Contest Invite and Rules
A Dancer's Memoir (Confession?)
I went early to case it out, was it really good disco and with song to
song consistency? I wasn't disappointed. Good
warm up total body dance conditioning and practice for tomorrow evening's
After the normal demanding Saturday scheduling of day-off/available
patients, it was time to wash up and go home for Rochelle's big moment, the Annual
Father & Daughter Ballet Duo Contest against the other dads.
But first, after I got through this nasty traffic on the H1 (both
directions), I make it to the gym. Not
without conflict, as the hygienist was acting up among the staff about going
home 1 paid hour less because the doctor" has to do something with
"What's the big deal?" I hear her loud voice all the way from the other side of my clinic.
But it was worth it. I wheeled into a parking space and was
"in" in time as they closed in 25 minutes.
Good fast pump up the body before performance, ready the muscles for work-
as partner to Rochelle, one of the top ballet students at the Honolulu ballet
for youth academy. It is a very proper,
formal, etiquette & feminine charm building classical dance school within a
community that opts instead to stay on the beach and in the surf.
After working out I went home, showered and freshened up, then put on whatever I could find to look like a dancer. So, just buffed, I picked out a tank shirt. The one that is tight fitting and military brown, probably a former soldier's and used in some desert. To go with that, this elastic waistband baggy pants but with ankle elastics, with the 70's camouflage patterns in purple and similar brown as the shirt. Black socks. I arrived driving alone as Rochelle (12) and her mother had already gone to the school for the afternoon "to decorate."
I thought, swell, this is my 3rd annual and I, a mean "we," have always lost. She (my partner, daughter), has always forgiven me for screwing it up. We never won. It was always my fault, we don't have to verbalize this incompatible abyss in ballet ability as partners in a dance contest. I tried to convince myself that this time it was instead only going to be fun and relaxing time with my girl, prime Papa-daughter time, building fond memories. Make an effort to try to get to understand and see her emerging, so young, as a poised, radiant, promising young ballerina.
was in their lot, couldn't believe my good luck of taking the last parking
stall. The 3 other cars behind me
had to start looking on the streets. I
wouldn't be the last father there after all.
It was impressive, driving into the up front parking. Baby Blue and Baby Pink helium filled balloons on strings were floating all along the lot, up the railings to the second floor dance school and then more balloons inside the door and throughout. I walk in among little kids sounding shrunken by cartoon character-like (pick one) voices, with group giggles in between. The kids where taking balloons filled with helium and inhaling it to change their vocal cords to sound so weird. They were having a great time among themselves. And the parents, standing along the wall engaged in chitchat, where miles away from the gassy kids only romping about, one foot below adult supervision. One of the dance instructors, sitting there on a bench with other parents said to me, Oh I see you dressed to dance!
I guess. I think, this is how male ballet dancers would dress without issued leotards as well as What a dumb thing to say, hope she doesn't think I am taking this children's contest seriously.
Oh Oh, I think to myself as the crowd finally settled down from
head instructor's finger-to-lip symbol to "Shut Up!"
Of course she didn't say it that way, instead issued the firm, almost motherly,
"hush." And another, and another, till all was quiet with the
additional help of
the teacher's stern eye.
Welcome to our Fifth Annual Father and Daughter Pas De Deux!. This year we are getting more serious, - look, a trophy. (crowd applauses, her 13 year old student/daughter stands up and yells out The trophy is mine! I don't care about all the other stuff, I WANT THAT TROPHY!
My God, I think to myself, this is becoming serious competition. What happen to the approach at the start about coming out to exercise, Mr. Businessmen and professionals while you make a donation to our nonprofit dance school?
And for the winning father, a bottle of the finest wine, dinner for 2 (A FREE LUNCH IN LIFE DOES EXIST), a real man's tool - metallic gadget boasting "20" different functions and shapes, plus 2 tickets to the movies (ANOTHER RIDE!).
I was getting motivated.
I'm sorry our defending champions are not here tonight, they had to go to... " My mind wandered, thinking, Wow, you mean they are, like, the champions who must be dethroned? Has this turned into a serious competition!
Listen carefully, all of you who are judging. Be sure you have these forms to cast your votes... Remember you will be evaluating the following criteria: how much the partners communicate to each other...
It was NOT going to be just fun this year, this was a performance. Without adequate practice, in front of a laughing crowd of women, out of sync with little girls who do this several times a week and on their own home turf;
The girl who would be queen among her peers
was the one who's dad least messed up her routine.
was starting to feel like one of those "reality" TV tasteless game shows
always criticize my children for watching too much of.
Rochelle, 12 and going on 13, appeared gorgeous with all that ballet makeup and her hair up in a bun ball. Her teacher, and owner of the academy, a retired New York dance company professional, suggested that if the ball was positioned slower, tying in a visual relationship with her eye and cheek bone, It would make her face look more exotic, stretching the corner of her eyes up and back. I agreed. Rochelle has to learn to reposition the bun when she does her hair herself, as required by the school, before performances and classes. Doing one's hair and makeup is part of growing up in youth ballet school.
Somebody yelled Let the Games Begin!
We all started walking in mass, like a bunch of cattle being led to the slaughter, to the large class dance floor room. Full of mirrors, full of women staring, ballet teachers, readied pianist, class work to master, immediate memory and agility test, in competition with the other males, with no second tries - or excuses. There was no escape. Too late to call in sick.
It was a new male instructor. Oh Oh, new steps! Is this guy trying to be ironic or does he really think it's true when he declared -
This is easy.
But let me go through it one more time.
And again. The guys weren't getting it but he wasn't about to substitute something easier.
Indeed. Instead of baby steps, the girl students would acquire in this lesson, a rare duet ballet routine because of the availability of (hesitant) partners.
school has a problem when the male-female ratio is so skewed.
So for a class, the fathers serve as subservient male 'partners.'
Which means, the male partner's part is complex stuff! Indeed, for the
average middle-aged, can't dance, never could, obligatory volunteer father, he was
This was a consoling revelation, since I thought it was only me, as I
struggled to learn in the allotted time.! Good
thing I, I mean "we," went last!
Even if it was the number 13. Was this an omen of bad things to come?
There was invaluable time to observe the steps by the other couples going before us, as if being fed to the lions. I learned quickly none of the fathers did it totally right but after the 12 preceding us I more or less understood my role- as back up.
Everybody was messing up their daughters, many who displayed the dismay of having to be humiliated in public by their fathers. During the competition, many were dropped - literally that is, onto the floor. Some of the girls might be thinking, Is this what partnering is?
Getting dumped when you are risking it all to be supported?
All the time the makeshift audience and jury, the mothers/wives along with other siblings, grandparents and friends, where sitting on the all dance room floor, against the mirror walls, pencils and papers in hand. With the mirrored reflection and my bad eyes, it looked like double the number of actual women peering up and chuckling at husbands' mistakes. In humorous support of course. Sound really carried in this dance hall with mirrors - intensifying the laughter at the Dad's not-quite-dancing gawkiness.
It was now the 12th to get called up, ordered to dance solo as a duo in front of the whole house, - serious classical accompaniment by the piano player. No dad had done it perfectly, there was quite a few "variations" from the correct positions and steps. For the most part, the average dad just stumbled along through the prescribed routine, almost a hindering restraint for their daughters, all who seemed to have learned the routine spontaneously.
Maybe it's because they go to ballet class 3-4 times a week for years?
Holy Cow! I think to myself, We're going last so we are the
Grand Finale!!!! People always expect
some great finishing act. Pressure!
I too don't know the steps!
Big time pressure as Madame Lee Olson announces: And now let's welcome our last contestants (there's a group sign in the room), Rochelle and her Dad Rodney!
butterflies in my stomach. Quick, no time for that, Think!, I
try not to look stupid, try to remember the my steps, her steps, which hand to
be holding , when to have both hands in support of her bodily motion, in which direction,
how many times, when to kick out and remember to point with toes, when to let go
of her hand and raise mine into a swam looking thing, when to step forward 2
steps then ready to brace the female dancer's waist so she can spin, on her toe,
then spin her around through my controlled rotating force to rotate her on toe,
all with the required balancing. And not
to forget to look graceful and not a bumbling buffoon.
It's be over soon enough, everything comes to an end. You can do this. Now try
to look confident, like you look like you know what you are doing. Note Rochelle
already up and waving you up, so confident and beaming with anticipation.
No matter what, don't forget to smile to conceal the fear.
It's be over soon enough, everything comes to an end. You can do this. Now try to look confident, like you look like you know what you are doing. Note Rochelle already up and waving you up, so confident and beaming with anticipation. No matter what, don't forget to smile to conceal the fear.
before the moment of doom arrived, I muster up a dance strategy.
What is the male dancer's role but to complement, almost disappear behind, so that the female of the duo is the star, the action point to affix the audience attention in the ballet, distract the jurors. Like the pants, camouflage. After all, I am with one of the school's best dancers. (Rochelle was called up twice to demonstrate with the instructor, us of the second row). Forget the male instructor's steps, instead, reduce the number of anxieties and go with fast gut reaction decisions when in doubt. Instead, adlib, just try to flow with Rochelle's body, give her more control, don't retrain her motions and prescribed directions by grasping too hard or tilting her off balance. Let her show me the way through the routine. Let her lead me by hand.
in the natural survival instinct was in operation.
started in sync with the piano, entering into this sequential routine, feeling not much unlike
going into a dangerous maze ill-prepared. Four
steps together, diagonally across the room, starting at the center of the
cleared floor, not to
forget the leg extension and raised turned chin, each time also with extended arms
providing partner hand support for her tippy-toe dainty dance steps.
Then a prance around the girl,
as she balances on a single toe, revolving by the man's applied but gentle
force, holding a face of repose as she rotated.
a complicated ballet stepping line to the side, then reverse back the other way, before
the crowning finale of a swirl of the ballerina, waist within the controlling center of
gravity, captured within the father's encircling palms.
Then her, up on one toe, like a frozen-in -action Barbie doll, one arm and
hand gracefully extended loftily above, in totally dependency on her partner to make
her look good or , like a few -
embarrassing crash to the floor.
Still feeling good from the supplemental disco dance hours from the night before, I used my sidestepping groovy dance steps to fill in for the forgotten dance steps required of me in the prescribed routine. I knew my cover-up was acceptable when I heard an "Ah!" (and it wasn't my wife -too busy with the video camera).
The finale, it was almost over, I could go home now, soon, let's call
it another year, don't think I embarrassed Rochelle that much this year, I need
But I should have been mentally preparing for the arrival of the finale part!
Rochelle went into the spin.
Positioned a bit too far, I
tried to step up fast enough to circle her waist with my hands before her
revolving began. I did, but I was
starting to go off balance, attempting to lunge to the right spot - and not be too
noticeable. Trying to maintain my
hands encompassing, I was losing my balance and regrettably applied a wayward
nudge to the
spinning ballerina's waistline, now putting a fatal vector force that threw off her
center of gravity in the middle of the spin - thereby losing her control over
her dance positioning, her body. I felt like a real jerk.
A srew up! A dad no ballerina would want to get stuck with in class!
A srew up! A dad no ballerina would want to get stuck with in class!
We both were going down!
I quickly pulled away from any contact with Rochelle
and it worked - she, the trained ballet-athlete that she is, managed to up right
herself, pulling herself out of that dive, even kept her chin up and arm
pointing for extension. But I, the bumbling idiot, for sure was going down for the
The miraculous recovery of Rochelle and my in process fall from grace must have been quite a monumental spectacle for the mothers and wives. It was that finale unexpected climax to end a night of judgment. Before I hit the floor I kicked out, away from Rochelle of course, into a ballet full leg extension with toes pointed, a last sec attempt to make the fall look planned and funny. I figured to compose balance by jetting out any other way to complement Rochelle moving in the only other direction, away from me, to recapture her balance. In the midst of the Bam!!! from the floor upon impact, I heard so sweet applause for the accident that should have been the eliminator. It had worked, comedy saved the moment, just as disco earlier helped me bridge an impasse to escape from the piece, the ordeal.
I'm thinking, The class in Public Speaking was less stressful than this!
Walking out after the contest, I pass Madame Olsen and she whispers to me, Sneaky.
I wonder what that means.
She does know that I am a disco regular.
A half hour later, after the count, all gather back into the room to hear the verdict. I remember Madame Olsen saying earlier, In this contest there is only one winner. No Third Place, No Second Place. Just like in life. Get used to it.
Our name didn't come up for third place, supposedly there was declared none but the count was announced anyway. Then second place, for sure we where out of contention I think to myself, falling like that, not getting the correct steps and form right. Second went to Jackie, Madame's daughter, so badly in need of that little trophy, and her step Dad, a lawyer. My wife, Erlinda, was contemplating and tells me later, I thought it was interesting, upon hearing 2nd Place results, that this year they're giving it to one of the younger students.
Madame proudly announces, And our new father & daughter partnering champions are......
Rochelle and her dad!.
crowds "Ahs" and applauses, all heads turn toward us and catch my
mouth wide open, a gold mine of teeth, in absolute disbelief.
I am totally shocked. I was trying to avoid the humiliation for myself and my daughter and we "walk away with it" -
now thinking, Hey, this school is worth the tuition!
And There is a God -of mercy!
bouquet of live flowers, bag of condiments, fancy makeup kit, 4 Jamba Juice
certificates, foot therapy kit, hair accessories, and me with my
bounty consisting of a bottle of
wine, dinner for 2 at the local steak house, and movies afterwards for free, are
both happy campers.
Rochelle beamed with pride as her fellow dance students turned green with
envy. At least I thought so. The camera bulbs started flashing.
Rochelle beamed with pride as her fellow dance students turned green with envy. At least I thought so. The camera bulbs started flashing.
Hey, going 13th wasn't so bad after all! I mean, being the only Dad to flop to the floor, and ..... win? But the date probably wasn't a lucky charm. The outcome was determined by Rochelle's giftedness in ballet, enough to negate my own presence and masked insecurity. I found my comfort zone- by becoming her shadow, barely adequate or detectable.
After the award presentation I was permitted to go. I had already changed into my disco dance clothes. Almost apologetically, I kissed and said goodbye to Erlinda and Rochelle, again telling her Good job and Congratulations! We did it!
gave me a parting look that said, We have to defend our championship next
year, so be ready this time. I'm thinking, Worry about it later.
I slipped into the driver's seat of my sports car, gun up the engine to vent residual stress, then disappeared into the Saturday tropical night, arriving on the dance floor of my favorite discotheque in Waikiki. Here I was personally celebrating more than this win, but a bonded memory of competing and winning in something together with Rochelle. And couldn't help thinking and feeling-
By God, I finally won a trophy after dancing for over a quarter of a century in the disco style.
And yes, the competition did, that night, free up my disco dancing to experimentation and contributed additions to my dance repertoire. It was Saturday Night Fever again, with the drinking wall flowers watching as I did a tincture of ballet between my disco routines, jetting up my chin while in a matador's stance, with new found pride.