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Archive for July, 2010

The Last Dance

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Paula and Curtis Distract The Audience Away From Janet's Dancing

Janet Attempts To Learn The Dance Finale With Help From Teri

Recently I performed in the Gavilan College Reunion Show Fundraiser. Initially, I thought a reunion show was the most dreadful idea on record. But the experience gave me a new lease on life. And forced me to live out my worst nightmare.

A group of classmates came up with the idea to gather the old gang together to perform monologues and songs as a fundraiser for the S.T.A.R. program, an educational theater program for children held at Gavilan College in Gilroy.

I was horrified. First of all, I wasn’t good in junior college. Most of us—while loaded with raw talent back then—hadn’t exactly matured as performers. To revisit this “bad acting” time of my life terrified me. I’d gone onto to achieve a BA in Theater from UC Santa Cruz and had become a much better actor.

So I initially refused to be involved with what I assumed would be a crime against nature and the theater.

Then a professional dancer/Gavilan alumni—and one of my favorite people—Curtis Caudill, called me up and asked me reprise my role of Calamity Jane for the show. He caught me at a very bad time. I’d just agreed to finish my novel in two weeks for my agent and had about a month’s worth of work to do. I think I cut him off with a stream of expletives followed by a litany of excuses. But Curtis knows how to work me. He agreed that the book should be my priority. He assured me that there was no pressure. He was so sweet, I found myself asking, “So what’s the rehearsal schedule like?” Curtis replied, “Saturday. That’s it. We get there at nine, rehearse the show and go on at four.” Somehow I still managed to say no.

After I hung up, a guilt bomb went off in my belly. How could I say no to one measly day of my life? To do something good for kids? What kind of a Grinch was I? I called Curtis back and capitulated.

Happy I was onboard, he began enthusiastically describing the dance finale. I assumed he had assembled a group of dancers. Then he started saying things like “…then you guys do a ball change…” The stark realization hit me like a tanker truck full of ice water dumping on my head. The performers were the dancers. Meaning me. Trapped and terrified, I couldn’t believe I’d been duped.

I am not a dancer. I’ve never been a dancer. I have a nightmare at least once a month that takes place on that same Gavilan stage. I am either on stage without knowing my lines or am flailing around in a dance routine that I can’t remember and am completely humiliating myself.

And now my nightmare would become a reality.

For the record, I’ve never learned a dance and performed it in the same day. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done a dance right in my life. Even with months of rehearsal. My brain doesn’t remember dance combinations. My feet and legs don’t understand counting, they don’t know how to do kick ball changes and they rarely obey me. On top of that, three days before the show, I piled it in front of six lanes of traffic on El Camino, scraped my face all to hell and injured my left knee.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t hurt enough. Still, I arrived that morning at the theater in partial denial. Curtis knows I’m a klutz. He wasn’t actually going to make me dance, was he?

I ran into all my old buddies and the hugging and crying commenced immediately. I forgot about the dance and was overcome with nostalgia. I can’t count the hours I spent in that theater, but I performed over thirty shows on that stage. Suddenly, the years vanished and I was back home with my best friends.

The minute I began to feel good about my decision to perform, Curtis ordered us to our places to rehearse the dance finale. That’s when it became real. Adding to my terror, everyone else had a previous rehearsal, one I couldn’t make. They all knew the dance.

My worst fears quickly became reality. I could not learn the dance. I tried, I worked, but kept forgetting steps and ending up in the front of the stage, dancing like a chicken with vertigo. And then the rehearsal was over. And I was still lost.

Next, we did our technical rehearsal, the final one. I screwed up the dance yet again. The irony of dancing to Michael Jackson’s song “Bad” was not wasted on me. I was convinced the show would be awesome (my friends have all matured amazingly and have become top-notch performers) and I’d ruin the whole thing with the finale.

All of a sudden, we were breaking for lunch. When I returned to the theatre, I went off in the wings to practice the dance. Before I knew it, the stage manager said, “Half-hour to places.” I could only pray.

Aside from a minor technical difficulty, the main part of the show went well. I was happy with my Calamity Jane monologue. But the finale loomed ahead of me, terrifying me.

And then we were on. My heart pounding in my ears, my legs shaky, my face flushed, I went out there, and for some reason, remembered the dance. I couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled. My cousin said, “You blended in.” Best compliment EVER.

Aside from the tremendous relief of surviving the dance finale, I came away from my performance energized. I’ve been writing alone for many years. While writing is my primary passion, too much solitary time isn’t healthy. I’d forgotten how much I love being on stage and doing a project with a group of people. So now I’m writing a play and plan on performing it with my friends. And I can thank Curtis for all this.

But I won’t thank him for making me dance in public. While I managed, hopefully I’ll never have to perform the magical “feet” again.

©2010, Janet Periat

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