So I Thought I Could Dance

In ninth grade I was not just a member of Drama Club, I was the president. It was my consolation prize after running a very close second for Student Body president. Can’t recall which school official told me it was close – very close! – but these days, well, who cares? Second (best of all the losers, as Seinfeld says) whether by one vote or a hundred, the result is the same.

I licked my wounds and mopped up the Drama Club voting the next week. King of the drama dorks. Yes, I was one of those. So embarrassing but we all do stupid things.

In my defense, I also played every sport for which my parents would buy equipment, meaning basketball and baseball, and they didn’t buy the basketball. More on that later in the program.

The story I told at The Film School was that I landed my first acting roll after pestering the director for weeks to write in a small part for me. I was relentless until eventually Mom gave in. I was three. From then on there was some form of performing arts to participate in every year and usually more than one event.

When junior high steam-rolled down life’s highway auditioning for plays was a given. By ninth grade I was one of the favorites of Pat Butler, the drama/choir director at school, (less so the one at home). I could forge his signature on school passes and he let me. The hall passes were the green ones, just larger than monopoly money. I kept a pad of them with my books.

Pat (not to be confused with his wife, Pat) had become the music director for a program the school district had been running for several years. It was a performance troupe for high school kids started by an ex-Rockette and one of the district administrators. Hiliners. Youthful exuberance, generally, more than honed skill bouncing around the stage, singing and dancing in shows around the region throughout the school year.

Students auditioned every summer and began rehearsals during an intense period before classes began. During the year there were rehearsals every Saturday for five hours which didn’t count the time needed to learn a new routine – that was done on your own time.

The Hiliners faced the same challenge as every dance group: finding enough males. That year, 1974, the problem was more acute than ever with the additional hurdle that the “company” (being generous here) was committed to a week of performances at the Spokane Expo in July.

You don’t have to tell a boy that dancing is for girls. There’s no class where that is taught, no secret training session or note passed in class. We know it without being told. It is programmed into our genes and requires an even more primitive reason to overcome.

In the spring of 1974 the Hiliners came to our school to perform. As Drama Club president I was drafted to help with important tasks like pulling the curtain at the beginning and end of the show. The Saturday before the school show the group held their practice on our stage so they would be familiar with it and I was there for the entire rehearsal.

Of course Pat was up to something. He wanted me to see what the Hiliners were like, what they did, how they did it, so that when we had our little talk later I would have that information tucked away in the back of my mushy little brain.

Pat wanted to recruit some of his male students into the group in a kind of early-entrance program. The idea was to fill out the ranks of the boys in time for Spokane.

He sneakily had some of the kids ask if we wanted to try out one of the routines. You know, just for fun. So they showed us some steps and we did our best to learn while the adults casually kept a close eye on if we could move our feet without tripping.

Bill Marsland, fresh off of breaking my nose in a lunchtime basketball game (sorry, Bill, but I do like telling the story) was included. Mike Golden probably was there but he was still growing into his legs. Some others I can’t recall.

So after the show, Pat asked us if we wanted to join up and go to Spokane. I can’t speak for the reasoning behind the others’ decisions but I do know about my own motivation. Frankly, I do not understand why it isn’t used more fully on boys facing similar invitations. I chose to join Hiliners for several carefully and deeply thought-out reasons.

Girls. In tights. As partners. Five hours. Every week. Plus performances. Performances with back-stage costume changes.

How many ways are there to say, “Duh”?

I loved playing baseball and basketball, really wanted to learn fencing and skiing (even after the broken leg, the cast for which had just come off) but none of them offered what dancing did. Girls. In. Tights. Plus, I didn’t even have to give up the sports! Nothing but wins!

Over the years we performed in Long Beach, WA, all over the Seattle area, including the Opera House and for the Western Governor’s Conference, among many others. Seemed like a show every month or two. Loved it, every minute. Why not? Surrounded by lovely, talented girls every week, singing, dancing, practicing. Sigh. Oh, yeah.

I remained with Hiliners until my fateful Senior year and the move to Denver, as chronicled elsewhere, but the story isn’t quite over yet.

First semester of my senior year, East High in downtown Denver, I chose a strength training class taught, it turned out, by the football coach. It was a fun class which the coach used to help his players. He also had other reasons.

Near the mid-point of the semester Coach announced that our class would temporarily merge with the girls to try out a new fitness concept, called ‘aerobics’ or something. None of us had ever heard of it before but it turned out to be, well, dancing. Hell, it was for only forty minutes or so. Easy. The ball players were dying within minutes, though, hating the whole thing but there I was – again – dancing with the girls.

Near the end of the semester Coach casually approached me after the timed mile run. “You’re turning out for football next year.” It was clearly not a question and it caught me completely by surprise. I knew almost nothing about playing football.

“I’m a senior,” I explained which was answered by a not-very-suppressed curse. I didn’t even know enough about football to ask him what position(s) he wanted me for. Best guess: cornerback, maybe wideout. I’ll never know but it would have been fun.

Just not as fun as Girls In Tights.


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