When I was a little girl – about 5… my father sat me down next to him on his upright Wurlitzer and started to teach me the scales on the piano. Up five… down five … both hands to teach them synchronicity. I watched him practice every day rehearse like he had a big gig to do the next day – but that was just his exercise in discipline – practice every day… keep your fingers nimble… keep your mind on the notes… keep the notes in your head. And I would… from old worn books in French, I’d recite little songs written with the explicit purpose of making me practice and making my fingers stretch across the octaves. I liked it because Daddy liked it for me. But something magical happened when Christmas time would come around… and the tv would arbitrarily be left on during The Nutcracker. The dancers would flex and contort their bodies to align with the music. They’d create long beautiful lines from their fingertips to their toes and I’d stay glued to the screen… and as soon as it was over, I would leap pirouettes around the living room table and land in plies and run down the hall to pick up enough speed for a flying leap. I’d point my toes as sharp as I could and extend them behind my 6 year old body and arch my arms above my head. I’d feel like i was flying and my heart would want to beat out of my chest.
When I was about 7, my father enrolled me in a piano class with a crotchety old white man as my instructor. Next door, my godsister Ramona would take her ballet and toe classes. Both classes would let out about the same time and she’d gracefully walk out with her leotards and her sneakers on with her towel around her neck and I’d be shaking my legs trying to get the circulation back in them after sitting so long. I would just stare at her and her class mates and wonder… if they’re just next door… is there a way to switch to her class – I mean… Daddy was teaching me at home anyways… right? I breached the subject with my parents a few times… the response was to take me out of the school. I continued my piano lessons at home… learning songs I didn’t care to know. For the next 5 years.
Elementary school was coming to a close and the chance to go to High School presented itself. I was always an A student, so I wasn’t really scared about grades and standardized tests. I had the test that I had to take for the Science and Technical Schools in NY ( Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science) – I made it into all three. My handbell teacher / choir instructor told me the information for auditioning for the LaGuardia High School of the Arts. I filled out the apps and submitted all the appropriate materials. I got the letter in the mail… I’d been chosen to come audition. I had a chance. What would I do? I could play one of my dad’s old boring songs and impress them with my classical training… or I could sing for them… something that I’d practiced in my shower a million times. Maybe if I used what I knew, I could get in and have them teach me to dance… I would hope that at 12 years old, my body hadn’t hardened to the idea of dance. Maybe it wasn’t too late. The day for the audition came. And I got ready. I had my sheet music… and had chewed on ginger the night before to clear my vocals. I stood at the ready for my dad to take me to the audition. And he announced to me… that he wasn’t going to take me. I thought he was joking. But he wasn’t. And in his usual fashion, he wasn’t going to extend any explanation as to why… just because. It came out later that so long as my parents were paying for my education, I was to learn to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer… something productive and bring notoriety to the family in America. And the hours of that day ticked away so slowly.
I got accepted to St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens where I continued to excel and be an A student in an environment that was molding us for College. Outside of the curriculum, I found joy in their extensive music program. Select Chorus, Repertory Company, Jazz Ensemble, Marching Band, Concert Chorus, Concert Band… you name it…I was a part of it. Countless free periods were spent in the practice rooms playing piano with my school mates and belting songs at the top of my lungs. Solos were awarded… and I’d get on stage shaking after having driven my family to the brink of insanity with my home rehearsing. All of those solos would be attended by my mom and brother with pride and somewhere towards the end in the back, begrudgingly, my father. Who’d complain the whole way to the concert and the whole way home. But my turn would come and NOTHING felt like it… Singing with the harmony as my backdrop… the unison was transcendent. I graduated with honors in to Pace University… a business school… that was offering me a substantial scholarship.
I floundered around undeclared for a year or so… not sure what’d I’d do with the three choices I was given. I’m too squeamish to be anyone’s doctor. I’m not comfortable with the chops it takes to be a lawyer and math completely confused me… so that wasn’t going to help me with my engineering studies. The suggestion was presented that folks have their doctorate in Psychology… which technically makes you a doctor without having to cut anyone open. And I always loved studying behavior… so Psychology it was. Until I could get back to music… or dance. Only problem… there wasn’t a real music program for me to participate in. I had to get my musical rocks off singing with my roommate Sug as often as possible and then with our little singing trio “Volupte” (pronounced voh loop tay) opening with the Black National anthem at Black Student Organization events. It was a special scat version. But… christmas would come around now… and the Alvin Ailey troupe would make it’s way into town and somehow I’d score tickets to sit and watch them sing with their bodies. I’d watch them with this quiet… ache. How absolutely beautiful they could make these motions appear and seem so effortless. I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and was inducted into the National Honor Society for Psychology.
I worked as an administrative assistant for a few years until the opportunity presented it self for me to study web design. Design. Colors… lines… aesthetics. I hadn’t studied it in school, but I could learn. I could make it work. And I have. Gone from being told I wasn’t a real designer… to real companies looking for my services.
Tonight I sat down and watched tv as always and started to fall asleep… but woke up because my hubby needed something from me. As the grogginess escaped, I noticed “Fame” the movie playing the screen and I woke up / sobered up and was focused on it. Watching the kids audition… then learn… then graduate… To do… who knows what. Go to college to study something completely unrelated. Maybe to work as admin. assistants till they can make it in what they love. I guess the ache showed. My husband asked me if I’d ever considered going there as a child.
Yeah… but I’ve been so busy pretending to be anything but a dancer. LOL… I shouldda been an actress…
[…] What did you want to be when you were my age? [longest pause] I wanted to sing and dance. Is that what you do at your job now? No… it is not. [she looks me in my […]