May 5, 2012: How to Be a Choreographer

1. Begin, from your earliest days, to greet each moment as if it were an opportunity for a graceful expression formed by your limbs as a gift to the world. Then learn to tap dance. Steal the show in your nursery school recital as the first-ever student to perform a shuffle-ball-change while dressed as a rutabaga. Throw fits when asked to remove your taps in shul. Feel superior. Force the neighborhood children to learn kick routines for your backyard production of The Boy Friend. Get excused from PE because playing kickball might wreck your turnout. Name your hamster Alvin Ailey.

2. Buy a dance belt. Spend your teenaged years sneering at a world that thinks Pavlova is a famous dog-loving scientist. Pout. Attend a dance academy run by an old Russian woman in a leotard and a garish headrag. Join the chorus of a little theater production of I Can Get It For You Wholesale. Befriend the accompanist and the three cutest chorus boys. (If you’re male, sleep with them; if you’re female, spend years trying to.)

3. Suffer the special pain of being misunderstood by a world full of people who don’t know how to rond de jambe. Marry a wig designer so that people—especially your mother!—will think you’re heterosexual. Decide that your matchless talents are too vast to waste on other people’s dance routines, and that you’re better suited to making other people learn your steps. Accept a job teaching the cancan to a chorus line composed entirely of movement-challenged accountants and IHOP waitresses for a strip-mall production of Porgy and Bess. Take up drinking.

4. Learn to live by the rule, “Those who can’t, teach.” Memorize five dance steps really well, and use them over and over for the duration of your career. Compare yourself to Nureyev (if you’re a ballerina) or Martha Graham (if you’re a man). Tell people, “I used to dance, myself, until my toes gave out.” Sleep with 7,000 chorus boys. Shriek with anger (while standing en pointe) when a local critic busts you for incorporating Tommy Tune’s straw hat routine from The Will Rogers Follies into every single show you choreograph. Accept work as a director/choreographer for an annual fund raiser in which you’re forced to give singing and dancing roles to wealthy socialites who cannot sing or dance. Weep.

5. Attempt suicide by driving around town in a Karmann Ghia convertible while wearing a long scarf. Leave behind a farewell note bemoaning the fact that no one understood your need to perform for them the perfect beauty of movement, and the joy of waiting with bated breath and a convulsing heart for their applause. Buy a leotard and a garish head rag (especially if you’re a man) and open a dance studio catering to adolescent ballerinas and geriatric tap students, because dance is your gift to the world.

This essay was originally published in Phoenix New Times on December 15, 2005.

Thing I Hate Today: Almost no one remembers Lucille Watson


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