Anatomy of a dancer
April 20, 2012
Occasionally people ask me why I don’t write about how I came to be a dancer. I know exactly when my dancing life began. I was learning the box step at Billy Bell’s Ballroom Dance Studio in downtown Los Angeles. I was 16, and the classes set my folks back $3.50 for 10 classes.
My next clue that dancing was in my future, came when I was being interviewed by Captain Culver, U.S.N., (NROTC), at the University of Southern California. I was soon to graduate and become an ensign. “What do you plan to do in the future, Midshipman Walker?” the good captain asked, and settled himself comfortably behind his aircraft carrier size desk. “Well, sir, I want to be a dancer, I confessed.” Within moments, I was standing out in the hall.
Two years later, after being released from active duty, I became part of a dance team. The trio included a blond, a brunette and me. We wore snappy costumes and plenty of make up. During a performance at the Pink Pony Saloon in Victorville, Calif., the cowboy crowd covered the floor with pennies. This wasn’t the kind of financial solvency I had in mind.
“Boy Dancers, 6′ tall, jazz and ballet required, for Donn Arden Show at the Moulin Rouge Theatre – Hollywood,” the audition notice read. Despite being 5′ 9,” I got the job. Regrettably, being surrounded by beautiful women for a whole year became a distraction. I sowed enough wild oats to avert a famine.
When the show closed, I imploded and decided to travel. Mexico and Canada were too close. I chose Guatemala. I rode rickety old buses, stayed in primitive motels, and ate tortillas and beans for breakfast. It was heaven.
One day, while tucked away in the Guatemalan Highlands, in the Quiche village of Chichicastenango, I received a phone call from my dad. “Donn Arden wants you to be in Las Vegas in three days to begin rehearsals.” The show lasted two months and I was out of work, again. I returned to Hollywood, and decided to move to, where else, New York City.
There are more talented people standing on a street corner in New York City, than all of Hollywood and Beverly Hills combined. True, most of us were out of work and we had stars in our eyes, but that didn’t matter. I groaned and sweated through ballet classes, raged through acting class, and then I found Luigi, the hottest jazz dance teacher in town.
Built like a construction worker, he created moves that were so beautiful even a C.P.A. would be impressed. His classes were jammed with skinny girl dancers, cutthroat boy dancers, beginners, pros, anyone who had a spark of dance simmering in their gut. Conga and bongo drums thrashed out a beat and Luigi spontaneously responded. He was electric. His movements came whirling out from some hidden part of his soul. Then he divided us into groups, and we did the combination he had just set. We tore into it, lunging, turning, leaping. Religious zealots call it rapture. I call it inspiration. Ecstasy filled the room. There is no other way to put it; the class became a love fest.
Then life flipped me over like a flapjack. I imploded again, packed up and went back to Hollywood. I became a dropout. I mowed lawns for a living. It wasn’t until I met and married Orllyene that the flame of dancing flared again. Married with three kids can be a strong motivator. Now, I had a reason to dance. From then on, I performed and choreographed with all my might. I spent hours in rehearsal studios fashioning routines that would please an audience. I traveled the world, dancing every step of the way.
When I dance, my mind becomes uncluttered and occasionally inspiration pays a visit. Most of all, dancing has shown me that being a human being isn’t such a bad deal after all.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.