Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Tarantella

Long before I ever read Ibsen's A Doll's House, I was acquainted with the tarantella. The dance is a whirling, frenetic couples dance, like an Italian square dance, that is rumored to have been the only cure for a bite from a tarantula. (Hurry, rush the blood to the heart!) If you're not familiar with it, just listen to a clip of the music. You'll suddenly realize you've heard it a million times.

I was hoping it would just be fun to do.

It was the sixth grade at Katherine Smith Elementary School in Houston, TX. I was a chubby kid (not like a lot of kids you see these days, but chubbier than most in my class). I was a geek. I wore glasses. Not much has changed in all these years! We were to put on a pageant of sorts for our parents. I really, really wanted to take part in the production, which would be my first time taking the stage, other than at spelling bees (I represented said school at the district spelling bee in 1972). My teacher wasn't thrilled about putting me in the dance. She looked at me with distaste, her lip slightly curling back from her perfectly white teeth. She was the same teacher who believed enough in my talent as a writer to suggest to my parents that it might be where my future lay. But she was also the teacher who ridiculed the fact (in front of everyone in class) that I had never taken a taste of any wine, beer, or liquor. "Not even champagne on New Year's?" she scoffed. (I was raised strictly Southern Baptist, the child of a recovering alcoholic - so no, I never tasted anything until I moved away from home at age 16). She reluctantly let me into the production.

The dance would involve having a costume made. There were no ready-made costumes. The mothers were sent the instructions on which store had the fabric, were told which color of the fabric we were assigned, were told which pattern to buy, and were told which trim to use. Imagine if that were the case today! Don't ask me to sew anything more than a button on a blouse. I haven't sewn in years. My mother, though, was a seamstress. She made so many of my clothes over the years, all beautiful, that this was nothing to her. The only problem was that the more-orange-than-coral color of the fabric clashed badly with my pale skin.

Soon I had my costume. I attended the rehearsals. It was one of the few extra-curricular things I was allowed to do. My father approved, though our religion didn't really approve of dancing. He allowed me to do this one thing.

It was a big deal, a turning point. I was so happy that I would burst into giggles while we were dancing. I would often misstep, because I was a poorly coordinated, chubby youngster with no prior dancing experience, but I was so happy.

I don't recall the actual event very well, but I do recall all of the rest that led up to it. It was a momentous occasion just to be allowed to participate. It involved getting the approval of my parents (especially my father) and getting past the teacher who had such disdain for me. I did it, and it thrilled me.

Later on, I became something of a theater geek. I was part of the chorus in Fiddler on the Roof and in Camelot, while I also ran costumes backstage. I was vice president of the drama club one year and president the next. I sang in the chorus and went to state competitions as a second soprano. I planned to go on to college and study music, but that never worked out. Certainly I had the performance bug, though, no pun intended. The bite of the tarantella was complete.

Recently I came across a photograph that I will eventually scan in for you all. I was 10 years old (probably the summer after the tarantella) and was seated at my brothers' desk, typing out a short story on an old manual typewriter. My arm was in a sling, having been broken during a race on roller skates with a friend. I was a bespectacled, frizzy-haired, happy little girl. That picture is precious to me. I can see the person I would become, hiding behind those blue-framed glasses that my mom thought would set off the blue in my eyes. I can see the happiness that would come to me from sharing my thoughts and words. I can see that the girl who would be the woman would always be introverted and would want to hang out alone, typing words onto the page.

That is much better, to me, than tracking people down with I figure if I don't keep in touch with them now, there's a reason. I am a different person than I was in school, and yet I am so much the same.

It was a lovely little memory that came to me as I woke up this morning. I could almost see my chubby little self dancing.

Have a lovely Sunday - Peace - D


Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Excellent post, hon! I'm with on not keeping up with former classmates. I don't keep in contact with them because I'm a different person. My mom still goes to her high school reunions. Not me, though.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

This was a great post! I have memories of the Tarantella, but I don't know why. I would love to see the picture when you scan it. What a beautiful way to remember that picture. So many people look back at childhood pictures with disdain, I am glad you can see the beautiful child you were.

Momma said...

As soon as I can, I will scan in that photo. I think my mom must have seen something about me in that moment, because she wasn't one to normally surprise me by snapping a photo...unless I was stuffing cherry cobbler into my mouth!

Peace - D