Friday, September 25, 2009

Remember My Name?



One of my earliest memories is of me, at four years old, putting on a dance show in the kitchen of the little home I lived in with my parents just before their divorce. I would finish one "routine", change my dress, and transition into the next one. My paternal grandmother once reprimanded my preschool aged self for getting jiggy with it in the aisle at church. But there was singing and music and when that happened, I would dance. Didn't matter where I was or who was there. WWJD? He would bust a move, yo.

In May of 1980 I saw a movie that changed my eight year old life. Fame. I watched in wonder and marveled at those dancers. Envied the voices of the singers. I shook with excitement. I quite literally danced in my seat. It's okay, it was a drive-in [gawd I miss drive-ins!]. That's what I wanted to do! I wanted to act. I wanted to sing. Play the cello? Eh, not so much. But more than anything I wanted to dance! I wanted to go to THAT school! I wanted to wake up everyday and live, eat, and breath DANCE! Soon after the movie's release my mother brought home a book of ballet positions from the second hand store. I practiced them endlessly in the bedroom I shared with my brother. I forced my limbs into submission until I could do a perfect split. You could often find me doing cartwheels in the courtyard of our apartment complex and leaping of the steps in a grand jeté. And trying to teach myself how to spot so that I wouldn't get the dizzy spins.

But if I really wanted to do this. If I REALLY wanted to BE a dancer. I was going to need lessons.

Growing up we didn't have a lot of money. Make that, no money. My mother was single and raising us on her own from the time I started kindergarten. She worked long hours for not very much money and struggled just to put food in our mouths, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our head. We often had to scrape together our last dimes just to walk down to the corner market to buy milk. We had to walk because there was only enough gas in the car to get us to school and her to work before the next paycheck. She drove the same Ford Pinto [that's right, the barbecue that seats four car] until she remarried in 1986. She often owed our babysitters money and, subsequently, we spent many summers in the stock room of the small local pharmacy where she was employed; until I was old enough to stay home without supervision and in charge of my younger brother. In hind sight probably not the wisest scenario but she was left with little to no options. She was a survivor. She did what she had to do. WE did what we had to do.

And that meant there was no money for dance lessons. I know it killed her that she couldn't provide that; couldn't afford to foster my dreams. I know this because whenever she COULD manage it, she would sign me up for lessons at the small dance studio up the street. But few and far between intermittent instruction does not a dancer make. And as the other girls my age progressed, it became obvious, that even though I loved it with all my heart, we were throwing good money after bad. I was jealous of those other girls. I wondered if I wanted it more than them but simply couldn't have it.

It didn't keep me from performing. I was in every school play. I sang in chorus through my freshman year [ninth grade, y'all, not college] and duuuuudes, I cannot sing - I mean, for reals. But I wore those robes, and climbed up on those risers making sure my knees didn't lock, and gave it my all for every school function. Even taking the show on the road performing for retirement homes. I recruited other children in our apartment complex and put on plays, making props out of anything we could find in our collective bedrooms, for anyone willing to watch.

I sometimes wonder if circumstances had been different, if lessons could have been easily afforded, if I still would have had the love, the drive, the determination, the PASSION to MAKE IT. Or would I have taken it for granted only to eventually lose interest? I'll never know for sure since circumstances are what they were.

But, Readers? Whenever I HEAR the theme song, or see a trailer, for the re-make of the move, Fame? I get all verklempt. My insides quiver. My eyes well up. I get all tense and jerky. My heart RACES. And, Readers? I don't think my drive and determination would have petered out one tiny bit.

This weekend I will take my own children to see the movie. And I hope? Wonder? If it will inspire them to tap into their creative being and want to give it ALL THEY'VE GOT!

14 comments:

Lynette said...

Fame! Because I can't not say it like that when talking about it. I just saw it, and I enjoyed it.

Coco said...

I loved that movie. It was awesome. One that really inspired me was Flash Dance. However I was pregnant with my 2nd child when that came out. But it didn't stop me from trying to do some of those moves and dreaming about it.

I always wanted to be a dancer but it was not meant to be. I have tap shoes that I have worn 2 or 3 times. I joined a class and then life changed and we moved. I still want to find them and do it to it.

Manic Mommy said...

So funny how something like a movie brings back such a flood of memories. Thanks for sharing your story.

Enjoy the movie.

I wonder if they'll have the Rocky Horror scene.

lapoflux said...

A beautiful post Tootsie... I hope you all enjoy the movie.

Anonymous said...

I was excited to see it is out and that it's PG! That means I can take my kidlings who will appreciate it as Kidling 1 just started 6th grade at an inner-city Arts charter school. Okay, so our inner-city isn't New York or Chicago or LA. But, looking at the kids pouring in and out every day, there are a whole lotta 'em that this will be their CHANCE. Wish a school like ours would've been available to you when you were a kid.

JCK said...

This was a great story. Somehow I can picture that little you dancing and entertaining all.

Hope the new FAME was fun. It's hard to beat the original.

Michele Renee said...

Thanks for sharing a bit of your past. I love movies that bring back such memories.
I wonder if the off-the-shoulder-ripped dance-wear look will come back!

Katie in MA said...

That was a FABULOUS post! Don't stop believing, girl - we still think you got it.

rn terri said...

I felt the exact same way! I took my daughter to see the movie on Saturday. She loved it, she's 8. I was hoping it would spark something in her....

MommyTime said...

I love this post. It is so inspiring (though a little sad too). I was the actor kid -- the one who wrote plays and made the neighborhood kids rehearse them endlessly, build sets, and perform at the annual block party. I wrote shows, auditioned for shows, acted as much as I could through high school and college until I got too busy. I always loved dancing, but we also didn't have money for lots of lessons. My daughter is about to start her first dance class this Friday, and I have been seriously thinking about the ballet that I took just for one year. Could I do it again? Do I dare be 39 in a leotard? But I am seriously considering taking the adult beginners class at the local not-too-serious ballet school. Want to do dance lessons with me? Perhaps we could chase a dream...

Preston said...

Fame is so 80's. I'm glad it gives you such good memories, though. For me, my defining moment was Hello Dolly. Yup, Barbra Streisand belting out tunes with feathers in her hair. Of course, I'm gay so that seems appropriate.

JoeinVegas said...

Well, not too late. Or do you dance around the kitchen while cleaning the counters? Kids look at you funny when they catch you singing along?

Saucy said...

Totally going to see that one with Loopy! Remember my name! I had the same bedroom poster of the tattered toe shoes that LeRoy, the homeless talented dude had. Only his was three sizes bigger and that much more expensive than the little one I sported in suburbia for Christmas that year, so explain that continuity to the prop department, will ya?

You're still totally Coco to us, you know.

Loralee Choate said...

I CAN sing. It was the plan for me to get my MFA at Yale and then hopefully make the artist's program at the Met and have a professional opera career.

Problem?

Not enough passion. By far. And it's a life I don't want.

So, I still sing, still use my voice and have a great time doing so but I also wonder if I would have had a better time/easier road in college if I had gone to a professional school of the arts in high school.

Or at least found out it wasn't what I wanted earlier.