Addicted to Dance
I got off to a slow start in life. I was born not breathing — the result of the “Twilight Sleep” my mother had been given so she wouldn’t even know what was going on, let alone feel it. Then I got TB… right off the bat. So did my mother. Since there was no cure for the condition in 1947, she went to Havana for the so-called rest cure and I, because it was most likely that I would die anyway, got funneled into an experimental program that was testing drugs for a cure.
I, apparently, got the good drugs and got well in Philadelphia before my mother got well in Havana so I was packed off to her parents in New Jersey to “care for” me which consisted of swaddling me so tightly that I wouldn’t be “any trouble.” I was almost a year old by the time my parents came to reclaim me and I could neither crawl nor walk because I’d spent the entire time in a body wrap.
I’m pretty sure that’s why, from the time I first heard music as a small, free-standing body, I started dancing… because I could! I could move! And could I!
Both my parents loved music, though they came at it from different sides. My mother had been raised by an evil man, but he was an evil man who loved music. He both played piano and led a local orchestra and he had instilled in his daughter a love of classical music. She played both classical piano and organ. My father was Cuban. I’m pretty sure that needs no explanation as far as the sort of music that had foundationed his life. He toyed around with playing guitar and had both a congo drum and a set of bongos.
Every musical act on the Sunday night Ed Sullivan show would have me dancing in my parents’ bedroom as they watched the TV. I responded to everything from straight-out rock’n’roll to the whirling dervishes (spinning is still one of my favorite things to do.). Come my birthday, my parents had two very different responses to my undeniable obsession. My father, bless his sinful heart, went right to the core of my fascination, and gifted me with my own record player and a small stack of 45’s. I was given space in “the sunroom” of the house to set up and I could dance whenever I wanted.
My mother, deluded by the idea that I was, perhaps, some sort of mini version of her that liked to dance, enrolled me in dance class… ballet dance class. That did not go well.
But — and this would ultimately save me from ballet — not so obvious to anyone at the time, I have a severe inability to distinguish right from left. You tell me to turn left and your chances of that happening are 50/50. Ballet thrives on ‘direction,’ and it’s not that I didn’t want to follow the directions that were being given… I couldn’t. Only bringing down most of the scenery with a wrongly directed kick during the end-of-the-season class production saved me from still more years of the dreaded classes.
I continued on my individualistic path and then, eventually, came the 60’s and did I ever luck out. Somebody spotted me at a college dance and the next thing I knew I had a Friday night job as a Go-Go girl… white boots and all. I was in HEAVEN.
Someone’s parent spotted me at one of the dances and I got offered a very different kind of Go-Go girl job, one I hadn’t even known existed. The money was purported to be really good, but the job involved a lot more nudity than I was comfortable with, so that did not happen.
Once I graduated and married, my dancing was, just as it had been when I was a kid, mostly done at home but, as fortune would have it, we moved to a house across the street from a high school that offered night classes and I noticed that one of the classes was in interpretive dance. I sighed up! The teacher was in her early 80’s, an ex-showgirl, and a woman after my own heart. She opened every class with a series of stretches that I would later discover were yoga poses. I grew to love them so much that I took to doing them every morning… I still do.
Then I got divorced and married a man who was a practicing nudist and the next thing I knew I was as comfortable as could be dancing entirely naked in a roomful of other entirely naked people.
Once again, I got noticed, but this time it was by women who wanted to learn how to dance similarly. My style by then, in my 50’s, was what might be described as ‘sensual.’ I began to hold some classes myself, both at the resort and back at home. As I was also studying various kinds of alternative healing methods at the time, some of my classes took on a more ‘shamanic’ tone.’
Now, the reason I had been exploring alternative healing methods was because I had contracted, in 1988 a disease — diffuse progressive systemic sclerosis — aka: scleroderma — that had crippled me from the neck down. As with the TB I’d had as a child, there was no cure for the condition. As with the TB I’d had as a child, I once again became a guinea pig in an experimental search for a cure.
My skin had turned to leather — hidebound, they called it — causing my arms and legs to remain in a bent sort of position and my fingers to sort of curl inward. It was remarkably painful. The experimental ‘treatment’ was painful as well… but then, everything was. Miraculously, it seems, the treatment worked on me, though not on anyone else.
It had been strange to return to dancing lacking the fluidity of my fingers but, even now, I move them as if they were still fluid though that sense is all within me and no one can see it… but I can feel it, the once-upon-a-time fluidity of a body that still, at 75, dances like a child every morning for 25 minutes before yoga. My body loves it… and so do I.
I sometimes wonder if this irrepressible urge to dance with no restrictions whatsoever might have its roots in my infancy when I was first kept in an incubator for so many months then sent off to people who bound me up like a papoose and kept me that way. Essentially, the first year of my life had been spent in restraint… perhaps my body determined that once she got free, she’d move as much as she darn well pleased.
Who could blame her?