I’ve been nostalgic for a former life lately. It’s mostly because New York City’s Department of Education is trying to kill my school. And when I get nostalgic, I look at photos and mementos. So I thought I’d drag a few of you along to explain the photo below.
I blame Solid Gold.
Before Solid Gold, the only evening television I was allowed to watch was The Lawrence Welk Show and The Wonderful World of Disney. I loved them; I developed crushes on singers on Lawrence Welk and rejoiced in the Disney magic. But by the time Solid Gold debuted in 1980, my budding adolescence (before they called it ‘Tweens) needed something a little less safe. And seeing the Solid Gold Dancers shake their butts and do Jazz Hands was titillating, to say the least. It was my introduction to blatant sexuality. At ten, I was in 6th grade, and the popular girls with Lee Jeans were already talking about “boyfriends.” By that time, Alison Wolters had already told me “You need to start wearing a bra!” in front of all her friends. (I was, in fact, wearing a training bra when she said that. I just couldn’t get the words out.) I was ripe for the world of skimpy, glittery clothes and gyrating hips.
As the Solid Gold Dancers writhed and shook behind the closing credits, my sister and I would jump up and imitate them, much to my mother’s horror. I wore a towel on my head so I could have long hair like Darcel, the clear lead dancer. I envied my sister’s flexibility, but my enthusiasm was definitely the greater. I loved dancing like no one was watching. I felt powerful, graceful, free.
Then came Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Donna Summer, Madonna, Adam Ant, Flashdance, Footloose, Fame. Oh boy, if my parents’ basement walls could talk. I took “interpretive dance” to a whole new level of awesomeness. I was an amazing dancer.
In real life, though, I did the 7th grade shuffling hop during dances right up through Senior Class Night. Living in a small town, going to classes with the same 200 or so kids for all those years, was not conducive to feeling free. It wasn’t until I went off to college six hours away (too long for weekend visits, not too long to get back for the holidays) that I let myself really dance in public. I became the type of person who got to events just as they started so I would have room on the dance floor. I preferred dancing alone, but I’d accept a partner if s/he let me lead. God it felt good.
So what does this have to do with the photo at the top of the page? Well, like I said, I blame Solid Gold. Every year, at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, the Dance Ensemble presents a wonderful show of varying acts of grace and agility. And smack dab in the middle of the show is the teachers’ performance. We always called it the Comic Relief – or The Double Band Dancers. The students went wild seeing their teachers up on the stage dancing to Vogue, Proud Mary, The Willie Bounce, All That Jazz, Men in Black, and Beat It. Most teachers demurred, but there were some, like me, who looked forward to the show every year.
And participating in the Dance Ensemble show accomplished a few things. It allowed classroom teachers a chance to take a stage without the chalk dust. It allowed students to see their teachers having a ball – and poking fun at themselves. And it brought the school community together in a true, tangible effort of joy. If you need evidence of that, look again at the smile I’m sporting in the photo above as we rehearsed the fight scene for Beat It one year. Joy.