in the Dark: Gigs From Hell
to "Swinging for Cash")
1999-2003, Bob e Thomas. No reprinting without permission.
USA: 1 617 733-9298 (Boston)
GERMANY: 49 5241 307 1777 (near Bielefeld, NRW)
email bob -@- bobethomas.com
are always saying, "It must be so much fun to get paid for
performing. You're obviously having so much fun!" Well, it
often is fun, much the same way as being good at any job is fun.
frankly, when we sit around a table with other performers, the
gigs everyone wants to talk about aren't the gigs from heaven,
but the gigs from hell. Most gigs are like any job, an ever-varying
mixture of satisfaction, pleasure, insight and frustration. But
every now and then there's a gig that will never quite fade from
memory for the sheer depth and breadth of its awfulness. Here
follows a few of our personal favorites.
remember, that we've done several hundred gigs in the past few
years and that these "Gigs From Hell", thank goodness,
were isolated--but very memorable-- experiences. Or else we'd
be doing something else besides dancing by now.
it Usually Starts
we get a gig by answering the phone and talking to someone we've
never met. And sometimes will never meet. Sometimes it's a member
of the general public who has heard of us from someone who knows
someone who's heard of us from someone they know.
times the caller is an agent who has received a mailing I sent
out, probably from four or five years ago, with glamorous photos
of us dancing in Asia or with the Boston Pops, captioned with
thrilling hyperbole, eloquent bombast and memorable quotes from
newspapers and agents about our work.
a mailing to agents we try and leave them with the thought that
the Kamikaze Jitterbugs are brilliant and perfect for every possible
function, while Madonna, in comparison, is a narrowly-qualified
no-talent slacker who'd be eager for a chance to work with us.
PR hyperbole is necessary and has to do with the psychology of
agents. Many agents believe that the best performers are vain,
egotistical liars who will gush, with energetic sincerity, that
"the crowd loved us, we killed" on every gig they've
ever done. Since early childhood. And the agents believe that
if you don't do that, you must not be very good. Although presenting
oneself so bombastically takes getting used to, over the years
I've learned to fake it.
to the story. To when the not-agents-but-friends-of-someone- who-heard-from-someone-
who-knows-someone- who-heard-that-we-were-good-at-what-we-do calls
me and asks lots of questions. And we talk about how my remarkable
skills will ensure that their event or function will be a big
success. And they tell me the date. And I set a price. What, no
drama yet? Well, that was a friend-of-someone, not a professional.
Surely you know, it's the professionals who make life interesting.
Agents, on the other hand...
"Entertainment professionals". Who sell "talent."
agents are entertainment professionals who sell talent for events
and functions. Used car salespeople sell cars: 'It's a beauty,
only driven on Sundays by a little old lady to church.' Furniture
sales associates sell couches: 'Last one in stock, it's a bargain,
marked down 50% just last week, go ahead, isn't that the most
exquisite bit of naugahyde to ever touched your bottom?.' Beauty
consultants sell cosmetics: 'You are so gorgeous in shimmering
firefly fuscia mascara! And it comes with this cute little cosmetics
agents sell talent: 'They're incredible, they dance like that
guy in Flashdance, jump like Barishnyev, and, absolutely true
on my mother's grave, they've got seventeen women of the most
beautiful women with legs this long in skirts that short with
fishnets from heaven, every kick perfect and as high as your nose!'
Get the idea?
are gloriously busy. Talking on the phone, selling talent, booking
gigs for talent, sending bills for gigs. Sometimes while they're
talking on the phone selling talent hoping to book a gig the mail
arrives. And while explaining how remarkable the Hawaiian dancers
they can provide the client for the cubicle people of the year
appreciation party at the Hyatt Regency -- the agent doesn't have
any Hawaiian dancers, but as soon as the call's over he or she
will be calling Fred Astaire Studios to send them over four Hawaiian
dancers -- they read the mail.
the mail is a color postcard with a doctored picture of The Kamikaze
Jitterbugs suspended mid-air in front of fireworks over the Boston
skyline with the title "Dance Shows" in bold print below.
The agent manages to read the words Dance Shows, perhaps glomming
one or two more bold-print words, like "Exciting... Boston...
Symphony... Best... World... Television.... Honest Truth..."
And they say, "Hey, forget the Hawaiian dancers. I just remembered
I have this dance company that'll be perfect for your function.
Yeah, The Kamikaze Jitterbugs. Sure, they're exciting, they've
danced with the Boston Symphony and they've been on television.
Best in the world, God's honest truth."
course the postcard actually read: "Really kind of exciting,
the Kamikaze Jitterbugs of Boston move like an old-fashioned symphony,
slowly but surely. They have the best of the bad moves and wear
world-class shoes. Featured on local television's popular Midnight
Cablecast Cabaret, they were wicked good and very honest. Truth!"
a few more minutes they say, "Two thousand, and that's the
best I can do." Then they hang up the phone and call me:
"You guys do shows, right? How about an hour show for a corporate
function featuring ten of your best dancers? Excellent. Two hundred
dollars. You heard me. Three? You got me by the short ones. How
about two-fifteen? Great."
maybe, the agent reads the card, but still books the Hawaiian
gig using four Quickstep dancers from Arthur Murray's. At the
end of the phone call the agent shoves the color Kamikaze postcard
into a drawer.
months later a client calls: "What we want is dancers. You
know girls with legs..." And the agent says, "Oh, yea,
I, uh, I've got these terrific dancers. The Kazmakazy Jitterbuggers,
real famous, best in the world, New York Philharmonic, television,
the whole ball of wax. They'd be great at the BioTheology Sales
Convention at the Hyatt." And the agent starts fishing around
in the drawer, trying to find the postcard.
"A dance show? You mean like Broadway or Flashdance?"
"Absolutely. Oh, a half hour at least. Yeah, let me check
availability. I'll call you right back.."
I get a phone call. "Bob, this is Sammy Frost from Bim-Bam-Boom
Productions and we were wondering about your availability for
July 7th at the Hyatt. Yeah, we just thought maybe a little thirty
or forty minute show with eight dancers. How much? Oh. Well, how
about a fifteen minute show with two dancers? That much, huh?
But you're good, right? Professionals and everything? Costumes,
too? Really? Okay, hold that date, I'll call you right back."
"Yeah, just checked with the dancers. What you got is your
basic Broadway style show, half hour of song and dance, ten girls
in fishnets with a Flashdance finale. Nope. No problem at all."
it's important to remember that the materials I've sent the agent
make it clear (to normal people) that The Kamikaze Jitterbugs
have a maximum of three men and three women specializing in period
dance from 1920-1960. But agents are busy people. No time to read
boring press materials or watch tedious videos...
note: the stories that follow, although true, all took place before
1996 in the Boston area and involved agents who would be most
kindly referred to as "local". Since that time, we've
raised our rates, we send the agent what's called a "Tech
Rider" with details about lighting, flooring, etc and we
very clearly specify in writing our personnel and exactly what
we'll be doing on the gig.
There Are MEN in The Kamikaze Jitterbugs?
agent, on the basis of a photo sheet I sent out featuring four
two-inch photos and a paragraph of inflated PR description, has
contracted for seven dancers to do a twenty minute show. We're
talking decent money here. Music will be provided by a six-piece
night of the gig my wife and I race to the car with our costume
bags over our heads because outside it's raining melons and squash.
As we drive down Route 24 towards Fall River [MA] we steam through
sheets of rain pouring down out of a sky that's a windblown whirlpool
wife and dance partner tries to read directions by passing headlights
as I keep watch that I don't hit the Flying Dutchman and its crew
of the damned with our '86 Camry with 178,000 high-quality miles
passed under its rudder.
after a half hour of meandering on flooded back roads that appear
to have been recently gouged through empty weed-blown fields somewhere
north of Fall River, we pull up to a huge rusting aluminum (how
is that possible!?) warehouse. The area is in the middle of a
miles-wide wasteland punctuated with scattered rusted junk cars,
dried brush and dead trees, occasionally thrown into stark relief
by intermittent lightning. The warehouse is fronted by a war-torn
macadem beachhead randomly marked with fading stripes of white
we enter the warehouse, dragging our bags, we are met by the client
(that is, the woman who hired the agent who subcontracted the
agent who hired us, none of whom we've ever met). Seeing us she
quips, "You're the dancers?" Long pause sprinkled liberally
with confusion. "I didn't know there were men in your group."
Seeing instantly she has no sense of humor, I give a numb nod
as I turn and make my way to the employee snack bar that's going
to serve as our dressing room.
vibes ripple fill my chest cavity like fumes from a gas line recently
ruptured by an errant backhoe. But I take a deep breath and my
vision slowly clears. A simple misunderstanding. The agent is
a busy woman and she forgot to tell the client that we were doing
PARTNER dancing with women and MEN.
rain hammering on the sheet metal roof high overhead (maybe the
rust stains streaming down the inside walls come from the roof)
sounds like a bad Mambo band chasing a cat across the stage. The
thin aluminum walls of the warehouse bow in and out with each
gust of wind, and I realize I'm standing inside the world's largest
streams of water dribble from the darkness-far-above-that-must-be-the-ceiling.
We arrange our gear carefully in the snack bar, avoiding the small
puddles that are pooling here and there over the concrete floor.
warehouse is lit by sixteen foot-long fluorescent strip lights,
dangling from thin wires that descend out of the darkness. They
sway gently to the torrential Mambo rhythms. In the middle of
this dim wash of gloom gleams a small stage, fuzzy pink in the
glow of six theatrical par-cans [think institutional green bean
cans sans wrappers with low-beam car headlights inside] on pipe
stands. The stage is filled with band PA equipment, chairs and
small dance floor cowers meekly in the dimness before the stage.
Ambient light during the event will be tiny table lamps. Twenty
tiny table lamps. Twenty tiny battery-powered table lamps, each
holding two AA batteries. Powering a tiny pointy flashlight bulb
[think kiddy flashlights sold for ten cents]. We were going to
perform in the glow of twenty tiny points of light.
I said to a lighting tech, "Any chance of getting some light
on the dance floor?"
one told us about any dancers or a dance show. Ask Gary. He's
in charge of the lighting."
says, "Nope, no one said anything about dancers to me. We
only have four instruments [institutional sized green bean cans
that have car headlights mounted inside]. Maybe I can tilt one
of them so some light reflects from the band's costumes out onto
the dance floor below." I'm not enthused. The band members
are dressed in black.
cavernous space is suddenly filled with the noise of six hundred
evil skeleton sailors clambering off the ghostly hulk of the Flying
Dutchman into the building. My dancers and I look for somewhere
to hide. We look again. Oops, sorry. It's the client's honored
employees shouting and high-fiving each other as they take their
party favor bags filled with M&M's (with peanuts) and Homer
Simpson finger puppets.
sat, they talked, they ate. We did our twenty-minute dance show.
They liked it. Everyone loves watching shadowy figures jump and
leap about in near-darkness vaguely silhouetted in front of a
dimly-lit band dressed entirely in black, playing sullen versions
of Chatanooga Choo-Choo. Oh, it was a night to remember. A really,
really fun night. Honest.
the Wings from the Clients: Four dancers and a DJ
Island Convention Center, Providence, RI. 5:00pm. Two hundred
Donut House franchise managers have been locked in a conference
room since 9:00am. Eight hours of tedious sales lectures about
how to sell more donuts.
five o'clock exactly it's time for a... 1950's Sock Hop in the
Main Ballroom! Whoopee!
you may not invite spouses, relatives, friends, or pets. This
fabulous party is for the 180 men and 20 women of the highly select
Donut House franchise managers.
o'clock on an August afternoon, more than fifteen years in the
dance business and I confess, I never even saw it coming.
Donut managers had numbness in their bottoms and home-sweet-home
on their minds. Our Sock Hop was to "relax and entertain"
them before they were "allowed" to drive home at eight
that night. They were tired, we were stupid.
for three hours we were like rats in a maze pulling the whiskers
off each other. We used every trick in our arsenal of dance torture
to thrash the living daylights out of those exhausted people.
They did everything they could to avoid having to leave their
seats and their two-dollar glass of beer or wine (what, no open
indeed, they didn't want to dance. They didn't want to talk with
us. Or with anyone. They just wanted to go home. And so, we, the
dancers, smiled and danced... with each other. We led Conga Lines,
Stroll lines, the Electric Slide, the Macarena... with each other.
We performed cute 50's jitterbug numbers.... desperately... while
bleary-eyed donut makers stared at us out of bloodshot eyes, sliding
lower and lower in their hotel ballroom chairs.
of them would right themselves, only to fall forwards, helpless
to their pain and exhaustion, their elbows splayed across the
white paper-covered banquet tables, their chins lifted just inches
above the table's surface. Avoiding eye contact with us, afraid
we might get the wrong idea, that we might think for a second
that they weren't actually feeling hostile towards us. And they'd
sit there, eyes downcast, shivering with fear that we'd dart over,
and try to get them to participate... in their own demise.
was the day we developed a new type of audience participation.
Called Infinite Referral Participation.
dancer goes up to a table and says conspiratorially, "Who's
sitting at the NEXT table that we should ask to dance?" Everyone
at THIS table turns and stares at the people sullenly nursing
drinks at the NEXT table. They confer among themselves while people
at the NEXT table fidget nervously, unsure what's about to happen.
people at THIS table point at the NEXT table and say, "Jim.
He'll dance. He got drunk at Christmas and danced on a table."
And our dancer walks quickly over to the next table before Jim
can escape to the bathroom, and says, "Hi, Jim. I heard you
really like to dance."
Jim's only out is to desperately confer with HIS tablemates and
point out a possible candidate at the next NEXT table over. This
can, and did go on for hours. It gave "table hopping"
new depths of meaning.
pm and the Dance Inquisition is over. Thirty seconds past eight
and the room was empty of Donut people. Shell-shocked from hours
of leading riotous dance fun, we slowly packed up. On our way
to the parking garage, two men who'd been at the event stopped
us in front of the elevator. "Tough crowd, huh?" one
of them said.
looked at each other and then in one falsely enthusiastic voice
we said, "Oh, no, it was fun." "Good try, though,"
said the other guy with a sly grin.
fear of the truth, we simply nodded, our smiles forced. Trying
not to appear desperate to escape any reminder of the tragedy
we'd just led, we quickly shoved into the elevator. Before the
doors were even half-open. Pushing the "Close Doors"
button repeatedly, frantically. We knew that he knew that we knew
that he knew what had really happened in there. The doors closed
and we were free. Whew. That was fun.
Music Never Stops
Newport hotel, just two dancers on the gig, me and my wife. We'd
talked to the band ahead of time and, since they didn't know "Begin
the Beguine", one of our standards, we'd brought along a
copy of a "head arrangement." The "head arrangement"
was three pages taped together of the melody and chords for the
tune. Professional musicians read these all the time, with the
lead instrument (trumpet or clarinet or whatever) playing the
melody, and the rest of the musicians improvising on the chords.
trumpet player draped the music across a music stand and, backed
by the guys playing sax and trombone, began the tune.
begin dancing our "Fred and Ginger" foxtrot. The room
is filled with sighing delighted seniors. A few bars into the
music, the rhythm gives a little shake, a ripple of uncertainly
emanating from the band like the trumpet player just swallowed
a pebble or something. But the audience doesn't notice, they're
still awake, no one's throwing anything at us, and we're heading
towards the dance's finish.
we prepare for the big lift that ends the piece, the trumpet player
lets loose a very sour note. Still whirling my partner around,
I steal a glance at the bandstand. The trumpet player, his horn
wobbling precariously in his right hand, is gesturing furiously
at the music with his left hand, hitting it over and over with
his extended index finger so that the three pages of music have
begun to droop sideways off the music stand. The guys on sax and
trombone are huddled on either side of the trumpeter player, still
playing as they shake their heads emphatically "No! No!"
sax player tries to right the music with the bell end of his instrument.
The trombonist begins poking at the music each time he extends
his trombone slide. Over-zealous, he smacks the music stand and
there's the dull clang of metal hitting metal.
three pages of music music dangle for a second and then slowly
waft to the floor. I'm spinning my partner who's draped over my
shoulder. We're waiting for the final chords that signal the end
of the spin and the final pose of the dance. The band keeps playing
the same four or five bars, over and over. They're locked in a
time loop. I feel like I'm in a bad remake of Bonnie and Clyde.
The end part where everything goes into v-e-r-y s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n.
The part where they die.
turn. And turn. I'm dizzy. The world is a blur. My dinner is starting
to make its way upwards, seeking one last glimpse of the world
before digestion sets in. Still spinning, desperate, nauseous,
I try to discern what's happening on the bandstand.
of them, I think the trumpet guy, leans over and picks up the
music. I'm not sure, but the musicians seem to have left "Begin
the Beguine" in favor of an obscure Klezmer tune. No, it's
a battle of the band, the trumpet, sax, and 'bone players dueling
for bragging rights.
drummer is abstaining from the fight, randomly banging away with
only an occasional suggestion of rhythm. While in the middle of
the floor we're still spinning. And spinning. And spinning. On
the bandstand they're pounding away in a musical demolition derby.
for us to take charge. I lower Idy from the lift. We hit a pose.
Cue: We Are Done. The musicians keep playing. We shuffle around
a bit and begin doing pivot turns like in "Top Hat".
trombone player seems to approve; he's bleating delightedly on
his horn. The drummer plays what sounds to us like an ending cadence.
We stop turning. I roll out Idy to my right. They keep playing.
I tug her back to me into an oversway. The musicians are huddled
together, it sounds like they're seeking a chord.
drop Idy into a shock drop. She's suspended by both arms, her
body horizontal, six inches from the floor. I smile weakly, waiting
for them to agree on the notes of the chord.
a musical train wreck up there, notes derailing and piling up,
rolling off the stage into the audience. I roll Idy out to my
right. Again. I tug her back in and kneel. She sits on my knee,
brings her hand romantically to touch my cheek.
look at each other lovingly. Endingly. The drummer hits a rim
shot, thumps the bass drum, crashes a cymbal, and the rest of
the guys each play their favorite note to play a wavering chord.
audience loves the image of romance we projected and they applaud
us. Idy and I stand, bow twice. We wave regally, flashing smiles
left and right. As we run off. Never to return.
night we neglected to acknowledge the band. In fact, they never
even gave us back our music. But I figured that was okay. Maybe
they'd practice it. Sure. Right.
the Guy in White Pants, Governor?
mansions of Newport are a favorite party site for political types.
Hence the night we were hired to dance and lead participation
for the New England States Treasurers' Conference. The theme was
Caribbean. Several weeks in advance I talked with Charlie, the
band leader. "We're a Caribbean band," he said, "and
we wear white pants and Hawaiian shirts."
and planning is the name of the game, so I went out and bought
a pair of nice white linen pants. Sixty dollars. I knew I'd never
wear them again (I live in Boston, after all). But, hey, I'm a
night of the gig, Idy and I drove our 1986 Camry with 188,000
miles (a couple of months after the warehouse gig) past the limousines
and Cadillacs and Bentleys and a few Continentals parked in front
of the mansion. We drove to the far corner of the parking lot,
park in the darkest spot we could find under an old tree. So no
one would see the fabulous dancers dressed in white pants and
other expensive Hawaiian garb (recently purchased from Nieman
Marcus) emerge from a rusting beat up junker of a car.
and I strode into the mansion confident, aloof, elegantly casual
in our Island Attire. I was a vision of pristine linen topped
with a shirt gobbed with blobs of fuscia and magenta and scarlet
and lime green. Idy's dress was like an impressionist still life
of a tropical fruit bowl, hand-painted onto an expensive canvas
carefully and tightly stretched over her tight little dancer's
body (okay, maybe I'm overdoing it a bit, but she looked good,
mansion had a foyer that was several teak steps higher than the
spacious old-world mansion ballroom. We stopped in the foyer to
admire the crowd displayed below us. The tresurers and their wives
all elegantly dressed in black-and-white formal attire. We turned
to admire the band. Also elegantly dressed. In black-and-white
formal attire. We surveyed the room again, the treasurers, their
wives. The band. Everyone elegantly dressed in black-and-white
formal attire. Everyone except us.
world stood still for several seconds as we grappled with that
last fact. Yes, it was true. Idy and I the only ones off-island.
Carefully unobtrusive I slouched down and inched my way around
the periphery of the room. Until I stood hunched beside the bandstand.
(and I hoped ominously) standing to my full height I asked Charlie
in my best stage whisper, "What the hell? Hawaiian shirts?
we decided we didn't want to stand out," he said loudly,
so everyone could hear him over the noise of his band. "We
thought we'd look foolish in Hawaiian shirts." God's honest
truth. He actually said that as I stood there not two feet away.
In a Hawaiian shirt.
first thought was where to find other clothes for the gig. My
second thought was where to obtain a loaded projectile weapon.
My third thought was that firearms are dangerous. My fourth thought
was that this was a perfect example of temporary insanity. I do
not exaggerate. Standing there that night, I truly wanted to hurt
a long considered pause, I acted as if everything was just peachy
keen. I told Charlie what we were going to do during the upcoming
dance segment of the evening. I was very professional. And yes,
I was surprised, too.
told him, "We'll do teaching, then a song for dancing, then
another bit of teaching, then two songs for them to practice to.
Then we'll do a Conga line with the crowd to finish."
I was a bit abrupt. Perhaps I didn't speak clearly. I'll never
know. I began by teaching a hundred older white male pole-up-their-butt
Yankee New England policitos with their suburband wives and girlfriends
the Caribbean Merengue.
stomped their feet and wagged their shoulders and heads from side
to side in what's known as "Yankee hip motion". I had
them smiling. Well, as much as white male pole-up-their-butt Yankee
New England policitos ever smile through their clenched teeth
when they're doing something that doesn't involve women, liquor,
and big business contracts.
Idy and I danced a Merengue. As I said before, Idy was in a bit
of a linen dress covered with brightly colored print flowers.
And she moved her hips really well. A lot. They liked that. They
smiled excitedly through their teeth.
temperature in the room went up two degrees. They were getting
interested. I got a wireless mic and said, "Now we'll all
do a..." When the band cut me off and started playing Paul
Simon's "You Can Call Me Al." It's not a Merengue. It's
not even a dance tune.
crowd was confused for a second. Then their natural indifference
took over. The men turned to find a drink, the women turned to
find their man. They'd been released from the siren-like grip
of the strangely clad dance team. And they eagerly dispersed,
the room quickly filling with the sounds of chatter and ice cubes
tinkling in over-filled Scotch glasses.
went up to the bandstand. I stood on tiptoes so my face would
be as close as possible to the bandleader's. I began to berate
him. I called him a coward. An idiot. A traitor, a turncoat. An
asshole. I think he'd heard it all before. He never even flinched.
He held the trumpet in one hand and tried to wave me off with
the other. When I grabbed his mic stand and began testing it for
weight and balance, it occurred to him I was preparing to injure
him. He shouted, "Look, it wasn't working. I thought we needed
a change of pace!"
put the trumpet back to his lips and, as I debated how best to
hammer the horn with my fist, sending the first several inches
of the horn down his throat, he quickly stepped back out of range.
I took a deep breath and shouted, "Just play a Conga Line
next, and then we're out of here."
stop, Conga. The band goes into the Conga. Idy and I herd and
cajole the politicos, now half-blasted from the open bar, into
a Conga line. We thread our way through the ballroom, laughing
shallowly, perhaps a bit hysterically. We lead them through the
dining room, the solarium, the sitting room, the drawing room,
the pantry, the coat room, (the bathroom was occupied). Until,
finally, we're again conga-ing in front of the band.
gesture to the band leader: "Stop." He pretends not
to see me. We circle the ballroom twice more. I dance by the bandstand
and shout at him, my florid features a few bare inches from his
endangered trumpet and vulnerable teeth: "Time to finish!"
hearing and vision are fine. He sees me, he hears me. But he's
a man without a brain. Or guts. Or intelligence. Soon perhaps
to be also without teeth.
my head there's this roaring sound. Like ten locomotives are careening
at ninety miles an hour down the final incline of my mind. Tons
of deadly steel. And no brakes. My vision blurs. I'm holding Idy's
waist in the Conga line and she darts a glance at me over her
shoulder. There's a look of fear in her eyes.
shake my head in a desperate attempt to regain my sanity, to stop
the locomotives before they derail and we're all killed in a hundred-ton
tangle of mangled steel. Slowly, I loosen my death-grip on Idy's
waist. "Sorry," I manage to say into her ear. "I
didn't mean to hurt you."
snake the line into itself corkscrew fashion. When we've screwed
ourselves into a tight knot and are about to spontaneously implode,
I raise my hands in the air and shout "Hooray, hooray, hooray."
applaud madly, my hands in the air. And then I make a run for
the bandstand. But I'm drawn up short as Idy grabs my elbow, nearly
yanking me backwards off my feet. She knows. She wants to save
me. I want to leap onto the bandstand and break things.
that the bandleader would have noticed. He and the band were still
playing the conga, lost in their alternate universe of pathos-dependent
psycho-musical hell. By the time the band moves on to a new tune,
Idy and I have packed our costume bags and are crossing the foyer,
trying to simultaneously sprint and look casual.
out of the mansion, we give up casual and run to our car. We jump
in, lock the doors, start the car and drive off without looking
back. Half laughing, half crying as we describe to each other
over and over everything that had just happened.
we look over our shoulders, back into the the darkness that spreads
out behind us as we drive home, unable to shake the feeling that
we're being pursued. By pyschopathic hunchbacked demon musicians
Sure it was fun. Sure. Ha. Ha. Ha, ha, haaaaaaa!
next day I called the bandleader on the telephone. I berated him
at the top of my lungs. I called him an idiot, a coward, a half-assed
unprofessional schmuck. I insulted him, his band, his family,
his sadly cursed unborn descendents. Over and over again. He just
kept listening to me as I went on and on. Finally, as I began
to tire of saying the same things over, as I desperately searched
for new combinations of old words, he quietly asked, "What
do you want? An apology?" I said, "Yes." He said,
"I'm sorry." And I slammed down the phone.
Alright! I sure showed him! That I'm above it all. That I'm...
uh, professional. Gosh, but I love my work. It's such... fun.
Animation on Runway 7
memorable job was in a large party tent behind Boston's Aquarium.
The tent was wedged between the ocean (off a six foot high pier)
on one side and the aquarium (up a six foot long ramp) on the
the tent, next to the tiny 9x9 foot dance floor, the agents had
made us a "dressing room" out of pipes and black canvas.
The dressing room was ten feet square made from a ten foot tall
pipe-frame cube over which were draped four canvas walls that
were ten feet tall. The "dressing room" had no ceiling.
It had no lights. It was a priests' alcove, a large confessional,
a holding cell.
had seven dancers on this gig. The space was only big enough to
hold five chairs and a clothes rack. All of us were crammed together
inside this twilit "dressing room". Two hours before
we were to dance. Because the dressing room was in the exact center
of the tent, and the agent didn't want the guests to see us arrive.
clients-- telephone company account executives on a corporate
field trip to Boston-- arrived at the tent almost an hour late.
They were a sullen crew. They spent an hour grumpily drinking.
Another hour picking at their food like spoiled children.
inside our confessional alcove holding cell we could hear no chit-chat,
just the occasional clank of forks and knives shredding food on
china plates and the sound of ice cubes slowly melting in drink
waited. And waited. The lights in the main tent were halogen floor
lamps placed in the corners. The light shot upwards into the dark
at the top of the tent. None of it reflected back into our isolation
cell. We shared a penlight I had in my clothes bag.
told jokes in whispers and played an informal musical chairs.
We took turns with the chairs, five of us sitting while two pretended
they were warming up, every ten minutes moving over a spot. Chair
to chair to chair to chair to chair to floor to floor to chair.
The women did makeup with the help of a penlight and a compact
mirror. It was a tight fit, two people warming up on the floor,
two squiggling into their costumes. And three of us quietly ducking
the various elbows, hands, legs and feet that the others were
flailing about as we did makeup or buttons or whatever we could
don't feel bad for us. Not yet. So far, this was nothing. Honest.
No one was bothering us, and we were really quite content in our
little religious retreat, our iconoclastic isolation.
two and a half hours after we'd arrived, time for the show.
of us slipped from the holding cell and took our places on the
nine by nine foot miniature dance floor, ready for the sound guy
to play our recorded music. He pushed some buttons. Nothing happened.
The crowd waited, indifferent, not drunk enough to enjoy the suspense,
not sober enough to ponder what we might possibly be doing as
we stood there in our costumes, awkwardly awaiting the unknown
thirty seconds the painful silence resolved first into a buzz
that gradually became our dance music. Somewhere in the middle
of the dance.
other two dancers on the floor tentatively began, Idy and I stood
poised on the floor, heads cocked like trained sheepdogs waiting
for the whistle that cues them into action. There was no whistle,
I bounded onto the floor, raised my paws, er, my hands and barked,
"Wow. That was something! Let's try that again. From the
beginning please!" The sound man hesitated, glaring at me,
his hand poised over the stop button. I growled at him across
the floor. He hit the button, rewound the tape, his eyes locked
tent meanwhile was filling with the sound of spoons clattering
nervously in nearly empty coffee cups as the execs responded by
doing what they knew best.
this point I need to explain that three hundred yards from this
tent next to the Aquarium, across a tiny bit of water known as
Boston Harbor, lies the great expanse of Logan Airport. And right
about that moment, the tower must have broadcast something like,
"Pilots, we are pleased to announce that runway A33C is now
open and available for take-off."
at that exact moment, the tape rewinding, the sound man glaring
at me, the execs hammering away at their thick china coffee mugs
with their steel spoons, directly across the narrow expanse of
Boston Harbor one jet after another threw its engines into high
gear and shrieked off the runway to pass barely a hundred feet
over our heads. Just as our music began. Again. This time from
night our every dance was accompanied by the sound of jet turbines
spinning ninety thousand times per second, thousands of pounds
of air pressure blasted through those turbines at one hundred,
two hundred, three hundred decibels of screaming sound volume.
last dance of that eternal evening was a Lindy Hop with aerials.
As Idy and I took off into a series of lindy turns leading into
a flip, a 747 took off directly over our heads at a hundred and
Idy did a waist-straddle into a dive over my head, a DC11 plowed
down the runway towards us before dragging its landing wheels
over the top of our tent.
we kept going. Halfway through the dance, Idy was going into and
overhead throw when the fingers of her left hand got entangled
in my right suspender. The suspender stretched, stretched some
more, and, as she finished the flip, finally pulled loose from
the suspender buttons sewn into the front of my pants.
continued dancing, but I now had a three-foot length of red suspender
dangling loose down my back. Worse, without the dynamic balance
of tension between the right and left suspenders, the left suspender
began to slip down over my left shoulder. I needed that suspender,
or rather my pants needed that suspender.
as we did the tandem charleston step with through-the-legs kick
I tilted my torso and shrugged it back into place. As we did the
handspring flip I angled my head to the side, simultaneously elevating
my left shoulder to keep the suspender in place.
became the Dancing Hunchback of Lindy Dance, hobbling in double-time
to the big band sounds of Les Brown, accompanied by the screaming
turbines of Delta Airways as 757's, 727's, and DC11's passed directly
overhead as they began their journeys to destinations across the
was rapidly devolving, now a grotesque prehistoric apeman trying
to keep his pants up as he exhorted his gods for protection in
a primitive dance rite. And that Neanderthal nearly made it...
I mean I almost made it. It was just the big jump at the end,
just that one last move and the dance would have been over.
I was overconfident, perhaps I thought all I had to do was relax
and stumble across the finish line to a dancing victory. In the
big jump I stand behind Idy, put my hands on her shoulders and
jump up over her head, my legs wide to miss her shoulders, landing
triumphantly on my feet, fully upright before her.
night, I stood behind Idy and jumped into the air. And I pushed
down with my hands, down with my arms. And, like always, my body
went up, up, up. Up over Idy's head. But that night, as I pushed
up, that single red thread of hope, that solitary supporter of
my trousers, that sole suspender slipped light and loose and easy
down over my shoulder. And as I went up, up, up, my pants went
down, down, down. Down over my hips.
I went over Idy's head, my legs wide on either side of her shoulders.
But my pants were around my thighs and they caught her on the
back of the head. So as I went over, my pants pushed Idy forward.
And she went over, toppling forwards onto her hands and knees.
managed to land on all fours, scurrying forwards so Idy could
clear my pants. She quickly stood, standing behind me as I grasped
my pants and pulled them up to my waist.
as per our usual triumphant ending, I bent my knees in a kind
of leap-frog crouch and Idy leaped onto my back, her body held
in place by her knees wedged on either side of my back. Then the
two of us in perfect synchrony raised our arms in triumph.
execs sat frozen, stunned silent. And then three execs who'd just
finished their third bottle of wine began to applaud. Tentatively.
As a jumbo jet screamed overhead. A plastic smile glued onto my
face, I wished for that jet to crash into us, engulfing us in
a purifying ball of flame.
truly, there was no need for that. We had already immolated ourselves.
the audience, the stupefied execs? Did they hate us? Oh, no, they
half kinda sorta liked us, the agent explained on the phone the
next day. In fact, she said that they had nicer things to say
about us than they'd had to say about her. And she'd babysat their
every whim as they'd toured Boston that entire day.
yes, we love our work. Just ignore those jets, that man behind
the suspenders. No, really, our embarrassment is just an illusion.
What we're really having is pure unadulterated old-fashioned fun.
Big Apple Cubicle People
year we did a dozen or so Christmas and holiday gigs. One of them
was a corporate function at a night club in New York City.
agent was in NYC and she kept finding ways to ask, "But if
you're REALLY good, why do you live in Boston?" In fact,
she tentatively booked us and then spent two weeks trying to find
someone in NYC who could do what we do. Before calling us back
a week before the gig to confirm that, despite her reservations
about hiring dancers from Boston, that yes, indeed, we were on
was an overcast bone-chillingly damp December Thursday afternoon
that we found ourselves driving down Route 95 to NYC. For a holiday
party in a tiny nightclub almost across the street from a big
Electric Plant on the East River a block north of the Bowery.
parked and loaded our costumes and shoes into the empty nightclub,
hanging our clothes bags from the upper shelves of a small closet
off the coat room, our shoes piled in a heap on the floor. The
gig included dinner, so we sat down to our repast that included
Italian coldcuts, pickles, celery and olives. Oh, and potato chips
with French Onion dip.
everyone had arrived, the first thing they did was turn out all
the lights in the nightclub. So the clients could watch an hour's
worth of slides they'd taken of each other back at the office.
of each other sitting in their cubicles. Pictures of themselves
wearing funny hats in their cubicles. Holding funny signs in their
cubicles. Looking embarrassed in their cubicles. Pictures of themselves
holding funny signs while wearing funny hats in their cubicles.
Of themselves looking embarrassed because although holding a funny
sign, they'd forgotten to bring their funny hat. For a picture
in their cubicle.
they watched the photos of themselves in their cubicles, they
drank heavily. We were jealous.
the slides had finally ended, the agent turned on the lights and
signaled us to begin the dance show. The cubicle people liked
the lindy to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." They tolerated
the tap dance to Benny Goodman's "Jingle Bells." They
began to mutter as the girls started the Charleston to Victor
Herbert's "Toy Soldier."
Charleston began with a series of kicks. I whispered at the dancers
to kick higher. And higher. And to smile more. And more. The clients
liked the high kicks. They cheered. And the women in our company
kicked high. Really really high.
through the Charleston the men in our company joined the women
to finish the dance. The women were wearing skimpy santa dresses.
We men were wearing red pants, green vests, and Santa hats. The
women smiled and kicked. The crowd cheered. We men danced beside
them, smiling, doing fancy footwork. Like anyone cared.
finished the Charleston and lifted our arms to take a bow. As
the DJ dropped the needle on a country western tune at 130db with
double sub-woofer base. It was as if we'd become invisible. Everyone
promptly forgot us and resumed drinking and shouting at each other.
regrouped to a dark corner at the far end of the club, where we
huddled, telling rehearsal jokes we all knew by heart. After twenty
minutes the client stumbled on our hiding place and asked us to
lead the crowd in the Electric Slide.
was clearly not of the Cubicle People. She was head of Human Resources,
her office having four floor-to-ceiling plasterboard walls and
even, perhaps, a window. And she had been assigned by someone
Up There to "Give those Cubicle People a party so they don't
get upset at the dinky tiny bonuses we've decided to give them
this year so we in Upper Management can take home our million-dollar
the woman from HR remembers that Cubicle People like taking photos
of each other. And that she'd once heard a Cubicle Person say
that the Charleston was a cute dance. And that the HR woman's
secretary once did the Electric Slide at an after-work going away
party for the most popular of the Cubicle People, Joe Whatsisname.
we begin to lead the Electric Slide, and the mood of the crowd
turns ugly. We're outsiders, we're dancers, we're in their way,
we're annoying them. And, by god, we're not New Yorkers.
the hint (and a few kicks and pushes) we abandoned the Electric
Slide and disappeared from the dance floor. We were feeling pretty
ugly ourselves, by that time. You have to understand, there was
no privacy for us, this place was wall to wall ugly people. The
only variation from this was the HR person who avoided the Cubicle
People by spending her time darting about peering into dark corners,
hunting for us.
we had a "dressing room". It was a closet in the coat
room that was four feet square. Our costumes were hanging from
boxes, lights, and the moulding around the ceiling in that tiny
space. Which left no room for us.
reassembled in the far corner of the coat room next to our closet,
crouched beneath the coats. Hunched and huddled, we talked quietly
among ourselves. We were surrounded by coats, a jungle of wet
wool and camel hair car coats of varying shades of blue, black
and beige. We weren't avoiding the client. We were having an animated
discussion. On the state of... uh.. something really important.
HR person stumbled into the coatroom. We ducked, but she saw one
of the girl's dance shoes. With her foot in it. Discovered, she
dragged us out from beneath the coats and onto the dance floor
to lead the Macarena.
tried to hurt us as we did the Macarena. It was The Cubicle People
vs. The Terrified Dancers from Out of Town. Without provocation,
Cubicle People would move to stand in front of us as we danced.
And stick their ugly faces into our own and swear at us. Like
truck drivers. A couple of us received bruises. Doing the Macarena
in the midst of a hateful and angry crowd.
the song finished we ran to the coatroom, dove beneath the coats,
gathered our costumes and shoes in our arms and ran out into the
dismal December night.
went to a Spanish restaurant in the West Village and stayed there
until 3am. Drinking and eating and laughing hysterically. A week
later we got a letter from the agent that said, "Fantastic
work, excellent work! They loved your dancing. Thanks for coming
problem. We had a great time. Thanks for having us down. It was
is in Asia
In 1994 we took The Kamikaze Jitterbugs to Hong Kong and Taiwan
with Dick Johnson and the Artie Shaw Orchestra. In Taipei we played
in a huge beautiful theater, the National Theater, similar to
the Kennedy Center, only with more mahogony and gold.
in Hong Kong we performed in mammoth theaters whose interiors
were larger than airplane hangers, theaters with five floors of
dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces, theaters so large they put
closed circuit TV's in all the rooms and at every corner of the
hallways, because your dressing room might literally be five minute's
walk from the stage.
stayed in four-star business hotels. A gig from heaven, not from
hell. But it was just to lull us into a false sense of security.
First, because when we got back to Boston, we were once again
nobodies -- pathetic hungry dancers eager for the chance to chew
on yet another slice of dance hell.
second because less than a year later we got a call to dance with
The Boston Pops.
We were going to be rich and famous.
and Hell Are Neighbors
July Fourth the Boston Pops Orchestra plays a free concert at
the Boston Esplanade, a long narrow park along the Charles River.
It's a patriotic fest featuring the "1812 Overture"
and lots of fireworks, a wildly popular concert attended each
year by over 300,000 people and broadcast on national television.
Wednesday, June 28, 1995 a TV producer (an "entertainment
professional"; for more on this refer to the opening paragraphs
and several paragraphs that follow) decided that it would be nice
to have dancers perform a tribute to Glenn Miller in that year's
Boston Pops July Fourth concert. The producer called me.
producer said, "We've decided it would be nice to have four
swing dancers dance two Glenn Miller numbers with the Boston Pops
said, "Right now we've only got two dancers rehearsed and
ready to go. I don't have four dancers who could perform together
on a week's notice."
said, "We want four dancers. We'll build a stage for you
in front of the orchestra, and the program will be broadcast nationally
to millions of people on A&E TV."
Pavlov rings bell; dog drolls. I said, "Oh, FOUR dancers.
I must have misunderstood you a second ago. Nope, no problem.
No problem at all."
as my head rang with Pavlovian boings, I heard shouted from Heaven
above. I heard, "Money, wealth, fame, television, movies.
Health insurance." (Alright, I didn't hear "health insurance"
but I should have.)
course what I may have heard was the producer asking for the second
time, "Uh, what's your name?"
was Wednesday night. I had six days to find two other dancers,
choreograph and teach them two four-minute swing routines with
aerials and...? become Rich and Nationally Famous.
important to understand that "swing" is a partner dance
and that most professional partner dancers are ballroom dancers
who do Competitions. Competitions are where ballroom dancers do
highly stylized dances in bizarre costumes while holding themselves
as though they're wearing hernia belts stretched very tightly
over a huge bundle of oversized hemorrhoids.
is why Idy and I are American Popular Dance Dancers who don't
do Competitions. Of course, most American Popular Dance Dancers
don't use capital letters. But then most American Popular Dance
Dancers don't get asked to dance with the Boston Pops.
addition to our use of caps, Idy and I are two of a rare breed
(I'm not referring to our webbed toes) in that we actually spend
a good bit of our time performing shows for money. Shows featuring
American dances that were popular from the 1920's to the 1960's.
Our most popular popular dance is 1940's Lindy/Swing with aerials.
the Boston Pops TV producer called me there were exactly two other
lindy dancers in Boston with performing experience. "Performing
experience" meant that in their three years of dancing (total,
all dances included) they'd been on stage before an audience a
dozen times or so. They also knew three aerials, exactly three
more than anyone else out there. Which is not to say that they
weren't dedicated obsessive-compulsive dancing diehards. That
got the music FedEx Thursday morning. Thursday afternoon I called
Mary and Frank (not their real names, since they survived this
gig and are now our friends), and they said, "Okay."
Mary and Frank had a few minor problems. One was that they were
experiencing a crisis-of-confidence from a recently crashed aerial.
The second was that the crashed aerial had left them slightly
normal circumstances it would have taken three or four weeks,
three hours a day to choreograph and rehearse two lindy dances
sufficient to go onstage with the Pops. I had four days with perhaps
six hours a day of rehearsal, probably three of them coherent
and fruitful before all the aerials and tricks left us punch-drunk
went as well as they can, as we tried to do a month's worth of
work in four days. The big difficulty was that with the extreme
physicality of Lindy, after three or four hours of rehearsal,
injuries become more a matter of "when" rather than
night, our last full day of rehearsal before meeting up with the
Pops, found us collapsed on the studio floor in puddles of sweat,
discussing between ragged breaths the relative merits of ice,
aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen, and... "Cyanide," I panted,
"don't forget the benefits of cyanide."
we did a light morning's rehearsal-- two sweat soaked hours --and
then at noon we toweled off and headed to Symphony Hall. The Boston
Pops had scheduled us for a half-hour rehearsal immediately after
the Pointer Sisters, the concert's featured act.
the Pointer Sisters missed their flight that morning and the orchestra
diddled, waiting, ready to spring into action the minute they
arrived. We, too, sat diddling, waiting, ready to spring into
action the minute they finished.
a while I found myself crouched in my chair, one leg crossed over
the other at the knees, my top leg swinging up and down, up and
down, up and down-- as though some sadistic doctor were testing
my reflexes, endlessly, by battering my knee with a ball-peen
hammer. Preoccupied, Frank abruptly stood and walked in front
of me, my leg on a down-swing. After I got him we were pleased
to find he could still walk. But he'd darn near lost his ability
to have children.
Pointer Sisters arrived an hour-and-a-half late. They finished
and the orchestra's union representative announced, "Ten
minutes left before we're on overtime." I wanted to run up,
make a gun with my fist and index finger, point it at Keith Lockhart's
head and scream at the orchestra, "Quick, play. Or the conductor
instead we just sat on the edges of our seats, waiting to be called
to the stage. The orchestra turned pages, wiped their brows, emptied
spit from their horns and blew their noses. Finally, with just
seven minutes left, Keith called out uncertainly, "Dancers?"
leaped onstage and did each dance once. We then discussed tempos.
For ten seconds. And we were done.
night, July 3rd (still the same day as our morning rehearsal and
the Symphony Hall run-through with Keith). We all truck down to
the Esplanade for a public dress rehearsal. It's not advertised,
but a small crowd, maybe 10,000 people, show up. Keith is very
gracious and introduces us to the crowd. We're tired, but the
10,000 people show their approval with cheering and applause.
TV people are totally preoccupied and no on says a word to us,
before or after we dance, other than to cue us on stage. No make-up,
no notes about our placement on stage, no nothing. We go home
and sleep. Fitfully.
morning, July 4th, 8:00am. The TV producer calls me on the phone.
"Well," she says casually, "we've decided to cut
the one piece, 'In the Mood.' We're short on time. And we were
wondering if on the second piece, 'Little Brown Jug', you could
just walk out and dance the last eight bars or so."
spent a few seconds trying to figure out how our not dancing to
"In the Mood" could shorten the program. It suddenly
occurs to me that the producer had never really worked out how
we fit into the picture. And, after last night's rehearsal, which,
to be honest, was rather rocky for us, exhausted as we were, she
went home unable to visualize us being a success. All these years
without it and now suddenly her lack of imagination has finally
wanted to say "Last night we were exhausted and people liked
it. Today we'll kick butt. Relax and let us do our job."
But asking a producer to relax and trust you is right up there
with Mr. Class Geek finding true love with Ms. Prom Queen, marrying
and having children, one of whom becomes president, all while,
in their spare time, they found a new and ethical religious movement
that leads millions of people to happier lives without the use
of antidepressants or the necessity of tithing. Sure it happens.
But then so do giant Earth-destroying meteors.
cut my losses. I say, "Okay, no 'In the Mood.' But shortening
'Little Brown Jug' without a rehearsal is certain disaster."
I know there's no chance of another rehearsal, and I know she's
afraid. So very afraid.
wait. She's silent. I realize she's waiting for hell to freeze
over, she's waiting for a virgin birth, for an on-the-spot promotion
to station manager with a 200% salary increase. Or any other clear
sign from above that our dancing will be a big hit and she'll
be able to take all the credit.
occurs to me that one of the reasons she's worried is that we
asked for too little money. No "entertainment professional"
respects talent that charges too little money. Too little money
is what TV people WANT to pay. But respectable talent, when hired,
quotes an outrageous sum, throws a tantrum that the offered cash
is too low, says "I'm not some little so-and-so," and
then settles for what the TV people can pay plus $100 and unlimited
chilled spring water. Thus satisfying everyone's pride.
night a halo hadn't descended to ring our foreheads as we danced.
We hadn't asked for a lot of money or chilled imported spring
water. And it never occurred to the producer to actually watch
what we did with the orchestra, to watch the crowd's faces as
we danced. She was busy staring skyward for a "sign of the
successful artist" (these include sycophantic assistants
trailing after you, endless tantrums about warm spring water,
and asking for more money after the contract has already been
negotiated). To an "entertainment professional" humility
is not a sign, it's a pathetic deviation, like common sense or
six fingers on one hand.
she emits Producers' Sigh #1, a long-suffering "artists are
such children" sigh and says, "Okay." (Meaningful
sighing is a highly developed skill among "entertainment
professionals." Sigh #2: Are you kidding? You want how much
to rehearse three weeks, drive thirty hours and dance in a G-string
and fishnets on a dinky little glacier in northern Alaska? You're
not Madonna, you know. And Sigh #3: This piss-poor gig-from-hell
is your Big Break, and you better take it. It's the first and
last one you'll ever see, you pathetic..." Etc.) I start
to say, "Thank you," but she hangs up. Sigh.
night, backstage in the Hatch Shell. The Pointer Sisters are on
stage and we're watching them in the television monitors. The
crowd of 325,000 people loves them. I'm a little nervous. My legs
are shaking. I cinch up my suspenders, check the buttons.
audience is cheering, waving flags, and holding up signs. Acting
like children. Children! We're performing for the equivalent of
300,000 eager children. Probably fourth or fifth graders, from
what I can see in the television monitors backstage.
relax. They'll love us regardless of what we do. If we fall down
all we have to do is smile and they'll think it's part of the
act. They're going to love us.
I continue watching the monitor, the camera slowly pans the crowd,
and I'm disappointed to realize that only the first 100,000 or
so people will actually be able to see us. The remaining 200,000
are sitting too far away, some behind rows of trees, others behind
a spacious aged-wood split-level snack bar.
I quickly perk up. National TV. Millions of people. Introduced
to the world by Keith Lockhart. Oh, my goodness, ladies and gentlemen,
if all goes well, we were going to perform the ultimate sacrifice,
the ultimate act of American patriotism. Yes, indeed, we are going
to become... Rich and Famous.
cues us and the orchestra starts. I'm a bit startled because Keith
didn't introduce us (the TV producer told me later, "Sorry
[sigh #4], we didn't have time"). But I recover. We go out,
we dance our asses off. The crowd is ecstatic. They scream their
approval over and over. They're thrilled with every trick, every
aerial, every little thing we do. They roar, they absolutely love
we do our dance Keith Lockhart is waving his baton at the orchestra
while looking over his shoulder to see what we're doing, to see
why the crowd keeps cheering and yelling. Again and again.
us! We're great! We're heroes! We're fantastic! Every trick and
aerial is perfect. We're brilliant! When we bow, Keith applauds
us with a truly genuine feeling of appreciation-from-a-fellow-artist
from the podium and the crowd bellows its approval. A success,
a total success!
orchestra finishes the 1812-1776 Russian-American Independence
Day Overture, the light towers are turned down and the crowd watches
fireworks over the Charles River. As this is happening the symphony
and other performers quickly pack up in the semi-darkness and
of the thousands of people clogging the streets and bridges, our
path is cleared by a dozen siren-wailing state policemen on motorcycles,
police lights flashing, buzzing and weaving ahead of the buses.
"Oooh's and ahhh's" echo off the buildings of downtown
Boston and into the open bus windows while Idy and I, surrounded
by Top Quality musicians speed towards Symphony Hall.
settle back into my cloth-upholstered bus seat, grinning from
ear to ear. I could get used to this.
night, July 4th, 11:30pm. We're home, exultant and exhausted.
We flop down on the couch and rewind the video tape we'd timed
to record the concert. We cue it up. There we are, coming onstage,
beaming with fun. We look great. Keith looks great. The Pops look
great. The crowd looks great. The hot dog vendors look great.
smiling. Idy's smiling. We dance a little and we look great setting
up for our first big aerial. At the exact moment Idy goes into
the air, the camera cuts to a closeup of the trombone section,
their slides moving in and out, cheeks puffed in perfect synchrony.
later, the camera's on us again. We're smiling, we're cool, we
did our first aerial perfectly and now we're going to do our second
big aerial, the back-to-back flip. I bend my knees, I start the
flip. Idy goes up and the camera cuts to a closeup of the flute
section, their fingers flying excitingly over their tiny keys.
camera returns to us as I start to pull Idy through my legs in
anticipation of a lift where she goes upside down in the air,
her forearms on my shoulders, her feet reaching to the sky. But
as I pull her through the legs, the camera cuts to a closeup of
the drummer, hammering away on his trap set secure behind a plexiglass
to us. We start our most exciting aerial, the death-dive, and...
Boom! The camera cuts to a closeup of the crowd. Cheering us.
Unseen off screen. Unseen as we do the skin-the-cat, the back-flip,
the over-the-back throw. All of them, every aerial, every dramatic
well-rehearsed move, gone, off-camera.
it's not just musicians featured while we dance off-screen. Several
times they show Keith Lockhart looking over his shoulder, blithely
waving his baton at the orchestra, watching us. Somewhere off-camera.
a friend of ours who works for the Pops explained that the camera
direction was worked out weeks in advance so that every musical
high point was either a close-up of Keith or the musical soloists.
Worked out weeks before we were hired to dance.
how close are heaven and hell. Thousands saw and loved our dancing
while millions more sat on their couches saying, "Honey,
what's Keith looking at over his shoulder?" or "It would've
been nice if those dancers had done some fancy tricks and aerials"
or "I have to pee. Yell if something happens."
for all the craziness of even the worst of gigs, being a dancer
is often quite fun. Not particularly profitable, but fun. After
all, if we wanted security and predictability, wed become
a bank tellers with a retirement or a corporate vice president
with fancy cars, health insurance, and all-expense-paid trips
to corporate conferences in Bermuda for our entire family. Sigh.
Sounds like... Nah! Sounds boring!
an aside, after enough disasters you get things like tech riders
(list of obscure technical requirements, like lights), a complete
set of musical charts for your dances (only bring the copies,
never the originals), and a sixth sense for averting potential
disasters when talking with agents on the phone (i.e. this client
would like something high-energy often means six
long-legged teen-aged bosomy girls in fishnets doing a can-can
we've continued moving up the food chain. Idy (my wife and dance
partner) and I danced with great success with the San Antonio
Symphony Pops in 2002 (without disaster and receiving standing
ovations both nights). And, in early 2004, we're going to be dancing
with the Houston Symphony Pops, New Mexico Symphony Pops, and
the Rhode Island Philharmonic.
think of our work like this (with a nod to Lyle Victor Alberts
marvelous show, Scraping the Surface):
could be a mercenary carrying an AK47 in foreign lands, or a parachutist
hurtling at 90 miles an hour headfirst towards the hard, dry earth
below. Or, you could become a dancer. And die a thousand deaths.
For indifferent audiences numbering in the hundreds. In scores
of darkened hotel ballrooms. Why? Because it's what we do, it's
what we love. It's who we are.