“Are you an alto or soprano?” she asked as I burst through the door sweaty and breathless.
I froze, looked around the classroom where the Cabrillo Choir class was underway.
I stammered, “Ummm, I don’t know.”
The teacher’s jaw dropped and she looked stunned.
“She’s an alto!” shouted Ellen who came to my rescue. Relieved, I sat in the empty chair in the alto section beside Ellen. “I got lost,” I whispered as I sank low in the chair wanting to disappear. She snickered, “You’re the one who told me to come early because the campus is confusing!”
“Well, yeah…thought I knew my way around better. It’s been a while.”
I mean, really. I signed up for the series of Performance Arts classes with a bunch of seasoned performers from a group called NextStage and I don’t even know whether I’m an alto or soprano. Sheesh! What was I thinking?
There I go again – Leap first. Look second.
I say yes! More often than not, I say yes. I say yes before they even finish the sentence, like the time I signed up for the “Diva” seminar and didn’t know it was an art class until the instructor called me with a list of the proper brushes to bring to class.
“Brushes?! It’s an art class?” I screeched.
With the guidance of the expert instructor, I managed to turn out a self-portrait that graces my wall to this day. The key is to put aside the fear of the unknown and just do it. You have to be willing to turn crimson and smile at the same time. And then fake it ’til you make it.
I fumbled my way through the Choir Class and prepared for part two of the trio of classes being offered. I had joined NextStage impulsively at a fundraiser dinner party. After a couple of glasses of wine, I said “Yes!”
Here’s how NextStage describes their organization:
“NextStage Productions is a 501c3 charitable non-profit organization that uses the creative and expressive arts to bring positive energy to the way people view or experience aging.”
You have to be over fifty to join. I got that going for me.
Not being one to go back on my word, I showed up for rehearsal the following week. I thought I had been recruited to be a dancer. When the musical director, Terrance, handed out the music and assigned the solos I was flabberghasted! I HAD TO SING??!
It has been established that I am best suited to be a “Muppet” singer! No real singing ability is required. When it came to my solo, I avoided eye contact with everybody in the group, took a large breath and let loose with all I had. Terrance was kind enough to say, “With some confidence and breath control, you will be fine.”
I was mortified. I would just have to sneak some private voice lessons in before the next rehearsal, that’s all there was to it. I would just have to find some more dogs to walk in order to afford it.
And then, I got an email from Sally, one of the active members and directors of NextStage announcing the Summer Camp Program at Cabrillo College. It entailed eighteen classes in six days during which we would hone our skills in Broadway performance including singing, dancing, and stage presentation. Perfect! Sign me up.
After all, I was experienced. I had performed many times, I had the lead role in Gypsy. Okay, it was a while ago…okay, it was the high school play. Okay, it was 1964 or was it 63? And let’s not forget my dancing career in San Francisco’s North Beach section. I was in a choreographed revue behind the famous Carol Doda of topless fame. Okay, it was 1970. Hmmm…Well, it was only fifty years ago. It still counts. It was in this lifetime, right?
After suffering through the singing class it was time to go to the dance section. Yes! Surely, I would do well in the dance section. I had read the class description advising us to wear dance shoes to class. After digging around in my overcrowded walk-in closet I was ecstatic to have found my dance shoes. The last time I wore them, was in Costa Rica. After the shipping fiasco when I repatriated, only a few items survived the move. The dance shoes made it!
I sat on the floor outside the occupied classroom waiting for the music class to end and vacate the room. I pulled my shoes from the bag and as I was sitting on the floor struggling with the ankle strap buckle I heard a voice above me.
“You’re going to regret wearing those shoes,” said the not-so-friendly voice.
“Oh really? What do you mean? The instruction said to wear dance shoes.”
“Well, yes. What are you a ballroom dancer?” she said through curled lips.
I felt like Alice-in-Wonderland in the flower garden. “Just what species or should I say genus are you?” “She’s nothing but a common mobile vulgaris.” “To put it bluntly, a weed!”
I scanned the group and saw most wore soft, flat jazz shoes. Well, if they mean JAZZ shoes why didn’t they say so?
I looked up at my unsmiling advisor and said, “I’ll be fine. I’m used to wearing much higher heels than these. Don’t worry, they are quite comfortable.”
As we sat listening to the instructor explaining the goals of the class, she seemed to be boring down on me, “There will be no high heels allowed on the floor.”
I quietly reached down and unbuckled my black suede with rhinestone mid-heel dance shoes. It was going to be a barefoot day for me. As soon as we went on a break mid-class, I got out my cell phone, Googled dance shoes in the vicinity and dialed the number. I whispered into the phone, “Do you have any black jazz shoes, size 7? Please hold them for me. I will be there at 4:35.” (Class ended at 4:30). I didn’t even ask how much they cost. I didn’t care. I must have them!
On day two I showed up on time, did my best to keep up with the alto section of the choir, wore the correct dance shoes, and smiled though I felt I was in over my head. I became friendly with one of the other newcomers, Anne Marie, whom I knew from the real estate business. At the end of day two, she leaned in and said, “I’m thinking of dropping out.”
“Me, too!” I sighed. And then I gathered strength and turned to Anne Marie, “No! We are not dropping out. We are not quitters. I’ll stay if you will.”
“Deal!” she smiled.
At least we had an unwritten pact and in moments of frustration we could look at each other, roll our eyes, and carry on.
We memorized words to complicated songs from “The Addams Family” and “Cabaret.” We memorized dance steps. We put simple costumes together. We did not quit.
On day six, it was showtime! Yes, a performance was scheduled and we were to invite friends and relatives to the performance. I was not about to have my friends come and see me make a fool of myself. I had trouble remembering the words. I had trouble singing and frequently switched from alto to soprano. I even had trouble remembering the dance steps in proper sequence! What had I gotten myself into?
I took a deep breath and silently announced to myself, “Showtime!”
My stewardess smile surfaced, and I went on automatic. The show must go on!
As predicted by the three expert instructors, it went quickly. The veteran performer who chastised me about my shoes smiled and told me I did a good job. One of the sopranos made a point to seek me out, “C. J. Your alto singing was really good. I could hear you loud and clear. Good job!”
I wasn’t convinced and felt that I had performed poorly. I was so embarrassed, I bolted the moment we took our final bow.
The next day, my friend, Sally, sent me a video lauding my performance. I dreaded it certain that I was late on every dance move and fumbled the words on the songs. As I watched the film my spirits rose.
Yes! I did it!
Can hardly wait ’til next year!