When I was 8 or 9 Mother enrolled me at Dorothy Hanson's Dancing School. Probably she thought it a good alternative to my wearing out my favorite phonograph record, ''The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,'' which I played over and over. To it I choreographed my first dance, taught it to my younger cousin Roberta, and when I pronounced it complete, we performed it in my living room for our mothers.
At Miss Hanson's we danced in bare feet and casual dress. I don't know what anyone else wore, but my attire must have looked charming, for it was a pair of black sateen bloomers over my one-piece white knit underwear. I took dancing from her for just one year, at which time she went to California to get married. I never saw her again, but when she left she gave to me all her phonograph records. I danced for hours to those dear 78s. My brief contact with that teacher left me hungering for more and more dance instruction.
Through my teen years finances again permitted me to take. For after a few months, Elizabeth McCarthy gave me free lessons in exchange for helping her to teach her overflow of students. When I wasn't actually dancing, learning, or teaching it, I breathed, ate, and slept it and must have been a complete bore to others. High school was just a sideline between dancing classes. In freshman algebra class I mentally rehearsed my tap routines instead of learning what x equaled. (I still remember the routines; I still don't know what x is.)
In preperation to opening my own studio, I had one tap and one ballet lesson each day in Portland, Ore. As the lessons were at two different studios, that of Richard Billings and Ballet House, it necessitated my riding a bus across the city in the noonday heat of August. I was drenched that whole month, if not from the sweltering humidity, from the lessons themselves, but they were worth it. Years further on found me in a Chicago studio while on vacation. When my husband handed me a hundred dollars, I spent almost the whole thing on lessons at Gladys Hight's, where Gene Kelly had also once studied. Oh, glamour!
Although I later danced occasionally, I really felt that my prime terpsichorean days were over. After all, perhaps it was time to sit back and watch the children and grandchildren perform, albeit with itching feet!
But recently, a friend invited me to a party at a ballroom studio. The dormancy of my years of lessons, tedious practice and disciplined thought sprang alive that night. I danced the whole evening and came home exhilarated, not having had so much fun in ages! Why had I thought I was just a has-been?
I enrolled in the first lessons and was hooked by my own enthusiasm and the teacher's loving encouragement. I then signed up for the longer term and am now on the third phase of the program, and I can hardly wait from one lesson to the next.
And like that persistent teen-ager, I mentally rehearse the steps and routines in my thought, and sometimes while waiting for the elevator at work if no one is around, I practice them. I'm learning techniques I didn't know existed in ballroom dancing, fine points of the waltz and new movements in the swing (which we called the jitterbug). And as for Cuban motion! The cha cha and rumba must be done with Cuban motion, which begins with the ankles and travels upward to the hips rather than up to down.
Like that little girl dancing for her mother in the living room long ago, I still love to perform, not just for myself but to give to others some of the joy , pleasure, and beauty I feel when I dance. For performing is not a selfish or a self-centered act, although it seems to begin that way. It is a giving of one's enthusiasm, grace, and love so that happiness may spread to the viewer.
The weight of years has rolled off and given me my former lightsome outlook as a dancer. Never have I felt that life was passing me by. But I now feel that life is living me to the full extent of my most elegant waltz step, and I'm loving it.