Thursday, January 20, 2011

Smelling Nostalgia

Last night I smelled a familiar smell, that of the winter snow mixed with rain because of a warm front. The night, warmer than usual for this dismal month, had a sort of a light. This light of course reminds me that for as much as winter sucks the life and souls out of all of us somehow spring is not far behind. I remember how I used to like nights like this as a kid living in the suburbs outside of Pittsburgh. This meant soon we would be planting our garden, something my dad engineered. At the time we thought the home improvement projects were downright slave labor but somehow our house emerged one of the prettiest on the block. Driving in from church every Sunday, my sister and I always in flowered sundresses and bonnets when it got warm enough, would see our flowers. When I smelled the winter mixed with a hint of spring I always knew those days were not far from us.
On nights like that, especially Thursdays, I always found myself running down the stairs to Dance Connection. There I was part of the advanced acrobatics class. Most of my classmates were high school girls who were trying their darnest to be women. Whether it was the caking on of the mascara, the stench of the perfume when they knew they would be sweating, the talk about which teachers made their lives miserable, or whatever else they seemed a world away from me. I had earned my spot in the class but being eleven and not even allowed to date, the idea of a boy spying on me as I tumbled was too much for me to even imagine. Somehow, though, these girls would bring the occasional boyfriend who for the most part was quite attractive. While part of me would get quite coy, it would make me want to throw an even harder pass just to impress the much older guy. While having zits and braces as well as being jail bait age put me out of date contention, I too had my vanity.
Yes I loved the harder passes and threw them without thinking twice, that is why initially they moved me up from that group to the older girls. Some of the older girls resented the idea of a potential bratty little sister invading their girl time and ignorant of their transience into the somewhat adult world. Still, I loved throwing the side aerials, the back tucks, the front tucks, the front aerials and even potentially becoming wheelchair bound for life by attempting a half twist. Crashing until I landed on my feet, I eventually earned the respect of my comrades. Even though age separated us, when someone landed on the mat and stuck the hands up a la Shannon Miller, that was all that mattered. Plus we all wanted to stick our skills because we loved our teacher, Miss Amy. She was a former Rockette straight out of NYC and knew her stuff, end of story. Though she had never tumbled we all loved her therefore we worked as hard as we could. While we had our fun, at the end of the day there was a recital to be prepped for. Plus Miss Amy knew how to utilize every girl in the squad. Some were flexible, some were graceful, some were angular, some were pretty to look at, and some were reckless when it came to the flying tricks like yours truly. While it was sometimes strange with me around, at the end of the day we all had our places and something different to offer.
Of course then I was always back every Saturday first thing in the morning with my sister because we always did a duet in the dance recital. My sister had the flexibility of a slinky and therefore would get the gasp of anyone who snuck a peak at our session. Every Saturday morning  before our session both of us had the task of warming up our stunts. I remember the back tuck always was the last thing to come during warm up. Side aerial I could do in my sleep without even stretching which sometimes gave Miss Amy a heart attack. Like a lot of my favorite teachers down the line, she met my willful streak full throttle by telling me I had to stretch or couldn’t practice that day. Knowing that, I grudgingly stretched because not only did I love this woman so much, but Miss Amy believed in both my sister and I. While I wasn’t willful because I was disrespectful, I wanted to get to the good stuff and saw no reason in wasting my time with meaningless things like warm-ups. In my mind, my talent knew no such thing as a warm up. When I saw a mat it was time to tumble. Years later I would learn talent was meaningless unless one could utilize it let alone control it. Still when you are eleven these things fall upon deaf ears.
Sessions could get interesting though. Once during a partner acrobatic maneuver my sister somehow dumped into me and as a result I had a huge, bleeding gash on my leg. Miss Amy, usually not one to stop a session unless it was disaster, agreed that drawing blood meant we were done for the day. My mother came to this session of course eager to see what we had been up to and regardless of my injury demanded we still run the routine so she could see what we were up to. When Miss Amy kindly pointed out that there had been blood shed my mother remarked, “I pay a lot of money for these lessons and you put a lot of time in and you even got up early this morning. April can bleed to death when she gets home and can even get out of cooking lunch.” Needless to say, blood loss and all, I was still forced to perform the routine. For the record my mother lied, I still had to cook lunch.
Unfortunately, the beloved Miss Amy was forced to leave the area because of family business. However,  I never lost my love for performing. My days running down the steps to my basement dance studio playground and the rhinestones and sparkles we would be-dazzle our costumes with awakened something in me that wasn’t in a hurry to sleep anytime soon. This game me an arena to be myself in a way that I could not at school or with my so called friends who would never understand this need gnawing in me. So I did whatever I could to use my imagination. I wrote for the local paper, but even then there is something about hot bright lights that gets me. So the next thing I know I was hosting public access or performing ventriloquism for small children or the elderly. Then there was the community theatre and the school plays. Whenever I could of course, and sometimes still do, I would throw tumbling passes on any available patch of grass there was even if there was no willing audience around. As a matter of fact sometimes I even tumble now. Though I am not as good and can’t do as many things, it still amazes people that it hasn’t left my body. However, as I am limping later that day I ask myself, “April, are you sure about that. Your bones and the Rice Krispie Treats Elves have the same name at the moment: Snap, Crackle, and Pop.”
Over the past few years I have seen the space that was Dance Connection change. For a while it was a beauty salon. Then it was a place that sold televisions and other equipments, certainly appropriate for the industrial neighborhood the place once called home. Then it was a computer repair place, and now it is another sort of repair place of some sort. Each time I find myself saddened and angered and never could understand why until recently. Businesses come and go, landlords have to pay rent too, right? Then it hit me. Dance Connection is the place where a lot of my passion for performing was discovered. Years later, my folks had a heart attack when I said I wanted to make a life out of it. Still, looking back they say now they could see it all along and cite those days. Since my time under the wing of Miss Amy I have trained with some of the best teachers in the world in some of the best acting schools in the world. Some are incensed that they are forced to teach, burnt out from an industry they feel that should have given them more. Then others love teaching, love their students, and either still create art or aged out gracefully from careers as performers. The second group, the ones that love teaching, always left me with a reminder of Miss Amy on the same sort class of teacher. While sometimes I was less than graceful for skillful for Madeline Reiss or Jeffrey Ferguson, I left the class dripping with sweat knowing I didn’t settle with positive energy and a good attitude for what was to come. Though my bones would ache that didn’t matter, in a way it was a trip back to that innocent little playground down the stairs that felt like my safe place. That’s why even now it irks me that these people have replaced it with something else.
Much like my days in my playground, I have many a times found myself the baby on a show’s lineup. For a lot of people, especially young women, I know it would have intimidated them. For me, since I had grown so used to having a peer group and company older than me, I didn’t even give it a second thought. If there was ever any doubt about me it would be cleared up the second I took the mic. Sometimes I acted crazy, sometimes I took a huge risk and missed onstage, sometimes everyone hated me. Sometimes it all worked out and I was loved. One thing was for sure though, much like my gals from long ago, eventually I at least earned their respect because no matter how many times I fell I would get on up until I landed on two feet.  When that happened I wouldn’t rest on my laurels but then reached for the next biggest thing. Eventually most NYC comedians agreed, love or loathe April Brucker at least there was something to be admired about someone so gutsy. At least I have been told.
Here I am years later. I can tell a person from experience the politics are enough to wear on the soul of anyone. You have the sucky bringer comics now producing sucky bringer shows of their own demanding newbies bring twenty friends that they clearly don’t have. There is stage time, but it has to be paid for and there are the open mic comics who usually hate a person out of their clique before they even take the mic refusing the laugh at them. Let’s not forget the folks who somehow are the fair haired darlings amongst the scene even though only a few hipsters, namingly those that create an awards show for themselves, think that they are funny. Or then if you do get face time or exposure for any reason it’s that you lied to get it and the networks need to do better checking on their people. Or worse yet, as a woman you did a sexual favor to get that. Of course all these trash talkers are nameless and faceless because why else would they need anonymous handles on the internet to apologize for their wasted, jealous, nobody lives when there is no girls bathroom stall around? As I feel the burn and the agony I tell myself it is time to turn back, time to quit. My stomach is growling, I don’t know where my next buck is coming from, I have puppets and singing telegram delivery costumes. I have no man. I am not a comedian but a joke.
Then in the mixture of rain and snow I see a light. I remember a teacher of mine from college, a Broadway vet named Betsy Parish who was on the same par as Miss Amy. She too met with my willful ways but never gave up on me even when other people did. Once she told me that, “You are a pleasure to teach because granted, I am infinitely patient but you are a have to, which means no matter what you have that drive and you have to do this with your life.” That have to drive pushed me into the older girl group back in my Dance Connection Days. When people didn’t think I belonged I threw a hard pass that they wouldn’t even attempt and land it which would shut them up. I didn’t just land it. I stuck it.
Once again when people talk trash on me, and I know what they all say. I no longer care though. There is a have to spirit inside of me that has driven me this far and has no intention of slowing anytime soon. Just as I landed on two feet and stuck it on the mat in those days, I still land on two feet sticking it now. When people have their doubts I will stick it to them by landing my routines like I did in the old days, this time behind the mic.
When they whine and complain, trying to covet the things I have rightfully earned, I will land on two feet behind the mic which in the end that doesn’t lie. I know I can do that. I have in the past and will again. My work speaks for itself and there is nothing to fear except falling on your face. Even when that happens you get back up and keep moving only to land it the next time leaving everyone in awe and shutting them up.
I learned all these lessons about being a little have to with a heart of a lion from a mere basement dance studio in Pittsburgh and have carried them with me. Rest assured, this is just the warm up pass people. My hardest is yet to come. This is not the end of the show but just the beginning.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy my next trick.

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