Hello, fellow friends of sequins and sparkle, feathers and fishnets!
My long-awaited book LONG LEGS and TALL TALES: A Showgirl’s Wacky, Sexy Journey to the Playboy Mansion & the Radio City Rockettes is finally published and for sale at amazon.com! Join us as we celebrate with a Book Launch Spectacular party and book signing on Sunday, February 21, 2016 from 6:30 PM-8:30 PM at the Arbor Brewing events space in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For you out-of-towners, we’ll have a Virtual Book Launch Spectacular on the same day (on this very website) with loads of fun and frolicking, goodies and giveaways. Until then, we’ll be counting down the days to book launch–62!
To put you in the mood, I’ll be reposting some of my favorite blogposts from the past (just like TV reruns) along with new and exciting showgirl stories and scoops. Here’s an oldie but goodie:
To do great things, we sometimes have to start small. The important thing is that we start. And we LOVE what we are doing. My first dance classes weren’t at some prestigious academy of dance or some nationally recognized ballet school. I got my boogie on in a lady’s basement, for cryin’ out loud. Take baby steps. Have a ball. Before you know it, you’ll be the cream of the crop, marveling at how you manifested your dreams. Keep reading below to find out how the little girl above did just that.
Here’s an excerpt from my recently published book:
I continued this impromptu method of dance until five years later when I finally decided I was brave enough to try taking classes again. To be safe, I was going to take my sister and some neighborhood friends for backup. If our new teacher was as scary as the last one, at least we’d outnumber her.
This time my mother enrolled us in the illustrious Josie Grey’s School, nee, “Basement” of Dance. Josie was an entrepreneurial mom who figured out how to make a few bucks underground without leaving home. A small section of her basement, with a couple of ballet barres hung on the walls, served as the studio. Josie undercut the real dance schools around town; at two dollars a half-hour class, the price was right. Plus, she lived so close that Mom didn’t have to drive us. We used to walk the six blocks to her house wearing our ballet shoes and squishing fallen berries underfoot along the way.
Josie filled that “Bargain-Basement-Discount-School-of-Dance” niche for all the not-so-serious and not-so-rich kids who just wanted to dance for fun. She could have cared less if we wore our street clothes to class or even if we wore the proper dance shoes, and she accepted children of all shapes and sizes. You’d easily see a 5-foot-6-inch, 200-pound heavy-weight dancing next to a feather-weight nymph-of-a-girl. Josie let us talk and laugh and giggle all through class. She offered such an affordable and relaxed atmosphere that we wanted to take everything, and we did: tap, jazz, ballet and even baton, which we begged her to teach us.
Josie taught in her street clothes and played the accordion in class. Tap was her forte. I was sure she was a professional tap dancer in her younger years. Perhaps she accompanied herself on a sparkly, royal-blue accordion, her name spelled out in white felt letters down the side. I could picture the crowd going wild as she vigorously played a polka, her feet rhythmically striking the ground in time to the music. Whether or not Josie was ever paid a dime for dancing, I couldn’t say, but she knew more than I did and was so unintimidating and casual that I loved going to class.
The atmosphere at Josie’s was anything but serious, due to the fact that her own four rambunctious children were home while she taught. “Yous guys better shut up and stop that fightin’,” she’d shout at them. “I ain’t comin’ upstairs again!” She often left class to attend to some domestic disaster generally preceded by earth-shattering crashing sounds and screams. It wasn’t uncommon to have one of her three young sons or her only daughter come bounding down the basement stairs unannounced to dance a few steps with our class and then return upstairs to watch afternoon cartoons when they’d had enough.
Jazz class was a riot, and I soaked up all the new moves like a sponge. We learned to twinkle, lindy, sugar, camel, sashay and shorty-george. Josie chose the upbeat Tina Turner song, “Proud Mary,” for our dance. We lined up behind the lead girl, and, one at a time, on our specific count, raised our arms up in a “V.” I anxiously awaited my turn thinking, “One, two, three, four, five, six, SEVEN, eight.” It was hard not to count out loud. On the part of the song that Tina sings “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ down the river…” every other person would lean right and roll their arms while the others would do the same moves to the left. It was more fun than I’d ever had before.
Our tap class was learning the Waltz Clog to the song “Daisy.” The Waltz Clog is a simple, standard, old tap dance, which has been massacred by millions of amateur tappers over the course of time. I caught on to the steps quickly. At least I thought I had gotten the steps right. It was nearly impossible to hear my own sounds in that class full of beginners, for the noise level was deafening. The walls reverberated with a hodge-podge of scuffing and banging and sliding of taps across the cement floor like nails on a chalkboard.
Every kid seemed to be in her own time zone, performing some variation of the steps to the beat of her own drum. Not only that, but everyone was joyously beating the heck out of their shoes. If you stomped as hard as you could, those suckers produced some major decibels, especially in that tiny basement where the sound waves echoed off the walls. Let’s face it, giving a kid shoes with noise-makers on the bottoms is just asking for trouble. Getting the class to keep their feet quiet long enough to explain the next step was a huge accomplishment for Josie. Time and time again, she found herself shouting over the noise. It’s a wonder that teaching tap didn’t send her straight to the loony bin.
When we finally finished the dance, Josie made a shocking announcement: “For the recital you’ll be doing the entire number while jumping rope, so bring one next week.” Luckily, I was one of the best rope-jumpers in my Phys Ed class at school. I was fairly confident about the tapping and even more secure with jumping, but tapping and jumping rope at the same time was another story. Performing the Waltz Clog was hard enough without worrying about tripping myself with a string.
The other challenge was to make sure I stayed on my designated spot and didn’t hop-shuffle-step-step too close to my neighbor and clash ropes. I know, because absent-minded Lilly whacked mine regularly. She’d wander off her spot, tapping so close to me that her rope would hit mine. Then I’d have to get it spinning again and figure out where we were in the choreography. Lilly was a hazard on the dance floor. She was like a driver who can’t stay in her own lane.
Ballet was Josie’s weakest subject, but we learned to point our toes, do knee bends without sticking out our behinds, walk on tip-toe, and “sashay” across the floor. A lot of rules and numbers seemed to be involved: ballerinas had to know first, second, third, fourth and fifth position. For first position, we had to stand with the heels of our feet touching and our toes open to form a straight line. Our legs had to be perfectly straight and our bottoms tucked under. It was difficult to stand like that without falling over, and some of the girls tilted like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Josie knew nearly as much about baton as she did ballet, but we learned enough to keep us happy. She taught us how to do the majorette march, how to wrap the baton around our neck like a choke-hold, and how to jump with our legs split apart while quickly passing the baton through. Josie also showed us the one-handed figure-eight twirl, which was pretty easy, but the maneuver in which we attempted to twirl the baton using one hand and only the thumb of the other hand was so hard that we had to practice at home. Our most daring trick was lifting one leg and tossing the baton underneath it and up into the air. Fortunately, the baton wasn’t too difficult to catch as it could fly only so high before hitting the low basement ceiling.
As if shimmying about in our weekly classes wasn’t amusing enough, performing in the recital was about as thrilling as life could get. Our show was held one evening in June in the auditorium of a nearby middle school. On show night, the classroom that served as our dressing room hummed with restless chatter punctuated by cries of dismay from girls who discovered their mothers had forgotten some of their costume pieces.
Our cheap and cheerful costumes, ordered from a catalog, were sequined and beribboned and just to die for. Josie had instructed all of her students to buy sheer-to-the-waist nylons to wear underneath, but a couple of girls ended up with reinforced girdle nylons which created the unsightly appearance of dark brown underwear hanging out below their leotards. There were dancers in the recital wearing black ballet shoes when the rest of their class was wearing pink, and everyone’s hair was styled differently. Some people left their stringy tresses down and in their eyes. Others had it pulled back in a ponytail or two. The dress code was a free-for-all, but Josie didn’t seem to mind.
At seven to nine years-of-age, we were the most advanced kids Josie taught, and we felt like hot stuff on stage. Decked out in our red-and-blue halter tops and shorty shorts (which we also wore for tap and baton to minimize costume expenses), we did “Proud Mary” proud. Several of my classmates concentrated so hard they forgot to smile, and the audience could see their lips counting the beats, but I was beaming with a grin so wide I could have been a commercial for toothpaste.
Performing our jazz dance was pure joy, but our baton routine made me nervous because of the baton toss. I was worried about not catching it, and with good reason. In Josie’s basement we could throw the baton less than three feet before it would rebound off the ceiling, but on stage, we could hurl it miles up in the air before it would ever hit anything. Having that super-energy that comes with stage fright, half the class used way too much force and over-tossed their batons during the show. There was no way they were going to catch those whirling dervishes. Batons were flying every which way, rolling around the stage, thumping to the ground, some even bouncing unpredictably on their rubber ends when they landed hard enough. The audience members should have been advised to wear helmets in case one came spiraling in their direction. There were girls weaving through the other twirlers trying to capture their run-away batons and return to their positions. If your baton traveled all the way off stage, you could pretty much guarantee that the number would be over by the time you retrieved it. I just prayed I’d make it through the song without my baton going AWOL.
I was one of the few who survived the majorette march without incident, but I didn’t fare so well with the tap. There I was, front and center, confidently clogging and rope-jumping, the audience in the palm of my hand, when La-La Land Lilly took off from the back row and headed my way. I had no idea what was about to hit me. All of a sudden, her rope whacked mine and sent it flying out of my hands and across the stage. I scrambled to recover it, carefully dodging the revolving ropes around me. The sparkle left my eyes and anger set in. I was mad. I was mortified. Lilly was lucky I didn’t use my rope to strangle her.
In addition to being humiliated on stage for the first time, I also had my first taste of personal stardom. Our ballet class, clad in green gypsy dresses trimmed in red sequins and white ribbon, performed the Tarantella. Being the most flexible, I got to stand center stage and hold my leg up over my head with one hand and shake my tambourine with my other hand, while jumping around in a circle. I was the hit of the recital. It was a very heady experience.
I wasn’t the only one who stole the show, however. My stiffest competition came from the three-year-olds. The baby ballet class sang “I Am A CoffeePot,” which went something like this, “I am a coffee pot. I get oh so HOT! When you fill me up, have another CUP!” Their arms served as handles and spouts, and they pretended to percolate by jiggling their bodies, wobbling their heads, and smacking their lips. During the show Josie stood in the wings doing the choreography in case they forgot what they were supposed to do. Many did forget, and they were so mesmerized by the audience that it was hard to tell who was there to watch whom. The tots stood frozen in their tutus like deer in headlights until Josie, whispering loudly from the wings, broke their stupor and then they pointed their toes once or twice and tiptoed around in a circle with their arms overhead. Most of the time, they were either spellbound by the audience or craning their necks to see Josie on the sidelines.
The tiny tap class, irresistible in their yellow-and-black striped bee attire, performed “Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee.” They flapped their wings, buzzed, did a few heel-steps and maybe even a shuffle or two. A couple of bees, in complete control, led the number like little troopers and shouted the lyrics loudly enough to make up for all the petrified insects. Their parents loved them no matter what they did or didn’t do. The kids could have stood on stage in their darling costumes and simply farted, which was about the only thing some kids actually did, and the parents would have been elated.
Josie and her children did a family number in the show a la the Osmonds or the Jackson Five, but it took some coaxing to get all four kids on stage. The music started, and they were still waiting for the two-year-old to join the bunch. Josie rolled her eyes and shouted, “Elliot, get over here!” Someone finally pushed him on stage. The number was a real crowd-pleaser.
Every year, the recital ended with Josie playing the accordion and half-singing, half-speaking her traditional closing song: “This is the end of our show. That’s all the dancing tonight. This is the end of our show. It’s been a delight.” The production left a lot to be desired, but I didn’t know any better and was having a ball being on stage with my friends. After the performance, I was swarmed by people complimenting me on my trick in the Tarantella. My adoring parents brought bouquets of flowers, and I felt like an absolute star.
Thanks for reading. Come visit again and see what happens when I take a step up. You’ll be glad you did.
What small step are you going to take?