i watched the tv show fame as often as i could growing up. it came out when i was 6- it warped my mind, i'm sure. high school- all three of them that i attended- were no comparison for what i was hoping for. i wanted to break out in spontaneous dances on the fold- down tables. i wanted my classmates to sing out their teen angst in acid wash with aqua-netted hair. i wanted sax solos played out in front of the restroom where girls put on make-up that their parents didn't allow. and, yes, i wanted to pay in sweat.
instead high school was much like the previous eight years of my experience in public schools. i did what i was told. i did worksheets enough to paper the moon over twice and i liked it because i was supposed to like it. i was never asked to take any real risks by doing something that scared me. i got good grades with minimal effort. i didn't stand out as amazing nor delinquent. i was another average white girl.
flash forward about 20 years-
when i moved to new mexico, i got a job at the public academy for performing arts, a new charter school for teens. they danced for PE, had acting classes, took band and voice. apparently some of them were in films and could only come to school when they weren't on the set. since it was a charter school kids got in on a lottery system- not on talent. some kids were there just because they didn't want to be somewhere else. they all seemed like regular kids to me. regular kids who didn't want to do the homework i assigned them cuz reading "1984" didn't feel important to them in light of their own personal dramas.
being people, they were all fascinating to me. there was jesse, the jewish kid with bushy hair who made me laugh whenever he reenacted the arguments of his grandparents from brooklyn. caleb- the first out gay student i ever had who had piercing blue eyes and flirted endlessly. jasmine- who painted a picture for her final project in english class that just floored me. luke, the slacker skater graffiti artist who dropped out to make adobe houses with his dad. mike, a dine artist who lived in a church and played christain rock.
i remember one dancer in particular, crystal. her mother was a tyrant on the board and was determined that her daughter would be a ballet dancer. as her peers grew legs like storks and sprouted buns atop their heads, crystal remained a bit stocky and covered with freckles. the school would had talent shows fairly often, probably cuz there was just so much damn talent! most of the girls who danced did so either to bootie-slapping-hip-hop, shocking parents with moves that looked like vertical sex or ballet swans in pale pink leggings with arms long like noodles.
except for this gal. she came out in a leopard print leotard, her face painted like a cat and her red hair wild. some kids snickered. as the music kicked in, rapid drums and crazy horns, she broke out into a contemporary dance piece that involved a lot of feline impersonating, which involves a lot of rolling on the floor, clawing at the air, hissing, and sprinting about in chase of imaginary objects. you seen cats do this. probably haven't seen a 13 year old do it in front of her entire school. it was a first for me.
what i remember most about her dance, as i watched enthralled, was the intensity of her. it wasn't that she had mad skills- she was average in her abilities. it was that she was in her element expressing something that was so potent even the pains of being a 13 year old named after a soap opera character, as she was, couldn't keep it bottled in her. she was so taken with dance that her drive to perform overcame her fear. she was snagged by a passion that pulled her out of her own life, her own story, her own skin. she was being danced. in that moment it did feel like she could live forever, that she could learn how to fly. high! and it was so much better than the tv show.
(cue fame theme music...)