This post brought to you by MyEvilTwin.
The sixth graders were performing a hybrid version of The Nutcracker before Christmas break and the eighth graders, as basically the elder statesmen of the school, were going to help. Specifically, anyone with dance “training” was wanted to choreograph the various numbers. I’d had ballet lessons and wore pointe shoes, which apparently gained me enough cred to be assigned the finale – the “Waltz of the Flowers” and the Prince and Clara’s final dance together (I don’t know what happened to the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” either. It was an adaptation, don’t ask.)
I’m not going to lie, I felt cool. “Cool” was not really a part of the vocabulary of my middle-school life, so that was a treat. It should also tell you something that my version of “cool” was choreographing a section of a ballet adapted into a sixth grade play by someone’s parents. Frankly, my definition hasn’t changed that much.
The dancers cast as The Flowers were the best in the group. (Was this objectively true? I have no idea! But I believed it.) We took our assignment very seriously, like true artistes, and rehearsed constantly. I listened to Tchaikovsky obsessively and took to wearing leg warmers. I’m actually a little surprised I didn’t start tapping out rhythms with a cane and yelling at the girls in a cartoonish Russian accent. We were all very smug about the obvious superiority of our segment, pretty certain that our performance would elevate this pedestrian Christmas pageant to a transcendent experience that people would remember forever. You can probably guess that we were wrong, even if everything had gone as planned. You can probably also guess that we were insufferable.
The Prince and Clara would close the play, dancing together after the Waltz, with the Flowers remaining onstage to dance behind them. Their dance was very short, probably about 45 seconds in total. It was kept purposely brief because they would learn it only a few days before dress rehearsal, since, as the main characters, they had lines, blocking, and other dances to learn. I had the routine planned out and ready to go, so on our first rehearsal together, I thought things went very smoothly, and that they had taken to the steps pretty easily.
I must have been slowly coming down with something, because promptly the next day, I was laid out with bronchitis. Rehearsals went on, and I was assured that the Prince and Clara were practicing. I returned the day before dress rehearsal, and something was off; the Flowers had funny looks on their faces. One of them screwed up the courage to break some bad news.
“The Prince and Clara don’t want to do your dance. They were embarrassed to dance together. He doesn’t want to touch her hand,” she said.
I thought, “Suck it up, kids! This is the theatre!” I asked what their alternative was.
“Well, Pat’s mom came to help,” she paused, clearly not wanting to continue, “She suggested they do…the Macarena.” I laughed, but she was, evidently, not joking. My vision! It was in peril.
I went to see Pat’s mom, also known as The Director. I felt certain I could reason with her and make her see sense. First, I made the case that ballet dancers sometimes have to touch each other and the Prince and Clara should probably overcome their embarrassment for art’s sake. When that was shot down, I conceded that I could take out the part where he twirls her (hand touching!) and the part where we faked our best impression of a “lift” for sixth graders (holding her waist!) It was a compromise of my vision, sure, but at least it would be ballet. She wanted none of it. Pat’s mom had a vision, too, and hers definitely included the Macarena.
In the gauzy soft focus of a seventeen year old memory, I remember knowing that my choreography was brilliant, perhaps second only to Balanchine, and not to be tossed aside for some trendy party dance. I puffed up like a blowfish and demanded to be taken seriously. I may have called Pat’s mom “bourgeois.” You can imagine how well this went over.
I stewed. Through two dress rehearsals and three performances, I stewed. My choreography was ruined. The play was ruined. Hell, the entire art form of ballet was ruined, forever tainted by this unforgivable mistake. I sat in the back of the auditorium, emphatically hating the play as only an eighth grader can hate something. In a fit of pique, I think I even asked to have my name removed from the program, but they’d already been run through the mimeograph (yes, my school still used a mimeograph in the late 90’s).
It is only after some honest soul searching that I am able to admit that the audience loved it. Loved. It. The juxtaposition of a popular line dance, performed down-tempo to a classical Christmas composition is comic gold to an auditorium full of parents. Pat’s mom, you know your demographic. Bravo. Many years too late, perhaps, but bravo.
The scars incurred in middle school are perhaps the hardest to forget. I still twitch a little when Macarena comes on, which is really only at weddings and other DJ-ed events these days. I hope the kids playing the Prince and Clara grew out never wanting to touch other people. Until proven otherwise, I’m going to assume they eventually fell in love and got married to each other, and someone told this story at their wedding. At which point they would, of course, dance the Macarena.
I also hope that somewhere there is a film reel with an outtake of Natalie Portman doing the Chicken Dance to the music of Swan Lake in the finale of Black Swan. Pat’s mom was right. Comedy gold.
Macarena tutorial courtesy of the very informative macarena.com
Liz Labacz is a fundraiser and improvisor in Pittsburgh, PA. She writes and performs with Frankly Scarlett Comedy and Arcade Comedy Theater.