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Swingin' in the Dark: Gigs From Hell
(sequel to "Swinging for Cash")

Copyright 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

People 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.

But 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.

Please 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.

How it Usually Starts
But Agents, on the other hand... Suspended Animation on Runway 7
“What? MEN in the Kamikaze Jitterbugs?” The Big Apple Cubicle People
Pulling the Wings from Clients Heaven is in Asia
The Music Never Stops Heaven and Hell Are Neighbors
Who’s the Guy in White Pants, Governor? Epilogue

How it Usually Starts

Usually 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.

Other 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.

In 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.

The 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.

Back 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.

But Agents, on the other hand...

Agents. "Entertainment professionals". Who sell "talent."

Yes, 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 valise!'

And 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?

Agents 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.

In 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."

Of 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!"

After 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."

Or 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.

Six 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.

Client: "A dance show? You mean like Broadway or Flashdance?"

Agent: "Absolutely. Oh, a half hour at least. Yeah, let me check availability. I'll call you right back.."

So 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."

Agent: "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."

Now 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...

Please 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.

“What? There Are MEN in The Kamikaze Jitterbugs?”

An 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 band.

The 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 of doom.

My 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.

Finally, 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 paint.

As 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.

Bad 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.

The 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 iron lung.

Thin 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.

The 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 slow-moving musicians.

A 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.

"Hey," I said to a lighting tech, "Any chance of getting some light on the dance floor?"

"No one told us about any dancers or a dance show. Ask Gary. He's in charge of the lighting."

Gary 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.

The 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.

They 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.

Pulling the Wings from the Clients: Four dancers and a DJ

Rhode 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.

At five o'clock exactly it's time for a... 1950's Sock Hop in the Main Ballroom! Whoopee!

No, 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.

Five o'clock on an August afternoon, more than fifteen years in the dance business and I confess, I never even saw it coming.

The 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.

And 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 bar!?).

Yes, 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.

Some 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.

That was the day we developed a new type of audience participation. Called Infinite Referral Participation.

A 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.

Then 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."

And 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.

Eight 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.

We 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.

In 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.

The Music Never Stops

A 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.

The trumpet player draped the music across a music stand and, backed by the guys playing sax and trombone, began the tune.

We 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.

As 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!"

The 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.

The 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.

We 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.

One 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.

The 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.

Time 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".

The 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.

I 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.

It's 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.

We 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.

The 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.

That 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.

Who’s the Guy in White Pants, Governor?

The 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."

Coordination 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 professional.

The 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.

Idy 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, alright?).

The 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.

The 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.

Slowly (and I hoped ominously) standing to my full height I asked Charlie in my best stage whisper, "What the hell? Hawaiian shirts? White pants?"

"Oh, 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.

My 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 this man.

After 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.

I 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."

Perhaps 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.

They 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.

Then 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.

The 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.

The 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.

I 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!"

He 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."

Next 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.

I 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!"

His 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.

Inside 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.

I 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."

We 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."

I 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.

Not 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.

Once 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.

Occasionally 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 from Hell.

Fun. Sure it was fun. Sure. Ha. Ha. Ha, ha, haaaaaaa!

The 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.

Yeah! 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.

Suspended Animation on Runway 7

One 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 other.

Inside 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.

We 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.

The 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.

From 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 glasses.

We 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.

We 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 manage.

But 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.

Finally, two and a half hours after we'd arrived, time for the show.

Four 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 signal.

After thirty seconds the painful silence resolved first into a buzz that gradually became our dance music. Somewhere in the middle of the dance.

The 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, no cue.

So 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 on mine.

The 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.

At 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."

Because 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 the beginning.

That 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.

Our 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 eighty decibels.

As 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.

But 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.

We 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.

So, 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.

I 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 nation.

I 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.

Perhaps 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.

That 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.

Yes, 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.

I 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.

Then, 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.

The 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.

But truly, there was no need for that. We had already immolated ourselves.

And 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.

Oh, 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. Yessiree.

The Big Apple Cubicle People

One 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.

The 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 the gig.

It 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.

We 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.

When 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.

Pictures 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.

As they watched the photos of themselves in their cubicles, they drank heavily. We were jealous.

When 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."

The 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.

Halfway 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.

We 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.

We 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.

She 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 bonuses."

And 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.

So 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.

Taking 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.

Sure, 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.

We 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. Honest.

The 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.

People 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.

When 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.

We 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 down."

No problem. We had a great time. Thanks for having us down. It was fun. Really.

Heaven 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.

And 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.

We 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.

And second because less than a year later we got a call to dance with The Boston Pops.

Finally. We were going to be rich and famous.

Heaven and Hell Are Neighbors

Every 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.

On 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.

The producer said, "We've decided it would be nice to have four swing dancers dance two Glenn Miller numbers with the Boston Pops next week."

I 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."

She 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."

Mr. 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."

And 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.)

Of course what I may have heard was the producer asking for the second time, "Uh, what's your name?"

That 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.

It's 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.

Which 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.

In 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.

When 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 they were.

We 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 injured.

Under 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 and stupid.

Things 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 "if."

Sunday 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."

Monday 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.

Unfortunately 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.

After 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.

The 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 gets it!"

But 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?"

We leaped onstage and did each dance once. We then discussed tempos. For ten seconds. And we were done.

Monday 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.

The 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.

Tuesday 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."

I 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 panicked her.

I 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.

I 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.

I 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.

It 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.

Last 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.

Finally, 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.

Tuesday 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.

The 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.

I 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.

As 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.

But 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.

Someone 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 us!

As 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.

It's 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!

The 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 board buses.

Because 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.

I settle back into my cloth-upholstered bus seat, grinning from ear to ear. I could get used to this.

Tuesday 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.

I'm 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.

Seconds 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.

The 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 screen.

Back 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.

And 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.

Later 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.

Ah, 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."

Epilogue

Actually, 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, we’d 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!

As 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 line”).

Also, 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.

We think of our work like this (with a nod to Lyle Victor Albert’s marvelous show, “Scraping the Surface”):

You 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.