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Detritus: It’s Too Darn Hot

I’m having a profoundly difficult dance class experience this month, and I’m surprised to realize it’s not the first time this has happened to me.

My dance instructor is petite and pretty. Much of the time the class has the same kind of atmosphere as the space beside the gym where the girls who were slightly more commanding than they were popular or cute would direct the rest of us, who were generally not popular or cute but loved dancing anyway, through routines they made up on the spot. I mean, literally. This woman will teach us one move by demonstrating it twice in its entirety — no isolations — put us through it, ghost another couple of moves to make sure she knows what she’s doing next, string all the moves together, forget some of them, let a vocal member of the class redo a move, change the moves again… I ask questions about weight and balance which feel like they’re in another language, and she repeats what she’s just said, and nobody else seems to have a problem, and we move on.

Well, my questions are in another language. Bollywood dance moves are clearly influenced by classical Indian dance, which has a set of hand gestures which are ornate and exacting and play hell with my poor dumb carpal-tunneled mitts. And there’s something totally maddening in what you do with your feet: instead of relying on step-ball-change patterns which start you on one foot and leave you free to move off on the other foot by the end, there’s a very common ball-step-stomp move which usually progresses to another move on the same foot you started on. It’s like relearning how to walk.

This feels like math class used to. Halfway through I start telling myself I’ll never get it, and by the end I’m so convinced that I really don’t get it.

Though I sometimes got frustrated with the inexactness of my African dance teacher, in retrospect I think I really took for granted how well she ran her class. I worked with her for a year and a half, and in that time I forgot how much it sours a dance experience to butt heads (metaphorically) with other people around you while dancing. African dance was ideal; I didn’t have to deal with anyone’s body but my own, and the teacher was seasoned and enthusiastic. In tango, swing and ballroom classes it was much more common for me to come away bored or frustrated; if it wasn’t the teacher failing to explain some exchange of hands, there was some schlep who tripped on his own feet, or held me rigidly, or needed to have the moves explained to him again… or couldn’t handle a woman leading. Learning anything as a woman in a social dance class can be difficult at best.

* * *

Drove up to Vermont for the Fourth and left my car with Jessamyn to sell. If you want it, that’s where it is.

Most of the way up I listened to musicals — 42nd Street, Oklahoma! and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. The latter is quite possibly the least compelling musical ever written, and yet somehow its songs are the ones stuck in my head now. Specifically, the mock-Ivy-league fight song. Where did they find a lyricist who was totally devoid of wit?

The other two I had roles in during my last two years of high school. One of those landed me on the cover of this month’s Oak Tree Times — see page nine of the Spring ’03 issue, that’s me in the center bottom bunk in the upper-right-hand photo — with nary a mention of my participation. After four years in New York I don’t have much pride left, but it’s hurt.

I’m not quite sure why I gave up a focus on performing. Most likely it’s because what outlets Hampshire College provides are either totally shitty, cliquish, or ephemeral. (Theater department, chorus, drum circles: totally shitty. Women’s a-capella group, student bands: cliquish. Improv comedy groups and cable access shows: ephemeral. Student films: a little of column A, a little of column B.) I also had a sort of time-switch installed in me by a cousin who moved to LA at a tender age to become an actress; she convinced me that the brutality of the industry wasn’t worth getting involved with. She was beautiful and hip, and I trusted her; so, well before I graduated high school, I allowed myself to give up on the idea of acting full-time.

But I really, really miss it. I love showing off, I love making people laugh, I love dancing and I don’t mind singing, either, though I’m cowed by the entry of a number of my high-school friends into careers in opera. You know what? I love the fourth wall. I love this website acting as a fourth wall, but it’s not enough. I love getting comments, but I need to hear laughter, too. It weirds me out that a lot of you reading this may not identify me as someone who acts (outside of being too dramatic on the subway). It weirds me out that I’ve lost this conception of myself, too.

I rode back from Vermont with two friends of Jessamyn’s I’d just met, a married couple a few years older than me. They live in Providence, and got into idle conversation about the city. I drifted in and out of it. Both of them went back and forth about whether Providence is worth it. The guy said that Providence, like Boston, doesn’t really have anything to it — nothing going on, no business, no scenes. It has a complex, as a result.

They wrangled over where to go next. They’ve already done Seattle. I suggested Austin; I know a lot of people doing interesting things there. That’s it, they said; that’s where they’ve been talking about going, because there does seem to be a burgeoning scene there. And we debated what kind of skills one has to have to catch a scene before it flames out. The woman said, Is it really worth it to just follow scenes around?

Now there’s a hell of a question.

I know one woman who seems to have stayed immersed in something or another which is interesting and marginal in New York City for a great many years. She was a groupie to bands which played at CBGBs back in the early days of punk. She’s in touch with the folks at 2600, is an eye in the maelstrom that is the local Pacifica channel, and seems to know just about any local performance artist you could care to name. And, like anything that has been immersed for a long time, she’s… well… bloated, pale and a little disoriented.

I follow scenes around. Small ones, usually, but I do try my hardest to, somehow. It’s pathetic. I just attach myself to them.

Deciding to go to Columbia is the first thing in a while that has more to do with storing up my own fuel instead of barnacling on someone else’s ship, but I’m still not sure exactly what I’m going to do with it.

I’m unsure of how to reconcile the various parts of myself right now. I am having a hard time identifying which ones are the most important. There was something to my engagement in activism at Hampshire and in subsequent years; at the same time, I feel like I lost part of me — a good part of me, the part that wasn’t so goddamn deadly serious all the time — to it. And there was something to my hazy, creative lack of focus in high school, but I did leave it behind some years ago; should it stay there? Does it conflict with the bad case of morals I developed at Hampshire? Would it even come back if I called it?

* * *

There was some interesting activity over to the Crip Walk Project today; check it out. I happened to be online when a couple of people (from Houston?) called me on the mat about my take on tagging. They told me a few things I didn’t know, though they still left a lot about that particular form of grafitti a mystery to me. Tonight at the 46th/Bliss Street stop there were a few tags scrawled across the beige paint in black marker, one of which featured the word PUSSY in large letters. It was strange to catch a tag there — usually all you find of them is a new beige stretch and a “WET PAINT” sign in the morning. I found a little crawl going up my spine thinking about what the folks on the C-Walk page had said. Was this part of a game, like they said? Or was it some whitey-white-ass middle-class kid like the guy at my prep school who used to tag “ZONE” all over everything? How would the person who scrawled it feel the next time they walked by and saw it painted over? Would it really be like taking down a part of them, even if the tag was simple and done hastily? And what does that do to a person who’s already bored and alienated enough from society that the first thought on their minds when they think about defacing someone else’s property is making the next high score in a game?

* * *

If I could undo one thing about another human being’s personality, right now I would make my landlady/roommate not the kind of person who likes to fall asleep with the TV turned up really loud.

OK, so what I’d really do is neatly excise George W. Bush’s sense of entitlement… then I’d turn down the TV.

And then I’d go out and brutally silence whoever it is outside who is giving voice to cris du coeur.


  1. Roger wrote:

    “Was this part of a game, like they said? Or was it some whitey-white-ass middle-class kid like the guy at my prep school who used to tag “ZONE” all over everything? How would the person who scrawled it feel the next time they walked by and saw it painted over? Would it really be like taking down a part of them, even if the tag was simple and done hastily?”

    I’m not sure I understand all of your logic here. I have the same knee-jerk aesthetic response you do (piece = pretty, tag = dull) but don’t see what’s morally wrong about “defacing someone else’s property” when the property in question is a blank exterior wall on a commercial or public building. When I was a kid, as you probably know from the mythos, the subway and the city in general were much more graffiti-covered than they are now, and I don’t think it was a bad thing. I think it made the city feel more lived-in, more personal, more decorated. Think of tagging as adding a handmade touch to a blank grey wall and it starts to sound a lot more friendly.

    Please do note that “game” and “middle-class white kid” are not mutually exclusive.

    It’s my understanding (admittedly limited) that taggers more or less expect their stuff to vanish and thus have to keep working to keep their names visible. The idea is that once you’re plugged into the culture, you keep your eyes open for new and impressive work (impressive either by difficult location or sheer volume) and give respect as due. You get an idea of where people live and travel from where you see their tags repeated, too (e.g. some writers stick to one subway line).

    (footnote via email)

    Tuesday, July 8, 2003 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
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    This is what happens when homework gets boring. For the site’s sake you’d better hope I start getting interested…

    Tuesday, July 8, 2003 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
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    Sunday, January 25, 2004 at 3:51 am | Permalink
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