Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Gotta Dance"

My mother told me that as soon as I was able to stand on my own, I would bounce and sway in time to whatever music happened to be on the radio.  It made me happy and I would smile.  As I got older (and steadier on my feet), I would move and twirl and kick.  I loved music and I loved moving to it.  Even though it was planned or very pretty I was dancing and I loved to dance!  Of course, I found out later on, that almost all babies bounce and move to music, but by then it was too late.  I had already decided I loved to dance!

Way back during the glory days of television, i.e., the 50s and 60s,  there were an enormous number of "variety" shows on the schedule each year.  Every network had several programs hosted by name artists like Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, Ed Sullivan, Garry Moore, Carol Burnett, Tennessee "Ernie" Ford, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason all the up through Andy Williams, Sonny and Cher, Glen Campbell and The Smothers Brothers.  I think just about every music-making "star" had their own show at one time or another.  Some were very successful and were on for years!  Others were a flash in the pan that barely lasted one season and are best forgotten.  (Which I have done!)

Every single one of them had some dance as part of their format, some of the dancing was so great, that I bet these names will sound familiar to anyone who watched those shows.....Ernie Flatt, June Taylor, Peter Gennero and others.  They were the choreographers who put those dance routines together each week!  Then there were the couples Marge and Gower Champion (prior to his directing success), Vernon and Irene Castle, and of course, Fred Astaire and any man, woman, chair, or prop he ever danced with!  Does anyone remember "Dance Party"??  Maybe if I give you the names it will come back to you.  Arthur and Kathryn Murray!  Need I say more?

As much as I liked the June Taylor Dancers or the Ernie Flatt Dancers, I loved watching all these couples dance even more, especially the women with their gorgeous, flowing dresses with full chiffon skirts that floated around them like their own personal cloud.  I would watch and dream that one day, I would dance in a dress like that with a man as sophisticated and talented as any of the men who danced in the movies or on TV.

I had one tiny little misconception about dancing. Believing that all dancers just went around humming, "Gotta Dance", I thought it was as easy as they made it look.  It. Is. Not. Easy.  Not at all.  I didn't know about the years of  lessons in ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and every other genre of dance there is.  I didn't know about shin splints, or leg cramps, or bleeding feet, or knees that would scream with pain.  I didn't know about dance shoes actually falling apart from wear! I didn't know about the hours and hours of class every day, even when you were a working dancer.  I didn't know about living on lettuce sandwiches or worrying about a quarter pound of extra weight.  I hadn't heard of dance instructors that would drive you beyond your level of endurance.  I didn't know that every one of them went through this no matter if they were good, great, or terrible.  I didn't know they went through this agony for only one reason,  "...the chance to dance...."
While I loved to dance, somewhere along the way I realized that I wasn't humming "Gotta Dance"; I wasn't going to follow that path.  I didn't have the burning need to dance.  I didn't want to work that hard and I knew that I wasn't talented enough  to be a professional dancer and I certainly didn't want it badly enough to dance until my toes bled!!.

I moved on and kept music in my life through singing.  It wasn't until I was married for a long time and a mom of an 11 year old, that dance re-entered my life.  The opportunity to be part of community theater and to do the musicals that I loved, popped up and without a backward glance, I was off and running.

In community theater (actually in most theater) those cast do double duty when necessary.  You may have seen a show where the butler in the first act, is the same man as the policeman in the second act, and the doctor in Act III.  The singers are dancers and the dancers are singers.  Just about everyone except the leads do double or even triple duty.  If they didn't casts would have to be three times the size.

Anyway, I got a chance to dance!!  Most of the musicals I did, had "chorus" and "dancers", even though there was cross-over, only the best of the dancers were used in the "dance numbers" and the chorus stands in the back and sways!  I did a little of both, but mostly I swayed!

There  were three tiny little reasons why I wasn't always dancing. 

1.  It took me forever to learn the combinations and the routines.  I usually got there in the end, but it was a  painful process.

2.  The second problem was that I have a very poor sense of balance.  That can cause hesitations and falls!  And I did hesitate and fall and when I fall, I usually break an arm!  Neither one of which helps one make a splash as a dancer, except in a very bad way.

3.  I just wasn't good enough.  Period.  End of story!

Still the story has a happy ending.  I did get to dance on stage some, and I still loved it!  I did learn one thing, however.  On stage, I make a better swayer.  Off stage, at a couples dance (i.e., your everyday Elks Club dance, or a New Year's party), I am better!  With a partner, I have someone "leading" and if I start to lose my balance or fall, my partner will hold me up!   So I got a chance to do just enough dancing to make me feel like Ginger Rogers' clumsy sister!

The only thing I really missed getting was one of those floaty chiffon dresses!   Just as well, I guess.  I probably would have tripped over it and broken my other arm!!!


  1. Nice post, Mel. Ah, yes the glory days of community theater. I was chorus in "The Music Man" doing double duty as a soloist. I never made it as a dancer, though. I was a swayer,too. I was also a tenor in our local Madrigal Singers troupe. We did master a few of those "Minuet" type steps, but I stepped on my partner's dress a few times even doing that.
    My daughter took ballet, tap and jazz lessons and built up good muscle tone and had a lot of fun. Until she broke her foot in PE class. That ended her dance career. She never got as far as the blood toes, and strict diet. I am secretly glad!

  2. My girls loved the dancing part of any musical they were in! Gina, my oldest, even learned a tap routine on roller skates when she majored in theatre in college! My younger one did 1 year as a theatre major and decided she'd rather be backstage, doing hair and make up, so now she just finished cosmetology school! She still loves to sing and dance though!

  3. I think it's great that you rediscovered your love of dance as an adult! It's always been hard for me to learn choreography so I tend to avoid it. I guess if I did it more I'd get better at it, though I don't think it would ever be something that would be easy for me.


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