I just “shhh…d” the women next to me.
I feel like somebody’s cranky grandmother, but I can’t help myself.
This is my religion. The dancers and choreographers, my gods. And it requires my complete attention.
It feels like blasphemy as I type the words, but it is true. The stirring between my legs. It rises up my spine like Kundalini energy uncoiling, to my heart – which leaps, and spreads as a flush across my chest and face. What is usually reserved for sexual liaison – either alone or with a partner – comes to me in dance. Really good dance.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is really good dance.
This is my seventh time seeing the company, which may sound like a lot –until compared to Sheila, who I met during the pre-performance cocktail reception. She and her husband have seen Ailey every year since the company’s inception in 1958. It is, perhaps, their religion too.
The first time I saw Ailey I was 24. I watched, rapt. My former lover — the sexiest man I had ever known – at my side. We spent a month together. Twenty-nine days more than I expected. This was our only “real date.”
The second time I saw Ailey I was in the middle of an alcoholic relapse, although I didn’t know it at the time. Following yet another month-long stint without drinking, an effort to prove myself “not alcoholic,” I conveniently forgot all the reasons I had put down the drink and picked it up again that night.
I saw the company three more times. Each of them sober. In Chicago. Once, with my then-husband, the other two with girlfriends.
This is my first time seeing Ailey alone – Artist Date 65.
It feels significant.
Significant because I have treated myself to good seats. Dress Circle. Row AA.
I have learned I cannot watch dance from the cheap seats – looking down on it from up above. I have to see it straight on. As I do most things.
I’ve admittedly been spoiled. Much like the first time I flew overseas, when the German Consulate paid for my Business Class ticket on Lufthansa. It is hard to go back.
It is the same with men.
Significant because there is a cocktail reception before the show and I don’t drink, have a wing man, or a purpose for mingling other than “just because.”
Ever fiber in my body says arrive late, skip the schmooze and head straight for my seat. But I resist. I have been taught courage is not a lack of fear. It is feeling it and moving forward anyway. I am strangely curious to see what will happen.
I meet a gaggle of girls in their 30s. They have never seen Ailey.
We talk about their work. City politics. Chicago neighborhoods.
We talk about my Artist Date. My blog. Boys.
I meet the “since-1958 Ailey fans,” and their daughter – a dancer.
I navigate the plush stairs and the too-small type on my ticket on my way to my seat. My dance instructor calls out my name. We embrace and all at once, Chicago feels like a town. My sense of connectedness expands.
The theatre darkens. The dancers emerge.
“Night Creature.” From 1974. I have seen it before. Like “Revelations,” Ailey’s signature piece that closes every show. I remember the polka-dot light patterns on the floor.
It is both familiar and fresh. I feel the leap in my heart. And a knot in my stomach.
The women to my left are whispering – non-stop.
I pray for patience. For tolerance. I pray they will stop. Useless. I turn and put my finger to my lips. “Shhh.” It is quiet.
At intermission, I feel a hand on my shoulder. It is one of the women I “shhh-d.” She offers apologies, which I quickly and easily accept.
“Do you dance?” she asks.
I tell her I do. She says that she used to, and everything melts between us. We are connected. We are the same.
Until she tells me about her dance history.
Although not a dance major, she danced seven days a week as an undergraduate student at Washington University, filling her free hours with courses in ballet, modern, and jazz. I reflect on my four years at Michigan State University – smoking pot and drinking with the big boys.
I do not feel like a dancer.
My five-plus years in West African dance classes – beginning at the age of 39 – feel small in comparison. Amateurish. Perhaps they are.
I ask her to take a picture with me for my blog. “Two dancers,” she announces, as if reading my mind.
I choose to believe her. To allow my status to be independent of her experience. Of Sheila’s.
It is a “Revelation.”