Tag Archives: lyrical

The Most Jellicle, The Most Live

25 May

When we were young, my sister and I took many lessons of varying activities. I, being the animal lover, went through a horseback riding phase that I admittedly have not completely grown out of. Caitlyn, being a fairy tale princess, took ballet from the moment she could stand in first position. I eventually started to take dance lessons, too, as well as gymnastics, cheerleading, and a sad, pathetic fifth grade attempt at playing basketball.  (I scored four glorious points the entire season- two foul shots, and one basket that I think went into the basket because the ball bounced off of my flailing arm, and my teammates were nice enough to allow me the credit of making said basket.)

When we were about 13 and 15, my sister and I were taking dance lessons at a local dance studio. Now, when I say “taking dance lessons at a local dance studio,” what I mean to say is that sometimes on random Saturdays we would show up to the dance studio and learn sporadic 8 counts of choreography, and not return for a few weeks due to our busy schedules. The problem was, if you wanted to take dance classes with this studio, you had to keep your entire Saturday open. We were enrolled in jazz, lyrical, ballet, pointe, and tap. Five hours of straight dance with hour breaks here and there. If anything else conflicted- family reunions, gymnastics meets, cheerleading competitions, community productions of The Music Man, having a social life- you’d miss all of your classes for that week. It wasn’t like “Oh I can’t make it to jazz on Satruday, but at least I’ll make it to ballet on Monday!” No. If you missed one class, you usually missed them all.

Here’s the thing: I’m not saying that missing class was the right thing to do. It was actually the complete wrong thing to do. Now that I’m older, I can only imagine my instructor’s frustration while trying to choreograph 50+ teenage girls into some sort of physical product that didn’t resemble a chaotic frenzy of developing breasts, hips, and acne. ESPECIALLY when those 50+ girls had other activities to attend, and couldn’t even show up to class. She had made it easy for us- ONE day of the week you get to attend ALL of your classes, and be done with it for the rest of the week. How hard can that be, huh? To just make sure your schedule is clear for ONE day of the week? I mean seriously. How can you choreograph and teach people dances if they’re not in the room? You can’t. AND! Now that I’m older, I realize that my instructor was not only in charge of our dance educations, but she was ALSO in charge of putting on the end of the year recital, in which all of her hard work would be showcased on a stage for all of the people PAYING her to do the impossible task of teaching their absent children how to dance.

So I assume my instructor finally got so fed up with the whole ordeal that she finally just said “Forget you little whores. This year we’re doing it my way.” And at the beginning of that year, the infamous year, she made an announcement:

“Listen. If you’re in class, you’ll be in the recital. If you’re not in class, you won’t be. Each week, whatever we learn- if you’re here to learn it, you’ll perform those 8 counts in the recital. If you’re not here, you won’t be in the 8 counts we learned. If you happen to miss a week where we learn a BIG section of the dance, or if we manage to learn ALL of the dance, you simply won’t be on stage for it. This is how we’re doing it this year.” She then took a big swig from her water bottle. Looking back now, her water bottles were never clear. She always had a plastic jug that she brought from home. I now wonder what she was drinking…Well played, Miss Dance Instructor. Well played.

Well, this sent a shock through us all. She couldn’t do that! Could she? Would this mean that we wouldn’t be able to miss a SINGLE DANCE CLASS if we wanted to be in the whole dance at the end of the year?!?!

Being a virgo, someone who is a naturally organized person, I found my 13 year old self wondering… “So, wait… say someone misses a class. But they were here the week before that class, and the week after… does that mean they’re just going to have to RUN off of the stage while the rest of the group does the part that they missed… and then run BACK on as soon as they know the choreography again? That doesn’t seem very organized…”

And yes. Yes, that is exactly what that meant, and no, it was not organized. At all.

It also didn’t help that this year was the year that my sister and I would be missing the most dance classes of our entire lives. I don’t really remember why we were missing so much class… it really doesn’t matter for the story’s sake… the point is, we missed a shit ton of class. When we would finally show up to early morning Saturday dance, our friends would greet us like we were their long-lost family members from ancient times.

Prepubescent Girl: OH MY GOSH CAITLYN AND CAROLYN ARE HERE!
Senior In High School: WOW! WE HAVEN’T SEEN YOU GUYS IN MONTHS!
Prepubescent Girl: Do you still take class here? Or are you just visiting?
Other Girls: Wow! Your hair got longer! It’s good to see you! Carolyn, you got taller since the last time I saw you! Etc…

I can only imagine my instructor’s frustration when we finally DID show up for class. Now she had two extra bodies to put into this mess, and those two bodies knew none of the dance at all.

Every year, in community dance studios around the nation, small recitals are put on. Each year, these recitals usually have “themes.” Such as, “God Bless America”; “Five, Six, Seven, GREAT!” ; “Over the Rainbow”; and “STARPOWER.” This year, the infamous year of the changing eights, our theme was THE STARS OF BROADWAY. Each dance was choreographed to old Broadway hits, or songs that talked a lot about New York City. I vaguely remember the “advanced adult tap class” kick ball changing their way through Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” I also remember a beautiful lyrical solo done by a girl in a flowwy white costume to Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind.”

The one day that we came to class, we learned that our “advanced jazz class” was opening the entire recital with a tribute to one of Broadway’s longest running musicals, “CATS!” While we joined the group and started to learn the choreography, I started to realize something…

Caitlyn and I would be portraying cats. We would actually embody animals on stage, and people would be watching us, and no one would call us weird or “too old to be acting like an animal.”  I felt like my entire life had been leading me up to this moment. Years of making “nests” behind the couch and filling them with my beanie babies… crawling around on the floor like a psychotic lunatic while carrying aforementioned beanie babies in my mouth… watching The Animal Planet and perfecting my cougar call… all of these activities had led me to this SPECIFIC moment. I WAS a cat. I was a feline, and I was fabulous.

Needless to say, my freak show little self was extremely excited. Caitlyn, on the other hand, was more worried about her costume than the actual portrayal of a believable cat. You see, sometimes in these things, parents and their “talented” offspring are forced to order, buy, and sometimes even MAKE their own costumes. This time was no different. We were told we would need to order body suits and decorate them however we saw fit. During one Saturday, before anyone ordered their body suits, we were forced to write our names down under the colors that we wished to be. This was done in hopes of avoiding 27 black cats and only 3 yellow cats on stage.

I approached the list… I knew what color I wanted to be… I was hoping that there wouldn’t be too many names under that color already… but because I had missed so much class, I knew I wouldn’t be first to write my name down on the paper. My more punctual peers certainly wouldn’t let me have first cat color choice privileges. I had to wait my turn…. patiently…

With every girl that approached the list and wrote her name down, I knew I would have to settle for something STUPID like… brown. Or gray. I kept my fingers crossed, and prayed that there would be at least one space left for my name…

When I finally did get to see the list, these were the options I saw:
ORANGE:        BLACK:       GRAY:             YELLOW:       BROWN:

 

What. No, seriously… what!?

No where, not anywhere, was the “Siamese” option. Who were these people? What the hell were they thinking? You can’t have a production of CATS without proper cat colors!

I was so disappointed, I didn’t even care where my name went anymore. I saw that there weren’t many orange cats, so I scribbled my name down and went back to my place on the floor.

A month later, we received a package in the mail. At this point, I think all three of us- my mother, my sister, and I- had forgotten that we had ordered anything. When we finally opened the package and looked inside, my mom pulled out a brown body suit and an orange body suit.

Mom: Oh. Here are your cat costumes, girls.
Caitlyn: Oh yeah! We’re doing CATS. I almost forgot.
Me: (Holding up the limp carcass of my orange body suit) This is the literally the color of a construction cone.

My mom promised that she would help me make my costume not look as crazy-orange as it already did. We went to the craft store and bought a few boas for our tails, and, upon my instruction, grabbed a package of black feathers and some glue.

Mom: Carolyn, we should really just use paint to give you stripes.
Me: Paint is going to look two dimensional! I want the stripes to look like FUR. Okay!? That’s why we’re going to glue feathers onto me.
Mom: But honey, if you put glue on a costume that is supposed to stretch-
Me: I WANT IT TO LOOK LIKE FUR FROM OFF STAGE. If I can’t even be a Siamese cat, at least I can look like like I have fur!
Mom: Okay. Whatever.

That night I slaved over my costume, gluing feathers in all the right places to make me look like an orange tabby cat. It took hours of painstakingly accurate applications, but once it was completed, I was satisfied. Everyone else would be using markers for their costumes. Not me! Oh no. I was going to be different.

Finally the night of the recital arrived. Caitlyn and I rushed into the backstage area and started to get ready. The “costumers” (AKA a few selfless and good hearted parent volunteers) had printed out templates of cat makeup from the actual Broadway show that they were letting us go through and choose. Caitlyn and I chose our makeup maps, and proceeded to apply our feline faces.

I looked at my sister. Her eyebrows were drawn in along her nose and back out under her eyes- almost like she had purposely drawn raccoon eyes on herself, but then stopped and changed her mind midway through. She had painted stripes back along her cheeks with different colored lip pencils, and colored in her entire top lip with gray eyeliner. On the left side of her face was a patch of gray makeup, a patch that to us looked like distinctive feline markings, but to anyone else would appear to be physical proof of domestic violence.

I, on the other hand, had colored my eyebrows in the opposite direction- I had made them fan up and back, bleeding back into my hairline. I colored the bottom of my nose with a black eye pencil and drew a very prominent line down my upper lip, which then connected to another colored-in black triangle below my bottom lip. Every other inch of my face was painted white like a geisha.

I looked at Caitlyn. She looked at me. We stared at each other for a moment. There was silence. And then-

Me: You look FANTASTIC.
Caitlyn: Wow. We look great!
Me: Here, let me help you with your collar.

Finally, it was time to put on our body suits. Caitlyn slid into hers like butter melts into a pan. It stretched and clung to her like an athletic body suit should. Mine, on the other hand…

Me: Uh, Caitlyn?
Caitlyn: Yeah?
Me: Mine… mine isn’t stretching.
Caitlyn: What do you mean? It’s a body suit.
Me: Well, where I used the glue to glue on the feathers?
Caitlyn: Yeah?
Me: Well… it’s not stretching. In those places.

We then proceeded to RIP my costume apart and MAKE it fit onto my body. Feathers were flying everywhere. Caitlyn was laughing, I was hyperventilating, and all the while we were hearing the stage manager (Aka another selfless parent volunteer) yell down “TEN MINUTES TILL PLACES!”

Caitlyn: There! It’s on! Just leave it!
Me: But look at the feathers! They’re falling off! COMPLETELY! I look horrible!

Now, at this moment I suspect my sister knew exactly what she was doing… she then says to me…

Caitlyn: Well… we’re supposed to be ally cats, right?
Me: Yeah…
Caitlyn: Well you’ll just look a little more, forlorn.
Me: Huh?!
Caitlyn: Like… LIKE you’re one of those really aggressive cats that doesn’t take any crap from any other cats!
Me: But… that’s not the type of cat I rehearsed! I rehearsed being a very friendly cat, who actually gets along well with other cats, as long as the other cats aren’t trying to mate with me or steal my territory!
Caitlyn: Well… maybe you can just be a different type of cat. Come on, we have to get into places.

And while we climbed the steps to emerge onto the stage and start the preshow section, I was trying desperately to think about how I could possibly change my cat character to justify my haggard appearance. Could my docile original cat character have just gotten into a fight… and lost? NO! My cat character would NEVER lose a fight… Could I have mange? NO! My cat character cleans herself daily! No matter which way I looked at it, it was unavoidable. I was going to have to become… AN AGGRESSIVE CAT.

The lights came up. The music started. I did my usual lick the paw and pat my ear choreography that I had planned, but now I felt stupid- I was in my head, second-guessing everything I was doing…

Angry Me: Now come on. What kind of a cat tries to clean themselves NOW?
Nervous Me: I can’t help it! My costume fell apart!
Angry Me: A LITTLE LATE FOR THAT YOU MANGY BEAST!

I stretched my arms out in a child’s pose and arched my back.

Angry Me: OH so we just woke up from a nap now, huh!? IS THE KITTY CAT TIRED!?!?!
Nervous Me: I’m just doing the choreography… the way we rehearsed…
Angry Me: Your stretching is CRAP. This entire production is CRAP, so long as YOU’RE in it! Do you even KNOW the dance?!?!

And I think it was at that moment that I realized… I really didn’t know any of the dance. I mean I knew where I was supposed to be on the stage. I knew, vaguely, where I was supposed to enter and exit. But other than that? I was screwed. I realized, in that heightened moment of self loathing and hyperventilation, that I had been relying solely on the mirrors in our studio to watch and follow the other girls. And now that we were actually on the stage without any mirrors, I literally had no idea which 8 count came where, and where I was supposed to be.

It was every performer’s nightmare. Being onstage with a costume that is falling apart, only to realize you don’t know your part. I quickly looked over at Caitlyn. Surprisingly, she was already looking right back at me. And get this- she had the EXACT same, petrified, “Oh-My-Gosh-I-Literally-Have-No-Idea-What-Comes-Next” look on her face that I did.

And I believe it was at that moment where the term “Doing it live” comes from. Most people think it’s from the internet sensation of Bill O’Riley going nuts and screaming “WE’LL DO IT LIVE” at the news crew for having a faulty teleprompter. But no. No, friends, see… “Do it live” actually started with two teenage sisters attempting to dance in a small studio’s tribute to the award winning Broadway musical “CATS.”

So there we were. On a stage. Running around, trying not to bump into anyone else, mouthing the words, but we didn’t really know the words…

Yes we’re Jellicle cats
as Jellicle, do…?
Jellicle songs for Jellicle cats!
Jellicle songs for Jellicle cats!
I’m a cat, And I’m Jellicle too?…

Kicking! Running! Leaping! Pivoting! Pirouetting! All a half second behind everyone else on the stage. We looked like two genuine ass holes up there. At one point I even considered just jazz running off stage and staying there until the whole thing was over… Which, now that I think about it, I SHOULD have been doing during the parts that I didn’t know… I just didn’t know when to exit and when to come back on.

The only silver lining was that Caitlyn and I had been strategically placed in the back of every formation, so that even if we messed up, we’d be mostly hidden by the other girls on stage who had attended more dance classes than we.

Now this continued on for what felt like a century. But then! Lo and behold, at one point Caitlyn and I finally realized that the part of the dance happening was the ONE part that we had been in class to learn! Suddenly we weren’t following anyone because we actually knew the choreography! And let me tell you what… those four eight counts were the most on point, committed, and memorable eight counts of the entire CATS production. Why, you ask? Well, because for those four eight counts, every dancer on the stage was doing the same movements at the exact same time. I could just see our dance instructor in the audience, beaming with pride… sure, we were a little shaky to start. But we’ve got it now! WE’VE GOT THIS!

And then, just as soon as it had started, it ended- The beautiful part of the dance that we knew was now over, and we were back to square one.

Please, I heard myself pleading with God, please let this be over soon, and I swear I’ll never miss a dance class again…

Suddenly everyone in the entire company artistically collapsed down to the floor and rolled, and Caitlyn and I were left, for a split second, staring at the audience point blank. Just standing there. Two casual cats, staring blankly at the audience. We IMMEDIATELY dove down to be on the same level as the other girls… and then, something in my brain clicked, and for one more glorious second, I realized I KNEW THE CHOREOGRAPHY! I KNEW this eight count! I knew, deep in my bones, that on count EIGHT was a move where we shot our feet out in front of us, leaned back on one arm, and stretched our other arm up to display a jazz hand. It was kind of an awkward move, where you’re hitched between your hand and your heels, sort of showing your crotch to the audience… But it didn’t matter. The awkward body suit crotch move came on count eight! AND I KNEW IT!

And so, I did it. Five, six, seven…. EIGHT!

And as my crotch was displayed proudly for the entire audience to enjoy, and my arm shot up to display a perfect, triumphant jazz hand, I realized it wasn’t the only jazz hand! Caitlyn’s triumphant jazz hand shot up, too! The only problem was…

No body else’s hands shot up. Not one other crotch that wasn’t related to mine was being displayed for the audience’s enjoyment.

Later that night after the recital ended, my mother insisted that she grab a picture of Caitlyn and I in our cat costumes. And you know what? I’m glad she did. Because at the time, the LAST thing I wanted to do at the end of my recital was put my cat costume back on. But now that she has, I get to share this photograph with the rest of the world. Enjoy.

Sole Patch, the Aggressive Cat sits proudly next to Jellicle Slutter Baum.

Sole Patch, the Aggressive Cat sits proudly next to Jellicle Slutter Baum.

 

I think our little an-jellicle faces really just say it all.

 

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