Like most people, movies have made me laugh and cry, transported me to other worlds and sometimes changed the way I look at things. Some movies have inspired me to greatness, to be a better person, but since I was a child, certain movies (of the music and dance variety) have instead inspired me to make a spectacle of myself.
It started with GREASE. Before Olivia shimmied along in her spandex, I had a respectable idol: the gymnast, Nadia Comaneci. But I left Nadia behind in a downward spiral of taste that went from Olivia to Barry Manilow to the Solid Gold Dancers. My strange combination of passions led to a fusion, a mix of gymnastics and GREASE/Solid-Gold-style dancing, that I practiced, sometimes in the house, but most often in the front yard, for all to see.
This did not make me popular with my six and seven-year-old peers.
Neither did my compulsion to wear a leotard and (possibly) a tutu under my clothes and perform my routines at recess. Too late, I realized I was interested in THE WRONG THINGS. I tried to conform but I couldn’t ride the requisite skateboard, never looked quite right in the Izod shirt and hated all sports that involved a ball.
My parents moved me to an “alternative” school in third grade, and they were just in time; my grades were poor, I was an outcast and things were going to get much worse—FLASHDANCE was about to be released.
Oh, what fertile ground I was for FLASHDANCE. Cut-off sweatshirts and legwarmers were the least of it. I leapt about and rolled on the floor. I undulated, gyrated and practiced my striptease. Fortunately, I stayed off the front lawn for this, but at my new school, (where I was less universally despised but still pushing the limits of “alternative”) I could often be found in the hallways, sliding my hands up and down my thighs while running in place, a la Jennifer Beals. I was nine.
PURPLE RAIN was next and how I managed to see it is a secret I’ll take to my grave. More gyrating, more everything—PURPLE RAIN blew my mind. By this time I was taking jazz classes, but it didn’t take long for my Prince-inspired moves to attract the scorn of my classmates. Excessive hip gyration was a sketchy talent for a ten-year-old—something I realized, once again, too late.
1983 brought RISKY BUSINESS and then came FOOTLOOSE. If you’ve read this far in the post, I’m sure you’ll guess how these movies affected me, despite the social discouragement.
At fifteen, DIRTY DANCING set me on fire. Everything I’d been doing by myself could be done in pairs! By then I was circumspect about my gyrating ways, but oh, how I longed to Dirty Dance. Occasionally, at a party or school dance, I would lose a few inhibitions and boogie over to some poor boy. Maybe it was the whiff of Solid Gold in my style or just that teenage boys don’t dance, but they all ran screaming, or rather, slunk away.
University, and then a few years in theatre, provided better opportunities to dance, dirty and otherwise, and then there was “contact improv”—an acting warm-up that deserves its own post. Contact Improv, when combined with music, dance and perhaps some alcohol, was the ultimate fusion.
My husband loves to tell people he fell for me when I “jumped on him” during a rehearsal. He’s lucky the lights were on and “Let’s Go Crazy” or “You’re The One That I Want” weren’t playing or I might have done much worse. Fortunately for me, he turned out to be wild-man on the dance floor so overall, things have turned out well.
But still, I have never been invited to a Ball…
I gyrate less these days and my striptease is long retired, but I’ve got some moves I’ve been saving and I think I’ve made some friends here who won’t be too embarrassed to dance with me…even if I do occasionally make a spectacle of myself.