Dancing for a living
When I was 27, I decided to leave sunny Southern California, and move to the small, intensely, populated island of Manhattan. I was single and unshackled by responsibilities. My life was my own, and dancing was the only thing I was sure about. I found a basement apartment on 89th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam. Three times a week, I took a ballet class and two days a week, I took a jazz class. Each week I bought copies of “Back Stage” and “Show Business,” hoping to hear of an audition for a Broadway show, or a dancing job on television. Life became a blur of subway rides, treks on foot across town, and occasional visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met opened my eyes. I stood transfixed in front of Rembrandt’s self portrait. His eyes staring in defiance, copious shades of brown, the texture of his skin rough. This was great art. An entire wing of the museum was devoted to Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh, plus other Impressionists. This was why I had come to New York. I was hungry to do something bold, to take the plunge, find out what the artistic rumblings in me were all about. That’s when Luigi appeared on the scene.
Luigi’s style of dance uses the entire body. Twisting, turning, lunging, contracting, we wrung out every drop of strength we possessed. His classes were a hodge podge of wafer thin, ballet girls, athletic boy dancers, polished chorus dancers and me. I had a lot to learn. My body responded with new agility and confidence. I thrived in the hot, humid, classes with 30 or so dancers flinging themselves into exhaustion.
Of course, studying drama is almost compulsory for every Broadway hopeful. I started taking drama classes from Charles, a proponent of the Stanislavsky method. The classes were based on improvisation. We paired off, met with our partners during the week, and then in drama class, just “let it happen.” I was a real dud.
“I don’t know why you take all those notes. You just don’t get it!” Charles snapped.
I was acting from my head, not spontaneously. Finally, one day in class, I couldn’t come up with a quick reply. I stared at my improv partner and suddenly broke down and started sobbing. The tears were real. The acting situation wasn’t. I had just learned to act.
One romantic dalliance deserves mentioning. Nancy, my acting partner at the time, was a tiny, bubbly, brunette. We really hit it off. Improvising with Nancy was more like a date, than an acting session. One afternoon, we were improvising in her fashionable, east 66th Street apartment. When we finished, she offered me a Coke, and we sat and visited.
“Nancy, would you like to go to British Honduras with me? I’ve been to Guatemala twice, and love that part of the world. Seeing British Honduras would be a great trip,” I said.
Clearly, Nancy wasn’t prepared for my question.
“Ron, I think you are a nice guy, but going off to British Honduras with you just doesn’t seem like a good idea,” she said sweetly.
I was shot down. However, it was clear she seemed rather pleased with my offer.
After two years, I packed my Oldsmobile, and headed home. My time in New York had been well spent. Acting helped me to break out of my shell, and learn to open up to people. Luigi’s classes ignited a passion for dance that lives in me today. I did summer stock in Rye, New York, danced on the Perry Como television show, and even danced on Broadway, if performing in a revue in a walk down night club counts. I marveled at the magic of Christmas at Rockefeller Center, and sweltered through the summers in my one room apartment. Best of all, I took a chance, and that chance helped me to have a great life in show business. And I’m still dancin’ out here in Smith Valley.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.