Ladles and Leeks

Ladles and Leeks

Wrote this one a few months ago. 

Ladles and Leeks

I'm lucky to live in a city and time with grocery delivery services. Going to the grocery store used to be such a pleasure to me, but having kids has absolutely sucked the joy from the process. If I can go with only one or two of my people, then maybe there will still be some of the old fun of perusing items, dreaming up recipes for the things that are on sale, and teaching them about different vegetables and cuts of meat. Most of the time, though, having them with me just means I'm getting lots of dirty looks from Seattleites whose reveries I have disturbed by bringing a bunch of loud things into the public place.

My chance to teach the kids about food, especially my daughter who has the most interest, now comes with the ceremonial unloading of the delivery bags. Hazel really enjoys unpacking our CSA delivery on Fridays; it's like mini-Christmas. She takes each thing out with a “OH! Look! A... what is this thing?” “Oh, that's a bunch of beets” “OH, GREAT! Beets!” She always eats a piece of fruit or two- the treat at the end of the chore of putting all the weird veggies away. The other day she pulled out a large leek. She looked at it for a second with a wrinkled little brow and then quickly brought the furry little root end of it up to her mouth. “NOW announcing the arrival of apples![the next thing she pulled from the bag.]” She proceeded to to use her leek-ophone to announce the rest of the produce as she pulled it out and put it away. “Takes after her mother,” I thought to myself. Mommy loves a hot mic, or even just a leek or ladle.

Ten or so years before Hazel was born I was having the time of my life (at least that's what it was at the time). I was in my second of three years at PNBS. I had already been told that I would have a third year in the program I was in. Most dancers did two, but I started on the young end and needed the extra time of refinement. I came to PNB a pretty raw little ball of flexibility and eagerness, but I didn't have much training in the finer points of technique. I was thrilled to be told that they wanted to keep me around another year because it gave me that much more time to learn and improve and hopefully prove my worth as a dancer to PNB or some director somewhere. I was healthy and loving every minute of my training, and I also was given many chances to dance on stage with the company but had no pressure to hurry up and get signed somewhere. It was ideal.

About half of my good friends, though, were under lots of pressure. This WAS their year to figure out their next steps. They were coming up on that big moment when they would know if all their work had paid off and if they'd be doing what they loved for at least another year. Dancing is a one-season-at-a-time kind of gig. You never know when you could have your contract dropped or when you might be injured and have the whole dream vaporize. It was 2002, the Spring following 9-11, and arts companies across the country were losing donors in the economic downturn. The previous Spring, we had the opportunity to be seen by directors from across the country, and it felt like a pretty sure thing that someone from a program like ours could get a contract somewhere. This year? Not so much. We were nervous. There just weren't as many jobs available. Add to this worry about jobs the usual stresses of being a dancer: aches and pains, making enough money, keeping your body in shape (AKA: stay skinny), and the constant wondering if the directors and teachers still like and approve of you. Tensions could run pretty high in the studios.

All this pressure forged simultaneously deep but sometimes volatile relationships. The people around you were your biggest, direct threats and competition, and yet they were also the only people in the world who really knew what you were going through. We clung to each other pretty tightly. Being entertainers, we also had a wild ton of fun. There were few secrets among us. We pretty much knew each others business just because we were never apart. We lived, worked, and played together. As dancers, we also had to pay careful attention to each other. We would share leotards and clothes. There just isn't a closeness like that between friends who get dressed and undressed in the same little locker room multiple times a day. We supported each other through injuries and illnesses that we often were trying to conceal from the powers that be. (In fact, one of the biggest betrayals I ever felt was that of another dancer, a “friend,” outing an injury of mine to a teacher.)

Every day we would dance our hearts out in the studios and wear our bodies out too. There may have been sniping remarks made. There may have been hurt feeling over casting lists going up. We might have been scolded for talking together too much. Maybe one of us was being favored over the rest. But, in spite of all these little reasons to want a break from each other, my group of about 7 close friends was always ready to get home and play together. We needed each other. Life was stressful, and our families were thousands of miles away. So, what would we do after dancing 8 hours a day? Well, we would dance, of course!

As I recall it, our nightly agenda went something like this:

1. Watch Friends reruns

2. Order pizza or make pasta or something cheap together

3. Dance party

The dance partying generally included free-for-all time and a more organized section of lip-sync performances. Enter the ladles (were you wondering why I started with the leek-ophone?). We had a ball and laughed until our abs hurt which, of course, was a great side-effect. I remember that there were a couple of kitchen utensils we especially wanted to use, like that prong-sided spoon one uses for serving spaghetti – now THAT's a makeshift microphone. Almost always, this scene went down in Drew and Anne's apartment. They had a spot close to the studios, but more than that I think they had the gravitas required to be a home base. Stayce and I lived up at the top of Queen Anne Hill, and she was the ONE with a car making it possible for us to get home without walking. More than one set of dancers lived in Drew and Anne's building. Sometimes I still drive by there, and I smile inside. I will NEVER forget the sight of Drew out on the street with our fake microphone “interviewing” theater-goers as they left a performance while we all watched from the apartment window up above.

The soundtrack of our evenings varied some but very little. Aqua (yes, that band that sang the Barbie song...) and Abba were our mainstays. We were just having fun, but there was something pretty deep and magical about Dancing Queen. It was OUR song; we were the dancing queens.

You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen

Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine

You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life

See that girl, watch that scene, digging the Dancing Queen

Like little hipster predecessors in Lower Queen Anne, we were technically listening to and loving this stuff with a pinch of irony. But, I think that, really, we all just were hoping that we were the real Dancing Queen, never mind the fact that most of us, except for Drew, were 18. And don't get me started on Super Trouper...

I miss those days probably the same way anyone misses their favorite teenage pastimes. I have many wonderful friends right now. I have friends who have watched me give birth. I have friends who have told me their saddest, most horrific memories. I have confessed things to some of my current friends that I thought I would never say aloud. And, yet, somehow I still don't feel as close to these women I have now as I did to my Professional Division friends. I hardly ever talk to most of those girls now, but I could, without a doubt, pick right up where we left off. These are treasured relationships for most people, the childhood (because, really, we were such babies) friendships that last forever. For me, there is the added treasure that I was dancing in those days. I danced with those girls! When I think of them, of us, dancing to ABBA in that old apartment building, I'm thinking of my dancing days.

Life is big now. I have 4 children, a husband, a home, a dog, volunteer positions, illness, etc. In some ways, my stresses have increased. I have many more lives to worry about now, so many opportunities to make giant, life-changing mistakes. But, somehow, I still feel like those days in the studios were the most pressured. I never sweated it, though, quite like I sweat things now. I think it's because we danced together. We did our favorite thing together and laughed for hours. Oh, how I wish I could still do that now! Sometimes, I will dance party with the kids, and it definitely scratches an itch, but what I really miss is the camaraderie. Mommies, in spite of having EVERY reason in the world to get where each other is coming from, just don't get the chance to truly, truly bond. The depth of intimacy that I have experienced in friendship has set a very high bar for me in terms of satisfaction in relationship. I always feel like “we could be closer” when I evaluate my friendships.

The other night I drove to a Bible study. I was moody. VERY moody. All three of the kids had been in trouble at school. In my preschooler's folder, there was an Incident Report because she had bitten another child. My kindergartener was placed on a behavior plan following instances of throwing school supplies for fun, talking non-stop, and (you'll love this one) being unable to stop feeling other children's hair because it is “just so, so soft looking, and I just can't resist touching the softness!” I thought I had made it through without the oldest kid having any trouble, but then I got a voicemail from his teacher because this son had been sneaking the hall pass to go wander during instruction time because he “doesn't want to learn anything else that I might just hate. There are enough things to hate at school already!” Each taken individually, this crap is pretty normal and, frankly, hilarious. But I'm 3 months postpartum and not sleeping at night, so, obviously, my world was collapsing. Add to that all my inner sturm and drang regarding my desire to try to start writing down all this stuff about ballet and my life-altering, brain-shaping experience with it all.

I arrived to the Bible study host's house 10 minutes early (due to my absolute inability to be late... thanks, Ballet!). All I wanted to do was decompress somehow. I was a ball of nerves and the chances of me walking in and bursting into tears were pretty great. With the leek-ophone still fresh in my mind, I wished for a dance party. I just wanted to dance all my stress out with my friends. I wanted to lip-sync Dancing Queen somethin' fierce! I settled for surfing the radio stations until I found some Nirvana and did a little internal head-banging. It helped. Stress needs an outlet, I learned. Most things aren't really that bad; you just gotta dance it out. And sometimes, things ARE that bad, and even then, I wish I could dance party- the bodies of your best friends, moving, singing, laughing, with yours... that's empathy. I may need to start keeping a ladle, heck, even a leek, in my car for emergencies.

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