Thursday, September 13, 2007
Just Like Van Dyke
The following was submitted as part of my university application essays, in 2004, for an undergraduate program:
As a kid, I wanted to be like Dick Van Dyke when I grew up. Like most children in the early 1970's I only knew Dick Van Dyke from the family films “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” I wanted to dance and sing the way Dick Van Dyke did in those two movies. I wanted to be silly and happy while performing–and make other people happy–just like Dick Van Dyke.
“Oh, no!" my parents protested, "You can’t want to be like Dick Van Dyke! He’s an alcoholic!”
I didn’t know that. I was only eight at the time. And I didn’t care. My focus was on Dick’s singing and dancing, a point my parents seemed to miss. I wanted to be a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. They wanted me to join MGM, Mentally Gifted Minors. I wanted to attend a performing arts school like the teens on the TV series “Fame.” My parents wanted me to get a “real education.” Maybe there was a reason Dick Van Dyke was an alcoholic.
I attended classes at UCLA, for a year, for my parents, before dropping out to become a dancer. It was difficult, but I did not end up regretting the decision. And I did not become an alcoholic.
I loved being a dancer. I was certainly not the most talented dancer auditioning. But I was a working dancer, mostly on cruise ships and in theme parks. I was happy to make it even to that level.
Dancing is the best feeling in the world for me, whether nailing an audition or perfecting a routine for an audience. It is a natural high that is better than caffeine, better than chocolate, even better than sex (sometimes). It is an endorphin rush that is both a feeling of accomplishment and of unadulterated joy. It is a feeling of defying gravity, even if just for brief moments.
But gravity takes its toll. Dance careers are short lived. The last couple of dance jobs have shown me that my stamina is not what it used to be. I have reached the dreaded identity of “aging dancer.” Lately, my desire to dance has found several outlets through choreography work, including in church musicals, local beauty pageants, and even in group exercise classes at health clubs.
I will always want to dance. Fortunately, the ongoing Palm Springs Follies has a minimum age requirement of fifty-five years old. I better keep practicing!