I'm sorry this is another rerun from the archives from four years ago (I've been too busy to write)... This one ties in to the last one I published here and maybe will tie a few loose ends together... This one is a bit longer than normal so pour a cup of coffee or whatever...
If you do... I know how to tango too... but I only know how to lead... if I was an excellent dancer I would know how to follow as well... How many times have you heard someone say "It takes two to tango?"... it's one of my favorite idiomatic expressions for a variety of reasons... Today I'm going to take you on a brief tour (maybe not so brief... this is one of my longer segments) of a part of my life that has been one of the most important, long lasting and enjoyable.
I think this sums up my feelings about dancing... particularly with a partner or an ensemble best---
"You don't just feel the rhythm," he'd told him. "You must feel the soul, both of the dance and of your partner. The tango isn't something you dance. It's a story you create with another."
Dance With Me --- Heidi Cullinan
I have been dancing around as long as I can remember but it was watching re-runs of the old MGM musicals on the late show that I started to dance along and tried to learn moves and choreography... my idol was and still is Eleanor Powell; she is in my opinion the queen of tap dancing...
I used to see her sometimes in Beverly Hills but I never spoke to her.. (we grew up with a hard and fast rule about interacting with celebrities)... "If you see them socially or for business by all means introduce yourself... but if someone is at a restaurant or store or involved in conversation with someone else or just walking along the street then let them have their privacy"... it's a good rule and I still live by it.
If you have been reading I mentioned in an earlier post that I became part of another family briefly while there were issues in our house and when asked what I most wanted in the world that would make me the happiest I said I wanted to take tap dancing lessons and that as they say is where the story begins...
I really was not very good... but I got better with classes and practice (which reminds me; I was only able to practice in the garage because the noise drove everyone crazy and there was some concern over damaging the floors) I eventually became good enough that I learned 'The Alley Dance' choreographed by Bob Fosse in "My Sister Eileen"... (The Alley Dance)--- Later I used the dance as an audition piece when I auditioned for Mr. Fosse for a part in "All That Jazz"... he was not impressed with me or my ability and that was the end of that--- it would be a few years before I took another dance class and auditioned again. (as I said in an earlier segment I took a step back from the entertainment business due to some private and personal circumstances) but I had a lot of other wonderful experiences in classes and on numerous stages and dance floors along the way.
(as a side note to this... I just saw "All That Jazz" for the first time yesterday... I would have been wrong for the part)---*edited 19. September 2016*
I remember seeing an interview with Annette Funicello after she was confined to a wheelchair with complications from Multiple Sclerosis and she was so sad and tearfully saying "I just want to go dancing again."... it broke my heart and I still think about her sometimes when I'm dancing.
The next chapter of dancing classes came after I started taking gymnastics... the coach felt I would get the most benefit by adding ballet to my cross training activities... This was a long, long time before "Billy Elliot" and most red blooded American boys were not taking ballet classes in the 1960's... it took a great deal of convincing and cajoling but finally I was permitted to take class with the provision I never discussed it... and the only person who ever came to a class or a recital was my special grandmother (who gladly paid for the lessons and was full of praise every week and after each performance. This was taken about an hour before I started puberty...
I kept taking classes in ballet and tap and they both really did prove beneficial to gymnastics in terms of my overall deportment, form and technique... but I sensed sharing my real purpose in attending the ballet academy would impede any progress or special attention or favor I might hope to get and kept it to myself.... like with tap the more classes I took and the more I practiced the better I got; eventually I auditioned for a two day special workshop lead by Jacques D'Amboise (one of George Balanchine's proteges...oh I have a wonderful story about Mr. Balanchine but I think I'll save it until closer to the Christmas Holidays)... anyway back to the audition... I got in not because I was so great but I was one of a few boys who were the right age-ish and was the only boy with any point training. The only ballet that I know of that calls for a male dancer to be on point is Frederick Ashton's "The Dream" it's based on "A Midsummer Nights Dream" and when one of the characters is turned into a donkey that part of that performance is danced on point... (the other is when Cinderella's step sisters are performed by men) well "The Dream" was the piece being danced for the workshop. I broke two of my toes during that weekend; but I just taped them and kept on dancing... once someone told me if my toes were broken I would not be able to walk and thought back to that day and I said "Maybe you would not be able to walk but I've danced with broken toes."--- One of the reasons my toes don't look like fingerling potatoes is that I have taken care of my feet and whenever I've broken a toe (which has been many times) I've splinted it and taped it so it would heal properly... So all being said I took about eight consecutive years of ballet class and have taken a class here and there down the line especially if I ever thought it would help for an audition or something else... As I said in an earlier segment I utilized ballet for gymnastics, and diving, and snow skiing; and it helped tremendously with each in different ways.... I honestly think it's about one of the most grueling and strenuous workouts you can do... but I've never been in military training and I think that may be the only thing that vaguely comes close.
When I was a senior in High School I was dating this girl... (how many people just fainted?)... and her parents belonged to this club that held dances regularly on Saturday nights and they sent the two of us to take ballroom dancing classes so we could join in on the fun now and then(which was primarily the Saturday nights I was not driving into town to see the man I was secretly seeing on the side that no one knew about)
We started with The Foxtrot and moved on to The Quick Step and then The Tango and the program ended with learning to Waltz... well we had so much fun we signed up for the next class which was learning The Cha Cha, The Merengue, Salsa, Rumba, Mambo and Samba. In addition to taking the classes and practicing at the Country Club at their dances we both became quite good and I learned the lesson about dancing in tandem and feeling your partners moves and anticipating your next move and stepping into it.... one of the biggest lessons we learned was to look like you are having fun and smile a lot and if you made a mistake it might be less noticeable... (which I still do...but I think dance mis-steps are always noticable) but I thought it was odd at the time the wife of the dance instructor who was his partner in class never smiled...but she smiled when I was her partner in class ---especially if I held her tight and close--- (I've always been a bit of a perv)... I heard they divorced a few years later I guess she really did not like him because it showed on her face when she danced with him... the other big lesson is dance with different partners as much as possible and you will improve.
At this point in my life I had an agent and did some modeling work and a bit of acting but it was usually tied to either knowing how to dance, or gymnastics and diving, I did gymnastics on one of Lucille Ball's shows and ice skated on an Andy Williams Christmas Special... once I remember there were auditions for dancing on American Bandstand and I went to try out and I got on the show--- to be honest with you I always liked watching it but it really was not a great deal of fun filming it... but you would never know by watching at home.
The most exciting audition I had around this time was when they were casting the dancers and extras for "Hello Dolly" I was so excited at the prospect of working with Gene Kelly who directed it that Barbra Streisand ony registered with me in the second breath when my agent called... I learned another really important lesson in casting... I was way too mature looking to be cast with the kids, and I was too young looking to be paired with adults --- a curse that followed me for years until I started hearing something else... but more of that on another day!
Well by the time I auditioned for the theatre department in college (with choreography borrowed from "West Side Story") It seemed as though I was born to dance in musical comedy on stage and was substantially more advanced than most of my peers and that ultimately resulted in some hostility and resentment throughout my tenure in school... my advantage then and still is the training I had; paired with that I have always been able to learn technique fairly quickly and easily... From college musicals, community theatre and some work in television I subsequently learned... The Charleston, The Jitterbug and Lindy Hop.... and probably the most fantastic was learning The Tarantella for a made for television movie called Magic Carpet with Nanette Fabray and Susan St. James. I think one of the more embarrassing things I've ever done is a Shasta Orange Soda commercial with Barry Williams (Greg Brady) wearing suit of armor dancing and singing to "You're Looking Over An Orange Soda" to the tune of "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover" (Shasta Orange Soda Commercial)... but the cherry on the cake of my life dancing was learning flamenco thanks to Carlos Saura and meeting Geraldine Chaplin on a Pan Am flight on the way to Spain.
I think the arts and physical education are a very important part of an excellent education--- so much so that the core of my Master's thesis was incorporating music, dance and acting with physical education; part of my research included that there were always people who hated PE class but they usually always loved the curriculum that included dance and subsequently theatre and creative dramatics... the point is you really need some form of physical activity to feel good.. and feeling good (in my opinion) makes you happier and learning easier... that is why I think it's regrettable that so much funding has been cut for arts and physical education and in some schools eliminated completely... it should be balanced with everything else... but the moral of the story here is... if you hate working out and/or going to the gym consider taking a dance class... there are so many possibilities you are bound to find a genre you love. In my case the sports activities I have been involved with were enhanced and improved because of dancing and vice versa but overall both impacted my life in such a positive way that it's difficult to find the right words to explain it.
But back to dancing... I was very sad at the time when I was not considered for anything in "Hello Dolly" but I've always tried to be somewhat optimistic and philosophical about such things... I did eventually get to dance and roller skate with Mr. Kelly...
I don't think he got the same charge out of it I did but it was a dream come true for me. on the flip side of the issue... I have also taken dance class and worked with John Travolta...
And I had the opportunity to work with Twiggy... (I was not cast at the audition phase... but because I was related to someone at Elstree Studios and could dance I eventually got in via the back door... I don't know if I've ever worked as hard or had as much fun filming a movie)... and still to this day sometimes I do a little dance in my head walking down the street humming "Everybody's Doing The Riviera!"
I also worked on a little loved movie directed by Nancy Walker with Bruce Jenner, Valerie Perrine and Steve Guttenbertg; mostly because I knew how to do gymnastics and was not embarrassed to be naked in the filming in the locker room scene but from all it I am proud to say I actually did The Y.M.C.A. with The Village People!
In the meantime somewhere in this I learned how to do The Hustle which is really easy if you break the steps down to a few basic moves...stepping, turning, chicken dancing and turning. I was once on a cruise from New York to England and it rained the entire trip and I became an impromptu instructor of disco and how to dance a conga line and country line dancing... I don't usually like cruises but we had fun dancing at night after the daytime lessons... there may have been a few alcoholic beverages consumed at night... OK maybe more than a few because it was the trip that I learned that being hung over and sea sick at the same time was a really bad combination.
I really love dancing just for fun... I've danced at Studio 54 (but only three times ... I had to be up early when it was in it's heyday) Regine's in Paris... Fire Island... The Saint... I could go on and on...
... and finally the mother of all discos... Privilege in Ibiza... it's an amazing space with a swimming pool in the middle... I usually prefer smaller venues (weddings and bar mitzvah's are my favorite) but nothing could hold me back from going down to Herald Square in the 1988 and help set the Guinness Book Of World Records for " The Worlds Largest Assembly Of Tap Dancers To Dance A Single Routine!"
I probably should have made this a two part series so I'll start to wind things up....
In the 70's it was very common for variety shows to be summer replacements for prime-time programing and if they were popular they generally came back as a permanent program in December... For a while It seemed like everybody in Hollywood had a variety show or a special... and I did the variety show rounds full time for a few years...
Donny & Marie
The Captian & Tennille
At CBS I worked with
Sonny & Cher
Tony Orlando & Dawn
The Hudson Brothers
Bob Hope (Christmas Special)--- I have very few regrets in all of this except I had the opportunity to do the last USO Show Bob Hope filmed but because of some other commitments (I could have easily rescheduled) but mostly because I was so opposed to the war I was blinded to the fact that the service men and woman serving in the armed forces deserved a world class show.... one of the things I would change if I could do it all over again is I would have rearranged my schedule and commitments and done that show.
In the 70's I made a misbegotten decision to go to Las Vegas to perform in "Hallelujah Hollywood" at the MGM Grand Hotel--- I don't know what to say except it was a true spectacle in Las Vegas fashion and was very well reviewed and received by audiences and critics... but I did not like the lifestyle, I detested the producer-choreographer and did not have much in common with anyone I was working with and felt very alone and unhappy--- but no one would have known because I smiled my way through the shows and bided my time until my contract was finished... The low point was I don't like to mix business and pleasure and being given ultimatums regarding my career... at one point someone said to me that unless I cooperated with them socially I would never work in Las Vegas again... that was fine by me because I could not wait to get back to LA... the high point in all this was I enjoyed meeting Siegfried and Roy who were a special attraction to the show. (I'm not in the photo below... but I used to work with the people who are)
I also wrote in another segment that I've done a few b-way and off-b-way shows and a couple of national tours so I have danced on most of the stages in the United States from The Theatre At Lincoln Center to The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where I performed during the 48th Academy Awards Presentation (which by the way is my favorite stage and backstage in the world)... I even performed once in Branson Missouri... and I had a blast... what a nice audience... I've also been the stunt-double for other people dancing in long shots but that is a whole other story for another day!
What can I say... I love to dance and it's been a big part of my life... and I hope to keep dancing until the day I die even if it's just dancing around the house naked to (not to brag)The Propeller Airplane Dance... that I thought I invented until I saw someone else doing it on line on a NSFW site....
So what is next? Well I already ordered tickets for NYC Ballet Swan Lake later this coming winter... I hate to sound cliche but I get all tingly and the hair on my neck stands up when I see the Pas De Deux in this executed beautifully...
As far as classes go... I still take them if I need to brush up on something for an audition but I have to tell you something Hula classes have been on my bucket list for a while... a friend of mine and I even went to spy on them once... I don't know if it was not the right time for us or a scheduling issue but that is likely going to be the next big dance thing for me.... (but meanwhile I'm doing some research and reading on the cultural aspects and history)
But just remember one important thing whether it's dancing or anything else you are passionate about... It's not about showing off it's about having fun!... and if it's for professional presentation or simply enjoyment... Be the best you can be.
Someone asked me recently if I would ever have any interest in performing on "Dancing With The Stars?"...No not for a million dollars... I don't have anything specific against the show I just don't like reality TV and I'm not that desperate for attention or money.
See you next week!... I'll be brushing up on my steps to "The Riviera!"... Always remember no matter where in the world you may find yourself... sometimes dancing can be the universal language... and finally... I think the most important dance is the The Wedding Dance because it's the first steps a couple take in their lives together all set to music.