Dancing Like Shirley

My starter tap dancing shoes given to me by the instructor.

I wanted to dance like Shirley Temple.

Maybe for a minute.

Or just ten seconds.

My parents never sent me to tap dancing lessons when I was a kid. I would have loved it. Cool rhythms erupting from my feet, slip-sliding and smooth. Like water rushing over boulders, I would have tapped up and down steps and around my partners and raised a joyous commotion.

I’d have to wait until I was older. Mature. When the local community college offered a tap dancing class a few years ago, I signed up. For the wrong class. The description said beginners were welcome, but I was waaaay out of my league. The other students were experienced tappers and I was tripping over my shins.

I switched to the tapping class for seniors. That was more like it. Women past their middle years in shiny black shoes, shaking their ankles around the dance floor. Most of them had been child dancers or had taken that class a dozen times already to relive their youthful dancing days. I joined because I wanted to learn.

During the first class I was an A-1 klutz. Why couldn’t I get the simple ball-heel maneuver down, or the shuffle or the flap? I was flipping when I was supposed to be flapping and shifting when I was supposed to be shuffling. Running into my comrades on the dance floor, hopelessly out of sync with everyone.

When the instructor said we’d be spending classes learning our routine for the Spring Review performance, I tightened up. “No way!” I screamed inside. “No way you’re getting this mature lady on a stage with all these experienced tappers, performing in front of a live audience.”

The instructor assured us participation was strictly optional. “It’ll be fun!” the other dancers insisted. I was skeptical. I collapsed under pressure from my peers and the instructor to perform.

After attending every class and making lots of noise I somehow blended in. I could do this, yes I could.

The instructor choreographed an easy routine. She chose a country western song by some artist I can’t remember, and she played it over and over and over until I nearly puked. I dislike country western songs.

Then she chose our costumes. We provided the black pants and tops, she provided the red cowboy hats with white fur trim. And LED lights.

The mature lady tappers, decked out in our red cowboy hats with the flashing LED lights. I’m sitting front row, far left, all smiles with thick eyebrows.

Backstage before the performance we readied ourselves, gabbing and visiting and making ourselves up. The daughter of one of the tappers penciled heavy eyebrows on most of us. I did the rest of my makeup—lots of coverage, lots of color.

We made a big splash at dress rehearsal. Performers from the other acts sat in the audience and cheered dancers on stage—people of all ages doing ballet, jazz, modern dance and other tap routines. When the mature ladies (us) came on stage they all screamed. Even before we dropped one tap to the floor. They screamed. Must have been the flashing LED lights on our heads. Then we lifted our knees and pounded our toes and heels, and they kept screaming and cheering and yelling for the mature lady tappers. What a blast.

Our performance for the public that night didn’t arouse quite the same commotion. But I was determined to have fun. That’s what our instructor kept saying: have fun! Smile! Fake it if you’re not having fun!  Smile!

I did. I smiled and opened my mouth wide and laughed at the audience and missed some turns and some taps and so what, I was having fun! My hat was flashing and I was grooving with the lady tappers and it was over and the audience clapped and cheered.

My friends in the audience said I looked like I had a grand time. Unlike some others in our dance group whose grim faces suggested they were determined to survive the ordeal while not missing a beat.

I’d done it—I’d fooled them all! They thought I loved that wretched country western song that by now I’d heard 76 times and never wanted to hear again. They thought I loved that silly cowboy hat with the flashing lights that felt ridiculous perched on my head. They thought I loved my thick fake eyebrows and pasty makeup that made my eyes water. I’d done it, and the mature lady tappers had done it too.

And I kind of liked my experience of dancing like Shirley Temple for a day. Er, an hour. A minute. 

Maybe a few seconds.

Shirley Temple for a second.

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