Friday, June 27, 2008

So You Think You Can Dance

I love this show! 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM on Wednesday night I'm hooked to the tv. Then again on Thursday 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM for the results show. This program features aspiring young dancers. It's similar in format to "American Idol" and, in fact, has the same producer. The show begins with auditions, then whittles down and down to the top 10 females and top 10 guys. The dancers are paired up and each week each couple draws their dance from a hat. Each couple works with a choreographer. Often the couple has to dance outside of their specialty, or one of the two has to. I enjoy seeing the different dances, the work of the choreographers, and the costumes. I find the judges' comments interesting and generally pretty supportive. I love watching these young dancers attempt to make a dream come true. For two of them, the dream ends each Wednesday, at least the dream of winning this season.

I also love this program because each week as I watch I think about my mother who loved to dance. She had too much unhappiness in her life, but dancing brought her joy. She discovered ballroom dancing when I was in college and she was in the midst of a second bad marriage that would eventually end. During my spring break we went to Sea Island, Georgia, to stay with my grandparents. While there she took a few dancing lessons from Arthur Murray instructors at the big hotel there. Dancing became to her what poetry would later become to me.

After the marriage ended, she remembered how much she'd enjoyed dancing and signed up for regular lessons. Her living room mantle filled up with dancing trophies. Each Sunday she went into New York to dance at Roseland. A few nights a week she went to other places to dance. She was on the circuit. She made new friends. She was only interested in men who could dance. ("He's nice, but he doesn't dance.") She bought skirts with flounced hems because they looked good when she swirled around. She loved Fame and Dirty Dancing. She mastered the Pasa Doble.

The year I received tenure I rewarded myself with a trip to London. I took my mother and my daughter. One day, on our way to Madame Tussaud's, we saw a small shop that advertised dancing shoes. On the way back we stopped there and she bought her favorite dancing shoes. I have always been grateful that we took that trip as her feet were already going bad on her–bunions, hammer toes. They got worse and worse. She walked with feet that killed her. It threw her entire alignment off. Her back hurt. Her hips hurt. Her legs jumped at night. But she kept on dancing! She would tape up her feet as if she were an athlete. The night she died, she'd been dancing.

So each time I watch this show I think of my mother and how much she would have loved it. Not surprisingly, I suppose, I've written a few dancing poems. I wish my mother had lived long enough to know I'd written them. I know that would have made her happy and proud. Here's one of them. This poem has danced around a bit itself. It was first published in the now-defunct Cumberland Poetry Review, later appeared on Valparaiso Poetry Review as my first online publication, and then appeared in my first book, Eve's Red Dress.

Last Dance

The summer my father waltzed
out of our lives,
I found an old hat buried
in my mother’s closet—
black satin, stiff with age,
stitched with tiny silver sequins.

My mother, still in flannel robe,
hair uncombed, said it was the Charleston hat
she’d worn as a girl when she danced
to the big jazz bands—years before
she met my father. Show me, I said.

She put it on and began to dance,
steps tentative—a convalescent
learning to walk again. Her arms
flapped like bird wings. Her hands
made circles in the air. She knocked
her knees together, in, out, in, out.

Faster and faster, feet beat time
to music I couldn’t hear. Sequins
sparkled in her hair. She twirled, spun,
and seemed to fly, for that moment
airlifted out of her life.

She threw off her robe and shimmied.
Rows of fringe swayed across her red satin
chemise. Feet kicked air. Sparks shot out
from under her shoes. My mother
danced on fire. The crowd moved back
to give more room. The band played
just for her. All eyes were on my mother,
and all around her fire, fire, fire.

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  1. Hey Diane,

    I love this show too. It's a shush-don't-bother-me. And now I'll think of your mother while the crumpers are puttin' on the Ritz.


  2. You've got that right--Shush, don't bother me.
    Don't call me. Don't ring the doorbell. For those
    two hours I'm not available. Wasn't Gev's save-my-life dance amazing this week?

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