Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Walking and Chewing Gum

When I was a litle girl, I loved to dance. In cutting edge 70's fashion mode, one entire wall of our living room was mirrored, and I would put a record on the turn table and dance for hours, watching myself. And I loved to dance for company. Not only would I perform on demand when my Mummy asked me to do so for guests, I would even ask the guests if they wanted to see me dance.


My mother had been a dancer in the National Ballet of Canada when she was only a few years older than I was then. She had so, so much talent (they recruited her, she never applied) but was tragically let go from the company at age 14 when she failed to grow above 4'9". And I think that, in so many ways, my young affinity for dancing allowed her to live vicariously through me, to give her the thrills and possible success that were ripped away from her, just because she wasn't tall.

So when I was seven, she approached a local dance instructor, one with a national reputation. She explained my passion, my natural talent....and I do not doubt for a second she "name dropped" her own illustrious dance history.

And between the two of them, they clearly decided that I, who had never had a formal dance lesson in my life, should go in to an advanced class.

It wasn't ballet, it was modern dance. I remember the black leotard and the white tights. I remember that I was the youngest person in the room by several years. I remember that all those other girls knew what the mistress wanted, but I flailed around like a beached whale. I remember being confused and hating it.

I went back for a second week. And a third. But I had been placed in a class so far beyond my seven year old capabilities that I declared I hated it. My mother had a long consultation with the mistress, I'll never know what was said although I suppose the mistress probably said I just needed a more entry level class. And I further suspect that my mother just couldn't accept that I was anything less than extraordinarily gifted -- after all, she had been -- so she let me quit dance instead of putting me in a class more attuned to my grade level.

True story. And one told without bitterness, believe me. But after that experience, I gave up on trying to use my body artistically. I'm not saying I did so with a conscious decision, just that I was allowed to pursue other interests instead, such as music and singing.

Today I am 41 years old and am a soprano in one of the most highly lauded choirs in Canada. I can sing, goddamn it, and I recognize that I can only do so because at a young age I was taken from the world of dance and put in to the world of music. For this I am sincerely grateful.

Except that I can't clap.

One of the songs we are performing this spring is te 60's hit "My Boyfriend's Back", and it involves a lot of syncopated clapping with the music, while singing. Now, I have rhythm, and I can clap in time for hours if you want me to. But add SINGIG, expect me to do two things at the same time?? I look like Steve Martin in "The Jerk". My choir director, after watching all forty of us clap and sing, actually said to me (gently), "Irma, how about you keep your hands a bit lower so they're behind Ginette's back?"

Guess two or three more dance lessons back in the day may have been useful.

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