Like many oddbot children, I spent my formative years absolutely convinced I was meant to be a superstar. I considered myself a quadruple threat–writer, actor, dancer, singer.
Dancing was the first category to go. Mind you, it wasn’t by choice. I spent most of first and second grade leaping, twirling, and boogying through grocery aisles, playgrounds, the living room. After school I took ballet and disco, the latter held in the school cafeteria, tables and benches pushed back so we’d have room to really dig into the classics–you know, the funky chicken, the bus stop, the hustle. The hot lunch special heavy in the air–I still associate Donna Summer with sloppy joes–I wore a sparkly tam o’shanter I was convinced wouldn’t be out of place in Studio 54. (Then as now, my imagination was overactive.) Though micro-movements eluded me, hip-waggling has never been a personal deficiency so I got by.
But when it came to ballet I was the pits. A tall, gangly child clad in dirty pigtails and coveralls, my outsized hands and feet could not be coaxed into first position, let alone fourth and fifth. I kept tripping over myself and the other girls, neat as pins in their perfect leotards and hairbuns. Worse, I kept nervously joking –“position, huh? What’s your position on the gas crisis? How about the Iran hostage situation, badabumpbump.” A daddy’s girl saddled with an unfortunate preciosity, I was like a mini Jerry Lewis rather than a singularly uncoordinated second grader.
Finally the instructor very politely informed my parents that my energy would best be directed elsewhere. And though I’d come to loathe the prissy precision of ballet–there’s no beat to dance to! –I was nonetheless devastated.
It was the first dream I’d had to abandon. But once I got over the sting–I still watch ballet with a rueful irritation–it taught me three lessons.
- You can’t be good at everything. Absorbing this fact early liberated me from most fears of failure.
- You don’t have to like everything. As a naturally judgmental Capricorn, I would have learned this soon anyway, but the ballet fiasco helped me accept my impatience with acting, at which I proved more successful.
- You can love something without being good at it. I plotz over really good dancers (and really good dance movies) and still shake a tail feather at the slightest provocation.
Which brings me to taking dance class in my 40s, when you can dance like no one is watching because no one is watching. It is my favorite form of exercise–the ideal contrapunto to the stationary activities of writing, interviewing, editing, and movie-screening. I joke that I’m the worst but really I’m the most aggressively mediocre. I know I’m not especially good and it doesn’t impede my wild glee. I sweat more than anyone in class. I hoot and holler to the major mortification of the millennials. And I add jazz hands and other cheesy Broadway flourishes to even the most modern hip hop.
In short I am a total embarrassment and don’t give a fuck. I care about releasing all the tension accumulated through the day, about getting my heart rate up, about embracing a 40something body that society suggests I should reject. I care about getting down on a dance floor because holy shit is it glorious fun. I even care about learning new moves because learning new things is grand on every level. But I don’t care about looking foolish because that would be a rampant waste of time. I knowI look foolish, and anyone who judges me is an even bigger fool.
And not the holy kind.
Which is all to say that last night I cleaned my whole house while wearing tap shoes. I find the anticipation of cleaning worse than cleaning itself, which is eminently gratifying once I submit to its drudgery. To an aspiring author, any immediate results are gratifying.
Usually the only way I can rev myself up for serious housework is to talk to my friend J on the phone. We’ve been friends since the 1990s–so long ago that we met in acting class. Since then we’ve shored each other as only grown Cappie and Leo besties can. (Before maturity, resonance between these sun signs is overshadowed by power struggles.)
These days J lives in Madison, Wisconsin, so instead of endless cups of coffee we have endless phone chats, executing our dullest errands while discussing all and sundry. I miss actually seeing her but am glad to have the perfect partner-in-clean.
This month she’s been unavailable for our marathon calls because she’s in rehearsals for her new play. And though I’m excited for her–if you’re in the Midwest, go see Fake Mom; it goes up today!– Gracie Rosmansion has sunk into utter disrepair in her telephonic absence, especially given my malaise of late. It’s so messy that Grace has barely deigned to walk on the floor, preferring to leap from cluttered surface to cluttered surface while mewing her disdain.
So last night, I started dancing along to Fosse/Verdon for the billionth time-it’s my favorite biopic in at least a decade. And one thing led to another and I pulled out the tap shoes I bought in an ill-advised attempt to master that medium–tap dancers, like ballerinas, do not appreciate the distraction of the truly uncoordinated.
And boy o boy was that a good idea. Piping music through my speakers, I shuffle-shuffle-step-stepped throughout the whole house–organizing, scrubbing, even dusting. I windmilled as I cleaned my dishes and changed Gracie’s litter.
I bump-and-ground (super weird in past tense form) as I windexed the windows. And after lugging my garbage to the curb, I did a victory lap around the block, click-click-clicking in my tap shoes and ratty robe.
Today I woke to a shining household and a shining heart.
And though I’m certain my neighbors now find me even more annoying (my ambivalence about neighbors being well-documented), the tapping was 100 percent worth it–a brilliant antidote to my inertia.
Because doing things you love and suck at is one of the greatest boons of middle age.