Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day From Visual Vamp

My mother as a young dancer with her career ahead of her

My mother was a dancer.
Her career ended with a pregnancy with the end result being my birth.
She had six more children after me, for a total of seven, with three girls and four boys.
She put the first four of us in dance school, including one of my brothers.
I remember one routine when he was the only boy on stage shaking some maracas, while all the little girls did some hoochie koochie dance. As we got older, he was again the only boy. He used to have to go down the line of girls, and do one lift for each of us. He quit shortly thereafter. My other two sisters also quit after maybe one year of dance lessons.
I on the other hand was not allowed to quit. I was the first born girl, and the fulfillment of a lost career. I went to my mother's strict and stern old Russian teacher. She carried a staff, and used it to bang out the beat on the floor, and to give us a whack once in awhile.
I had some success as a child performer. I did not like the ballet, because my mother was a very, very good dancer, and I was just okay, and I hated the comparisons, and my failure to be the dancer she was.
We did a couple of mother-daughter numbers together, always a crowd please-er when I was little, and we wore identical costumes, with me looking like a mini-me version of my mother.
My mother also had a storefront dance school, the kind that taught ballet and tap. Jazz hands weren't called that then, and my mother didn't teach anything more modern that a time step.
At around 12 years old, I started helping her out at her school, teaching the 3 and 4 year old kids, who mainly wanted to run around and lick the mirrors. I was a glorified baby sitter, but I had lots of practice with my younger siblings.
My mother and I argued about my "career." She wanted me to turn adult pro, and I did not. I knew I was mediocre, and would always be killing myself to be cast in the back of the corps du ballet of some second rate company. I was finally offered the choice at age 16 to continue or to quit. Needless to say, I bid adieu to the ballet.
But, mom had instilled a love of dance and music in all of us. She taught us to Hula to old Dorothy Lamour records, and Jazz it up to Judy Garland records. She taught us how to do the Twist. Lots of times we'd just play records and sing and jump around, a kind of crazy kid freestyle dance party, with mother in the middle of it, the most crazy, and the most fun one of us all.
I kept her ballet class habit for a long time. Then Luigi Jazz class. Tap class too, with an old corinne who used to hoof it with Eleanor Powell. I got a few hoofing jobs myself Off Broadway in the chorus. A serious knee injury at age 20 cut that part-time employment short.
Still, I danced in clubs: disco, disco roller skating, Latin, rock...I got a few undemanding jobs in Summer stock theater and movie extra work; had a cameo role in a Broadway flop; did performance poetry with Max Blagg and Jim Foreman; "sang" in a post punk rock band - Mom took up line dancing and loved the Achy Breaky Heart period of country music.
She passed away in 1995, just a year after I started up with the Argentine Tango. I had a hell of a time in the beginning classes. I cried alot, dredging up childhood memories of never being good enough in ballet class. I was about to give it up. I had applied to go to Stanford University for a tango program. I was put on a waiting list, and really was about to bag it.
This was around Mother's Day. My mom didn't look good. She was like so many women of her generation. She suffered her aches and pains. She didn't do doctors. Too many had disappointed, dismissed, and drugged her when she was going crazy as young mother trying to raise seven kids. Finally my sister insisted they go to the emergency room one particularly bad day of pain for mother. A routine check up revealed pancreatic cancer. Mother died by the beginning of June.
We arranged her funeral. I made a sound track from Judy Garland to Billy Ray and that Achy Breaky Heart. I was a big deal then, money to burn, and I lavished 1000 yellow roses (her favorite flower) on her at the funeral home. I gave a fiery eulogy, somehow channelling some Southern style preacher. Her friends, and my step father didn't know what the hell was going on. I drove 100 miles an hour afterwards, scaring the bejesus out of my sister.
When I got back to my desk at my office, my assistant had left a pile of phone messages for me to read. The one on top said that I had been accepted to Stanford. I raised my eyes to heaven, and smiled, and said, "this dance is for you mom."

1 comment:

Cholo said...

Happy and honored to lay by at your feet!