Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dancing in the Dark, 1921 to 2008

It just so happened that this morning—the day after Cyd Charisse died-—my fabulous neighbors gave Steed and me tickets to tonight’s ABT performance of Sleeping Beauty.

And so we found ourselves in the dark watching beautiful classical dancing at the Met. We rarely go to the ballet, so everything felt a little unfamiliar. I was struck by how many 8 to 12 year old girls were in the audience. I don’t know if that’s usual for all ballet, or all classical ballet, or particularly for the Sleeping Beauty chestnut.

As I saw their bright smiles underneath braided buns piled high, I felt a sad wave of all of their crushed dreams to come. Not that I’m a pessimist. Some of them may find a career.

Many girls have a ballerina phase. Mine was mostly imaginary, just thinking about being a ballerina and running around the house in a tutu, but the girls at Sleeping Beauty are actually starting down road.

Just as I was growing out of the ballerina thing, I watched The Band Wagon with my parents. My father kept talking about Cyd Charisse’s legs (which seems to have been a common occurrence among fathers of a certain generation). My mother remarked that she and her friends thought Cyd could have done better than Tony Martin!

I was genuinely dazzled by the movie, most deeply by the "Dancing in the Dark" scene. I’ve seen it a hundred times since then, and tonight, while I was sitting in the dark, I came to understand why Cyd’s work is so powerful, at least for the distaff side (her allure for men is obvious).

Charisse is our childhood ballerina desires grown up to a desirable, strong, talented woman. No tutus, but elegant, graceful, soft-white street clothes that we can all wear. Her steps with Astaire capture everything you want to experience with a partner: joy, timing, flirting, floating, and then when she is in her Girl Hunt, shimmy-shimmy flapper red outfit, sex, fabulous sex.

Through her dance, Charisse was a role model for girls, showing us some of the best of what might come. Thanks a million, Cyd. I picked up some of the moves that you had to teach.

I hope Fred is crooning to you, even as we speak--

Dancing in the dark 'til the tune ends
We're dancing in the dark and it soon ends
We're waltzing in the wonder of why we're here
Time hurries by, we're here and we're gone