 in the morning at the Continental Club, or John Biggers giving me a personal tour of his home and art collection, or Dominic’s dancers rehearsing newly-learnt steps just a few feet in front of me in their studio.

My reaction to the dance rehearsal reminded me of my response to studying the art of Alberto Giacommeti in a seminar on Surrealism. Fascination from an intellectual point of view, and surprise at the visceral, sense-memory connection to something I’d never actually studied or examined.

Memories well over 30 years old (and possibly even 35 year years – egad!) billowed up into my consciousness and made me feel a bit anxious as I watched the dancers. But anxious only for a moment.

Long ago! I remember going to the Capezio store in the original Galleria (I think it was on the north side, maybe third level) to get my ballet box, getting measured for the black tutu with pink trim, and being jealous of the big girls with their hair up in buns at Emma Mae Horn’s dance studio.

I was proud when I figured out how to take off my tights in the car without taking off my leotard.

The instructor played scratchy 45s of piano music, and I remember that she had a cane or stick or wand of some sort. She did not use it to menace us, but to smack out the beat.

Heel—smack. Toe—smack. Pas de bourreé—smack.

I can still hear her voice, maudlin and warbly, singing us through the five positions.

I also remember being told, in a manner suggesting the teller thought she was helping me not get my hopes up, that I simply did not have a dancer’s body so shouldn’t count on being a ballerina.

Cruel, cruel woman. Hope you didn’t help other little girls the way you helped me. And I’m glad your tape wasn’t playing in my head for too long while I enjoyed watching the company, their bodies all totally, wildly, and deliciously different from one another.

Besides, I didn’t need to know that when I was 5 years old. I could have delayed finding out just how ungainly my body really was until 8th grade, when we had to have our body fat measured in the dance studio in front of the other girls in our P.E. class. (Thanks, St. John’s School gym teachers! Great idea to subject us to that group activity.)

Too few adults find pleasure and joy through their bodies, or exploit their full expressive value. I imagine there are plenty of other women with long-hidden scars from being told, or realizing, they were not tall, blond, willowy, and destined for the dance.

I appreciate the opportunity I had last night to confront those memories head on and laugh at them. But that was just a small part of my enjoyment of the night. I loved the playfulness and openness of the dancers, and the chance to see them try on their parts. Can’t wait for the performance next month!

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One Response to Heel (Smack) Toe (Smack) Pas de Bourrée

  1. K. Palmrose says:

    I was in meme Mae’s dance company. And what you said was precisely on target.

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