Artist’s Date 9: Twyla Tharp is Choreographing My Life

When I was five, I spent the entire night “cutting a rug” at my cousin David’s Bar Mitzvah.  One of my aunts asked me how I learned to be such a good dancer.  Without hesitation I replied, “I was just born to dance.”  She and my other aunts and uncles laughed.  I felt ashamed.  I thought it was true.  But maybe I was mistaken.

When I was 25, I moved to San Francisco.  I walked to work most every day– from Haight-Ashbury to the Financial District – choreographing full routines in my head.  My Walkman blasting Michael Jackson or Marvin Gaye.  A scarf around my neck like Isadora Duncan.

My secret-private-fantasy career is to be a choreographer.

I told my birthfather this the first time we spoke, a little more than three years ago.  Right after he told me that his dream was to move to New York to be a dancer.  And he would have – if it wasn’t 1967.  If there wasn’t a war in Vietnam.  If university wasn’t the only option keeping him safe from the draft.

“It’s in the genes,” he said.

Last Saturday I took myself to the Joffrey Ballet’s American Legends.  Artist’s Date Nine.

I purchased my single ticket a few weeks ago, another one of those “firsts” in divorce.  Right Upper Box 6.  Row 1.  Seat 3.

I’d never sat in a box before, but had often wondered about it from seats high above.

I pull back the heavy, gold velvet drapes.  Six pink velour chairs on wheels are lined up in two perfect rows.  It feels intimate.  Contained.  Communal.  A little exclusive.

I think “Sex and the City.”  Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big spot each other through opera glasses.  She dashes out of her box.  He does the same, running to catch her in the stairwell.

I experience no such intrigue.  Just two middle-aged women from the suburbs talking.  Long-time friends with season tickets to the Joffrey.  I remember only one of their names – Olfat.  It is Turkish, but she is Egyptian.

We talk about my Artist Date.  My choice to come alone.  My work.  My writing.  They tell me about their work as college professors.  About Olfat’s religious background – a Christian raised in a Muslim country.  Her fame in her home country – a published writer at 15.  And her unsettling move to North America not long after.

The lights dim, the first notes rise from the pit and my body responds as if on cue.  I feel the music.  Feel the dance.  In my feet.  In my face.  In my hands.  In my heart.  Between my legs.  A leaping, rolling, rushing, pulsing wave.

A kaleidoscope of colored tutus twirl across the stage.  Orange.  Green.  Blue.  Red.  Purple.  “Interplay.”  West Side Story – without a plot.  Only connection.  Interaction.  I think about my former client who starred in both the play and the movie.  My Berkeley brush with fame.

“Sea Shadow” is lush.  Sensual.  A dance of love between a man and a sea nymph, based on the Ondine fable.  My heart hurts.  I crave the physical closeness in front of me.  Body on top of body.  Moving in unison.   

And yet, I also want a rubbery mushroom tutu like the dancers wear in Son of Chamber Symphony.

Nine Sinatra Songs closes the show.  I sing along in my head to the ones I know – about half – and my heart feels hot, wide open.  Nine couples.  Nine dances.  Nine costumes.  Nine stories.  Nine songs.  I get teary watching the dancers in spangly gowns and tuxedos.  I realize I am holding my breath.

I am remembering dance lessons on Friday nights with my ex-husband. 

Remembering how I have to close my eyes to let him lead.  How I complain he doesn’t hold the frame tightly enough.  How I want to be man handled.  Remembering the call to switch partners.  Then again.  And again.  And when we return to one another, the delight in being in each other’s arms again.

I am remembering meeting our instructors, David and Chris – a sweet, quintessentially Berkeley couple – at Eagles Hall in Alameda to practice our steps.  The private club where patrons smoke while they drink jug wine out of cheap water glasses.  Remembering how the dancers look 90.  But on the floor – barely more than 20.  The dance steeped deeply in their tissues.

Remembering that we had been learning fox trot, waltz and rhumba.  The band switching to West Coast Swing.  David grabbing my hand and saying, “You can do this. Follow me.”

Remembering following.   Dancing West Coast Swing.  David telling me I am good.  And the toothy grin I can’t suppress.

I leave the ballet dreaming about Zydeco.  Tango.  West Coast Swing.  So different from the West African Dance I do every Sunday morning.

I dream about the physical connection of the dance.  About being held.  About holding another.  While still holding on to myself. 

My inner Twyla Tharp busily choreographing my life.

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