In the early 2000s, I attended a performing and fine arts middle and high school. I auditioned for its art and animation program due to my interest in visual arts, and my grandmother's advice. Though I got accepted into the program, I was forced to attend the ballet classes because the school still had me registered under "Undeclared" and I needed a major in order to stay at the school. After over a month of tripping over my own feet and everyone else's, I found my way into the animation classes, which I just knew I going to love. I was wrong! My teacher was a pretentious, lunatic with a fetish for all things Disney. He was over critical of my work and did not waste time humiliating me when he got the chance. By the time eighth grade rolled around, I was the latest addition to the dance program and the newest laughing stock of the school as being a male dancer was still deemed emasculating and weak.
As months turned into another year, Clarissa had come to see promise in me. Before I knew it, Clarissa had taken to her role as my dance mom and suggested that I get as involved as possible. That meant signing up for dance competitions, high school musicals, and taking up more dance classes at both the public school and with renowned choreographer, artistic director, and her dance-father, Alfred Gallman, at his school. He was fierce and temper-mental, though rumor had it he was worse back in the day. His reputation, however, proceeded him when it came to producing gladiators in the community. And I wanted to be a gladiator so bad! As discouraging and crippling as his quick-witted insults and namecalling often proved to be, it definitely strengthened my focus and matured me as a skilled dancer.
From middle to high school, I had developed a reputation as a strong male dancer in the Art school. The parents of my esteemed peers were recognizing me wherever I went. Meanwhile, some of the other dancers really hated me for the attention I was receiving. At the school, I was a Titan in the arts. Then there was Alfred, who did a better job making me feel like a failure than a Titan. He always accused me of not being strong enough or ready to perform with the other company members. Then he would call me out in front of the jazz class for not ever being available to perform with his company due to public school commitments (classes, performances, competitions, etc.). I spoke to Clarissa and the teacher's assistant, Tina, about the situation. They both warned me about keeping my education a priority and not spreading myself too thin while being very very explicit about knowing when to say 'no' and stand your ground. I still wanted this man's approval, though, and I had no idea what I was gonna do. I was convinced that this was his way of saying he wants me and that I should try to be more available. So when he decided to direct a musical written by one of his old students, I jumped on the opportunity. What could go wrong, right? I was so wrong!
It's a Friday evening in the spring semester of my Junior year of high school. It's warm outside. The dancers are getting ready for the dress rehearsal. The auditorium was being dressed with Clarissa's interior design expertise for the dance recital that weekend, which I was a principal dancer for. On the same night and weekend, I and the rest of the cast of Alfred's musical were on the subway in preparation for its premiere in Harlem, NY, which I had a major role in... and no understudy! I had already disgust with Alfred the pressing concern of having two performances, at the same time. He promised me to have everything taken care of so that I didn't miss my own performance in Jersey. Lies, I tell you. The opening night of the Harlem performance was TERRIBLE!! Alfred failed on an epic scale when it came to producing a clean and professional production. The dances were pristine but the show, as a whole, was a hot mess! Forget that in one scene, everyone forgot their lines and stood on stage for what seemed to be forever before I ran off and started shouting lines from offstage during the performance, he never blocked the final number. Need I say more?!
Getting a ride back to Jersey, I was certain that tomorrow's matinee show would be so much better. Again... I was so fucking wrong!! It's Saturday at Noon and the cast arrives at the theater for the call time. The show starts at two o'clock and goes for, approximately, two hours. That should've left two hours to get back to Jersey for my recital's call time at six o'clock. No concerns still because Alfred promised to have everything ready for my immediate departure, as promised, that I ran with blind faith. The show started an hour in a half late and ran over its show time leaving me with half an hour to spare for my call time in Jersey, which would've been almost two hours between subway and NJ Transit. Alfred never had a ride ready for me or any kind of help set up for me to make my performance. People began throwing money at me as he, frantically, asked one of the mothers to drive me to the train station.
Showtime in Jersey
It's 7:30 PM. I had a little over a hundred bucks in my pocket (thanks to the post-performance donations), no cellphone, no idea how to catch a train on my own, and no clue how Clarissa and Tina were going to murder me for not making it to the call time and now... the start of the show! I'm sobbing on the stairs of New York Penn Station. I was lost. I was under so much pressure, at the time, that I couldn't think straight. Then I remembered Tina telling me something, "You're never lost as long as you can ask questions, no matter how stupid!" That was when I started making moves. The first thing I did was head for the payphones to call Clarissa, but they were out of service. With my face still a mess from the crying, I ran to the information window and spilled my guts telling the lady my story. She felt so bad for me that she directed me to the NJ transit section of the building where I pulled up to another window, still a mess, and did the same thing. The lady behind the window gave me a ticket, at no charge, and hurried to the gate where the train was departing. I ran so fast, I was practically riding the wind into the train car.
Half Hour Late...
Once the train left the station and services were restored, I set off to find a cellphone. One guy was nice enough to let me borrow his so that I could let someone know I wasn't dead. I called Clarissa's cellphone and let it ring but she never picked up. Just as grabbed my seat and started to catch my breath, the same samaritan turns to me and says, "I think this is for you." I pick up the phone to Clarissa saying with her teeth clenched, "WHO THE HELL TOLD YOU TO GO TO THAT PERFORMANCE?!?!" Shaken, I tell you, I couldn't even form half sentences. "I don't even wanna hear it. Get here not now, but RIGHT NOW!!" The train, finally, stops at the East Orange station. I push through the doors as I hit the ground running towards the school. A twenty-minute walk became a five-minute sprint as I ran red lights, cut off moving cars, and pushed through people to restore what was left of my reputation. I finally make it to the school and it's the first intermission after the ballet segment. I run through the front doors to meet the security guard, Ms. Pickens.
Ms. Pickens was a very sweet woman anytime you meet her off the clock. But on the clock? She was the frickin gatekeeper and key master! This woman took her job way too seriously. She knew I was part of the show and that I was missing it. Instead of letting me through the front doors, however, she stops me and demands that I can't come through the front. I don't even have time to fight with her, so I run out the front to the back doors where a couple of the dancer girls heard me banging on the back door which was locked. The female dancers, using the teacher's lounge as a green room, opened the window for me to jump through.
FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATE...
After throwing my bags through the window and then myself, the girls begin ripping my street clothes off until nude and dressed me in my costume for the next piece with only sixty seconds to spare. Still, out of breath and disoriented, I make it on stage just as the curtains are coming up for the second act of the show. Everything went fine, anyway, for the first dance. After that, absolute mayhem ensued. From Modern to our third act contemporary section, I just never got on the same page with the other dancers. So many bad moves made cost a dancer, or dancers, their moment to shine:
- I kicked about three of the dancers in the face, on stage.
- I forgot the steps to one section of a performance, in which I did a horrible improv to cover up my mistake.
- I dropped one of the dancers during a dance number (But she kinda had that coming!)
Not to mention, I knew that my legs were dry and ashy, not the wave for a black dancer in "Who wears short shorts?" short shorts!! So I applied some baby oil on them before going out on stage for one of the dances. I had a solo part that I performed beautifully! Probably, the only thing I got right the whole day. At least that was what I thought before finishing my solo to look back and see a trail of dancers who have slipped and fallen on the trail of baby oil I left on the stage. Mortified, I tell you! Thanks to me the dance recital was a disaster! It was awful. But the dance recital had finally ended and I had come to a place of relief that the nightmare was over... Then the lights came up! And girl, when it rained, IT FUCKING POURED!!
Everyone took their bows knowing the show went to shit and waiting to rip me a new one when we got backstage. The audience cheers and claps as normal. and then I go up to take my bow. So ashamed, yet the audience still cheered and gave me a standing ovation, anyway. But the cheers were louder than normal. Almost rowdy and obnoxious they were as it was coming from the back of the audience. I was able to see my grandmother and my brothers. What I didn't expect to see was my whole family from New York taking up four of the back rows to see me dance for the first time ever! I was so ready to die! The show is officially over. The auditorium is emptying out as the people are heading home. The dancers have already left with their families. Now, I'm sitting in Clarissa's office with Tina, but she doesn't scream at me. In fact, she took a moment to empathize with me. Considering her experiences with Alfred when she was coming up, she understood how manipulative he could be. Meanwhile, Tina was behind her mouthing at me "I told you so!"
The talk ended with Clarissa, basically, telling me to be more conservative with my time and talent before dropping me off at home. The nightmare had finally ended, officially! I walk into my backyard with my family cooking on the grill, music playing, everyone is laughing loud and having a great time! Then I walk in and my family cheers and claps for me in their loudest and most obnoxious cheers. I started sobbing, immediately!! My cousins from New York surrounded me and gave me a huge hug as they inquired. Every nightmarish detail of that day became a punchline as my tears dried and I began entertaining my family with the true story of how I ruined my own dance recital!
About the Creator
I've been on stage as a dancer, actor, and singer my whole life, I even hold two degrees in Modern dance. But that's not even my final form! Follow, like, tip, and share as I bring to you some original content!