Dance was my first artistic love. I don’t remember life before or without it. As the story goes; I was a very shy child. I would hide behind my Dad when in public but at home I loved to dance, sing with hutzpah and use the pots and pans as my personal drum set. My Mom tells me I once pounded on a jar of sauerkraut (we’re talking full on fermented German cabbage) so hard that it exploded! Can you imagine? The startling sound. The sticky ceiling. The smell!
When I turned 3, my parents quickly enrolled me into tap dance class to help overcome my shyness. This is my Dad’s cue to shout “and she hasn’t shut up since!” From then on, I always knew I was going to be a performing artist. It chose me. It drove me. Fortunately my parents saw the raw talent, enthusiasm, passion, and encouraged it.
All these years later (we won’t say just how many) I can still remember bits from my first tap dance recital. There were knee bounces, jazz hands, good ole’ fashioned shuffle ball changes and our teacher standing in the wing doing the dance for us to follow. We had to wear buttercup yellow tutus trimmed with sequence and tight spandex arm bands. My hair was in a little bun with feathers pinned around it. I don’t know the exact song, but I remember naming it the “yellow caterpillar dance.”
As some of the tiny dancers cried for their mamas backstage and on stage, I loved it! I was excited to be out there under the bright lights. The fact that there were people in the audience didn’t faze me, I just wanted to dance and get the ice cream my parents promised me afterwards.
Dance always allowed me to express myself when words failed. I was able to tell stories through movement and release all of my teen angst, frustration, joy and sadness. I’ve often heard that music is what feelings sound like. In this same vein, dance is what feelings look like. I’d often play music with my eyes closed and visualize the movement as well as hear the taps jamming with the groove as part of my choreographic process.
By the age of 14, I landed my first job as an assistant tap and jazz dance teacher. I loved it! Instead of getting paid in cash, they deducted credit from my tuition, which worked out well because fees, dance shoes, leotards, and costumes all added up. It was a work-study program that helped me start building my teaching and choreographic skills while gaining a strong sense of responsibility and creative integrity from a very young age. This was the foundation my entire career was built upon.
My parents told me I’d need to keep my grades up and train hard in order to get a scholarship into a good New York City Dance Degree Program. I took that to heart because I knew without a scholarship I couldn’t go. I started spending even more time at the Performance Plus Dance Studio on school nights and weekends training ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical and theater dance with the Senior Company who went on to perform at local Festivals, Fundraisers and the notorious Dance Competitions. Though there were strict rules about being prepared, professional and on time, I’m happy to say that my experience was nothing at all like the TV Show Dance Moms! We built each other up, we never tore each other down. It was a happy second home. To make sure we did our homework our head dance teacher Miss Patty set up a study room for us and made sure we stretched properly to help avoid injuries. I built life-lasting friendships there and am tagged in all the “big hair, don’t care” 90’s dance photos on Facebook to prove it, ha!
I thankfully ended up being awarded a scholarship from Marymount Manhattan College but that also meant hard work keeping my GPA up because if I didn’t get that BFA degree my parents were going to bust out the old wooden spoon! I had to stay focused but every now and then I secretly skipped class to go on really special auditions. A good one even panned out! My first break into show-biz happened during my freshman year of college as a dancer on MTV’s The Grind. We’d have to pack multiple outfits because we filmed 3 episodes in one day, got paid $100.00 with a complimentary lunch buffet. I remember thinking; “A Benjamin AND free food? I’ve made it! Look Mom, I’m on TV!”
Then 4 years, one brutal injury, countless small gigs later I really did make it. I was cast in a Broadway show called STOMP! The first time I saw the show was by chance. My room mate got a last minute ticket and gave it to me an hour before show-time. God really wanted me to see it because I somehow managed to shower, puff my hair, choose a cute outfit, take the 6 Train from the Upper East Side to the East Village and make it into my seat at the Orpheum Theater with one minute to spare. It was love at first sight and sound! STOMP combined everything I loved; dance, rhythm, music and comedy! My toddler tap dancing, pot and pan drumming self would’ve been so happy! Who would’ve thunk that all those years later I’d get paid to travel the world performing whilst making music with kitchen items, bins, brooms and all sorts of found objects. Music is everywhere, baby!
And now, my baby boys, Omar and Sami just turned 3. It only made sense that my parents buy them their first pair of tap shoes at age 3, like they did for me! It’s a family tradition now. Best Christmas present EVER! I always dreamt of tapping with my kids one day and today was that day! A full circle moment. I won’t lie, I was super emotional before, during and after our first tap lesson together! Their attention only lasted 10 minutes (which isn’t bad for toddler twins) but seeing their excitement as they ran around in their tap shoes proudly making noise gave me warm flashbacks. They really enjoyed themselves. It made me miss and appreciate my parents even more. They sacrificed a lot to make sure I fulfilled my potential and reached my goals.
The boys also love drumming on the big blue water bottles and pots, so you never know, we may have future STOMPERS! Then again, Sami is already 3.5 feet tall and Omar loves to throw things in the toilet. He aims, shoots and always scores. Let’s just say we’ve found Nemo and Dory on many occasions floating in the bowl. So we might have baby ballers in the mix also. We’ll try that next year! For now, it’s going to take a lot of time, patience and ear plugs for my husband but we’ll get there one shuffle ball change at a time!
What do you want to pass on to your children?