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Defining Dancing - by Megan Estey

In ten minutes, it would all be over. We’d take our bows, applaud the directors, then run offstage and remove our costumes. Never again would I become a weasel or riverbank animal as a part of the cast of “The Adventures of Mister Toad.”

It was the third week of July, and I was spending up to eight hours at Bristol’s Holley Hall every day; the first three working at a drama camp and the other five rehearsing and performing “Mister Toad.” It was the smallest cast I had ever worked wit There were about fifteen people involved in the entire play, including actors, accompanists, set and light people, and makeup artists. By some amazing stroke of luck, I got along with everyone, including the sixteen-year-old girl who was dating my old- ough-to-vote-smoke-and-buy-alcohol-legally cousin and my ex-boyfriend, with whom I had not parted on the most amicable of terms, but now I was beginning to remember what I had seen in him.

Since the town hall had no real dressing rooms, we had all become accustomed to changing in the open in front of each other, regardless of the gender of the person removing his or her pants next to you. We had become a pretty close-knit bunch, and I ew I was going to miss everyone, since about half of the cast would be beginning or returning to college in the fall. Once the play was over, I might not see any of them until the following summer.

But there was no time to think about that now. We still had the final scene to get through, the grand finalé. Everyone would be standing on the homemade wooden thrust attached to Holley Hall’s splintered stage, in front of the moth-eaten velvet curta , and everyone had to dance.

I am hardly a world-class dancer. In fact, I am probably the least coordinated girl you will ever meet. But this particular dance was pretty easy, even for me. Halfway through the scene, Mister Toad and Rosy began waltzing, a simple two step. After s ing this, everyone else on stage grabbed someone else to dance with. Then each cast member rushed into the audience, pulled an onlooker from their seat, and began waltzing with them in the aisle. This was the dancing that I was worried about.

I have been worried about dancing for most of my life. I have always been the girl who in the fifth grade musical pushes her way to the back of the crowd so that if she crashes accidentally into the scenery, the audience won’t realize it was her. I p bably went through the longest “awkward phase” on record. In fact, sometimes I think I am still in the midst of that time of tripping, hitting your head, dropping pencils, and running into walls. It has taken me almost fifteen years to find out what dan ng really is. There are several different ways to discover what it’s really about, but in the end there was only one example I needed.

If you want to know about dancing, don’t go to a high school dance. High school dances are less about actual dancing than they are about who’s breaking up and who’s making out in the corner. Sure, there’s always the crowd of undulating teenagers sing g along to whatever bubble-gum pop music the paid-by-the-hour deejay has decided is cool, but that isn’t what the event is really about. You won’t learn anything about dancing there.

Another place you might go to would be a Broadway show. However, I learned when I went to see Miss Saigon that this is also not the thing to do. The theater management is really just trying to get your money. They just want you to see somethin appealing, so you’ll buy a souvenir or maybe see the show again. They also don’t care who the money is coming from. The bleached-blonde wearing fake pearls and riding pants sitting in front of me ran to the memento stand and bought thirty-five souvenir hot glasses, but I didn’t spend a cent. I am sure it never crossed the mind of the middle-aged man running the cash register that she was wearing enough mascara to sink a boat. Money is money.

You might try to figure out dancing by watching tap or ballet lessons. I did this once, but again this is not the way to find the answer. I stood in the corner of the mirrored room, watching one of my friends grasp the wooden bar and extend her leg, ising it high into the air. After stretching, she began a series of leaps and twirls that left me feeling like I’d just ridden on the Spinning Teacups. It was fun to watch, but I knew that the second I tried any of it myself I would fall flat on my face You might learn the steps by observing the awkward ten-year-olds wobbling on skinny legs, but you won’t understand what dancing is.

The only way to understand dancing is to wait until you’re home alone. Turn off all the lights, unplug the telephone, and put your favorite music on full blast. Then take off your shoes let your body go. After you’ve done that, you can understand dan ng no matter where you are: a high school dance, a Broadway show, or a dance studio. You’ll realize that dancing isn’t so much about what your body looks like. It isn’t dependent upon whether your legs and arms are moving at the right time. It’s really out how you feel inside. As the title character on the television show ‘Ally McBeal’ once said, “Dancing is losing yourself in the music. It’s like you’re not conscious, like you’re the only one in the room.” It is always said that dance is a form of “s f-expression,” and while it is easy to write this off as a cliché, it is also the most accurate way to describe it that I can think of.

I knew that it was finally time to face my fear as I stood quivering on that crowded stage. I watched Mister Toad and Rosy, memorizing what their feet were doing, trying to get the feel of the dance. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and knew it was ime to dance on the stage. Greg had grabbed me again, so all I was required to do was smile and keep from falling over as he did the actual dancing. Then there was the telltale music and I felt the smile slide off my face and sink to the pit of my stoma . I wondered for a second if I actually had the courage to do this. What if he laughed at me? Refused to stand up? Was I setting myself up for the biggest embarrassment of my life to date?

Then I realized that if I thought about it for too long, I would chicken out. So I just leapt off the stage and raced into the audience. I knew where he was sitting: one of Holley Hall’s classic theater seats, near the back, and right on the aisle. I an lightly down the aisle, my heart thudding with each step. I stopped beside his seat.

Mike looked up at me. I saw his face go through several phases: first the flicker of confusion at wondering who I was, then the recognition when he realized I was his Scholar’s Bowl teammate, the freshman who he always talked to in the hall, the fiel hockey player who cheered at his baseball games, the singer who hugged him after his graduation, the girl whose yearbook he had signed “Love.”

Then he was confused again, wondering why I was standing beside him. For a moment I was horrified. If he broke my heart right there, in front of 150 people and my ex-boyfriend, I would have to die. I was ready to choose another dancing partner when h realized my hand was extended, and rose to waltz with me in the aisle. I placed one hand on his shoulder and said something like, “You’re such a good sport,” relief enveloping me like a down comforter. It didn’t matter that I’d bruised my leg trying to ueeze between the seats. All that mattered was that I was dancing with the boy of my dreams in the aisle, and I hadn’t tripped once.

January 2000