Living in the Limelight

Living in the Limelight

Opening Number Rockette-Style (circa 1984)

The lights dim. The audience quiets with anticipation. Backstage, Company dancers line up, waiting for the opening number to begin.

We are tip-toeing between the curtains in the wings so as not to be heard in our tap shoes. We whisper to each other, making last-minute adjustments to our sequined costumes. The excitement and nervous anticipation are palpable. As the curtain goes up and the music begins, we smile through red lipstick, squeeze hands, and whisper, “Break a leg!”

The bright stage lights shine into my eyes, making it easier to concentrate on the steps since I can’t see faces in the audience. I can see that nearly every seat in the theatre is filled for Opening Night. I am smiling so hard my cheeks hurt, giddy with happiness, as I line up for my favorite part of the dance – the kick line. I imagine I am on stage at Radio City Music Hall.

Along with 13 other teenage girls, I confidently execute the Rockette-style opening number we have been rehearsing together for nearly five months. As quickly as the music began, the four-minute dance is coming to an end and we flawlessly fall into formation for the final pose. The audience claps and cheers, the curtain comes down, and we breathlessly run off stage to change costumes.

“We did it!” We high-five each other as we run back to the dressing room, laughing, happy that we broke the ice. The opening number is over and our next dances will be a little less nerve-wracking. We are proud of ourselves and each other for all of our hard work that is coming to fruition tonight. One down, 10 more costume changes to go, and Opening Night of Recital will be a success.

I am 14 years old. Dancing is my biggest passion and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world performing for an adoring audience of family and friends. For the next three nights on our high school stage, I will be a Rockette, a classical ballerina, and a jazz dancer from an award-winning Broadway musical.

***

“We are missing a white hair bow for the The Fabulous 50s number,” I announce to the other moms in the Company dressing room on Opening Night.

“Anybody have two white bows by mistake?”

The Backstage Moms and I search every single costume bag of every single dancer in the dressing room, asking the girls to check their dance bags. Nobody finds the missing bow. We have time to find another one. The Fabulous 50s isn’t until Second Act.

“I need help with my bun,” says a little girl. “It’s low and it is supposed to be high for this dance.” I call the dancer over and proceed to undo her low bun so I can redo it in its proper position.

“Are you excited?” I ask as I brush her hair.

“Yes!” she tells me. “I love this dance!” She is wearing a costume version of a yellow polka dot bikini with tan tap shoes, holding a beach towel. Her dance, a medley of 1960s beach songs, is called Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny. It is one of my many favorites in this year’s show. I finish her bun and look at her in the mirror.

“How’s it look? OK?” I ask the young dancer.

“Yup,” she tells me. “Thank you.” She takes her beach towel and finds the other girls in her group. They wait, not so patiently, to be called to line up backstage. I resume my search for the white bow. No luck. My daughter, the one who misplaced this white bow, breezes in to the dressing room. She is 11. She doesn’t want help with her hair or costumes. She can do it herself.

“Did you stretch? Did you find your water bottle?” I ask her. She is dressed and ready for her jazz number, Disco Inferno, another one of my favorites.

She rolls her eyes at me. “Mom! I’m ready, jeez!” she replies.

“I’m just making sure,” I tell her, giving her an affectionate squeeze, “Isn’t that my job for the next three days?”

She hugs me and stares up at me with her Egyptian make-up cat-eyes.

***

“Girls!” I whisper loudly, “Keep your tap shoes quiet. They can hear you in the audience!”

We are waiting in the wings backstage. The older Company dancers are performing a pointe number and the younger girls in tap shoes wait in anticipation for their turn to take the stage. They watch the older girls’ ballet with admiration.

My daughter is a dancer in the tap number, and I watch her from the wings. She is performing a medley of Boy Band songs from the Four Tops to N’SYNC. I watch as my 11-year-old quickly takes her place on the dark stage, the lights come up, and “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” begins. She is smiling, thoroughly enjoying herself, as she dances through the medley, complete with an on-stage costume change, and doesn’t miss a beat. For a brief instant, she sees me in the wings and her eyes light up. Her smile gets even bigger.

At that exact moment, my eyes fill up with tears and a rush of emotion overcomes me. What feels like a sob catches in my throat, but I am anything but sad. If there is such a thing as a “sob of happiness” I am experiencing it in full force.

All at once, I am simultaneously watching my daughter dance her heart out while remembering that same rush of adrenaline I felt on stage during my tap number all those years ago. It suddenly hits me that my passion has become her passion; that she loves dancing as much as I do. She totally gets it, and I didn’t even make her do it. I didn’t want to be one of those dance moms. She just simply feels it in her soul, just like I do.

“You don’t have to take four classes a week if you don’t want to,” I’ve told my daughter. “Are you sure you don’t want to take a break for the summer?” I’ve asked. And, “Do you understand the commitment you will be making when you audition for Company?”

Antonia poses in some of this year’s costumes 2017

Yes, she assured me. She understood all of it, and only once or twice in 10 months of rehearsals did she complain about getting ready for a dance class because of a headache, or being too tired from a long day at school.

Instead, it was quite the opposite. As I drove her to class one evening, she happily told me: “Mom, I LOVE dance. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have dance in my life!”

Me neither, my amazing daughter. Me neither.

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