Sarasota Magazine’s humor columnist, Bob Plunket (aka Mr. Chatterbox), likes to tease me by calling me a trophy wife. My chance to actually deserve that title came over the phone on a sun-scorched August day from actor and philanthropist extraordinaire Carolyn Michel.
“The Community AIDS Network would like for you to be their celebrity dancer this year.”
“But I’m not a celebrity like you,” I said.
“That doesn’t matter; we’ll give you a title.”
After hemming and hawing, I caved. I mean, how does one say no to Carolyn, who does so much for our community? So began my journey.
I met with the owner of Empire Ballroom, Sid Pocius, a tall, handsome “Certified Professional Dancer.” As I walked into the ballroom a booming, accented voice came from behind the door.
“Hello, can I help you?”
My first thought was: Oh, hi, I’m the celebrity impostor here for a lesson.
After the introductions I was given the obligatory questionnaire to fill out:
Name, Address, Phone number, Who to call in case of an emergency.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Have any of the ‘celebrities’ ever been hurt dancing?”
“Last year,” the Russian accent explained, “my celebrity partner fractured a rib.”
I went through the checklist on what dances I might be interested in performing:
Paso Doble, Cha, cha, cha, Swing, Tango, Waltz, Lindy Hop, Two step, Salsa, Merengue, and Other. I checked Other and wrote in the blank, Jazz.
What Was I Thinking?
The extreme close-up of Sid’s face filled mine, and for the umpteenth time he demanded, “Get your shoulders down, stretch your neck, tailbone over your spine, sternum over heels, arms down.” With a big Russian sigh, “What are you doing with your hands? Quit wobbling… you look like a noodle. Have you been drinking?”
These are some of the criticisms I endured the first week. My goal was to not let Sid, The Draconian Prince (a name I coined), get to me. He would not make me cry like Nancy Grace did on Dancing with the Stars.
Definitely Not Love at First Rock Step
One and two and three and four and rock step. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Kick on odds, bounce with thighs together, forward side, back side, hold strength with my stomach, bend back on four counts, swing right leg, get up on left foot. What?!!
Show Me the Money
Around the second week I signed the “Student Enrollment Agreement.” All it meant was my first 10 free lessons were up.
“How do you want to pay?” I was asked.
I’m not good in math, but I can multiply. “I’ve only had six one-hour lessons,” I said.
“No,” the accent explained. “You’ve had 10 lessons. They are based on 45 minutes and are $95 each.”
“Oh.” It was too late now to protest. I showed him the money. Note to myself: Don’t do a lot of talking during lessons.
Dorothy Parker wrote: “What fresh new hell is this?” The lifts were very challenging. I learned three advanced moves. One, Sid spun me upside down and onto his back. My legs were wrapped around his waist. The second lift, I tumbled across Sid’s shoulders. The third, he said, “Grab my arm and drop to the floor face first.”
“Seriously?” I said. “Would you dive face first onto the floor?”
“Yes, just do it.”
Like a human Slinky, I dropped to the floor, face first.
The possibility of failing was beginning to sink in.
I worried about my dance shoes not being supportive enough and that my ankle would snap.
I worried that my body posture was all “noodles”—was it because of my shoes?
I worried I was going to screw up my count.
I worried about which way I should turn and on what foot.
I worried I’m not coordinated.
I worried I was going to die from embarrassment, humiliation, and possibly from my arms being torn from their sockets.
I worried if we had enough time to accomplish the routine.
I worried I would not find the right dress to fit my body.
I felt my heart drop to my knees when I got out of the car and saw Jackie Rogers (co-chair of CAN Dance) and videographer Jim Flynn waiting in the Empire parking lot.
No, please, dear God, don’t tell me it’s video day!
The video, an interview and demo of what the dance contestants have learned thus far, is shown on a gigantic screen at the event. Unless you’re a convict, or you want to look like a warthog piglet in a striped blue-and-white T-shirt, my advice to the next “celebrity” dancer is to avoid horizontals—which was exactly what I happened to be wearing that day. Thinking the CAN Dance officials would give me advance notice, I had picked a sexy, off-the-shoulder Flashdance dancewear for this occasion; it was at home in my closet. I begged the video people to come another day, but to no avail.
OK, I did take some liberties as I was about to bestride my dance partner’s lap. It was our first full run through the first half of what I had learned, with music. The move was to circle around the chair in which he sat, wait until he pulled me down on his lap, bend back, kick one leg in the air, come up on four counts and spread my legs, ending up on the other side.
“Ready, baby,” I said in my most desirable voice.
“Don’t call me ‘baby,’” Sid snapped. “Call me ‘instructor’ or call me by my name.”
I’ll admit I’m a tad older than he is—OK, the truth is he could be my son, but still, dancing is acting, right? I’m supposed to ooze sensuality. Derek Hough and Ricki Lake (who, by the way, is twice Derek’s age) were simulating lovers on Dancing with the Stars; she called him “baby” all the time. How did I end up with mean Max?
The Red Dress
I don’t really know if I chose the dress or it chose me. I walked into the studio and there it was, first in line hanging with other dance costumes on a rack. With a few alterations in the chest area (way too big), the red fringe dress with the plunging back, gloves and fringe necklace was mine (to rent) for the performance. It was one of the things I could scratch off my list. How do you spell a sigh of relief?
Social night is a champagne reception at Empire to sign up new members and a gathering of people who take dance lessons from the instructors. I was asked to do a full dress rehearsal performance of our routine. With the exception of the fringe not landing where it was supposed to during the lifts, and getting slightly kneed in the head at the end of the routine, it went fairly well. For the first time I thought, Wow, I think I can do this!
Sid told me I must get a spray tan. I was advised to exfoliate and to arrive wearing no make-up or body lotions, perfume or deodorants and to wear old clothes and underwear. The very young woman in charge walked me through what I needed to do. I got almost naked (I decided to keep on my tiny thong) and put the plastic shower cap on. She applied hand cream to my fingers and toenails. I stepped into the booth and felt the very cold, tickly swoosh of mist being sprayed over my skin.
In a detached tone the young lady said, “Bend over so I can get the creases under your butt.”
The meet-and-greet brunch for fellow dancers took place the day of the event at the Chelsea Center. Afterwards, the “celebrities” and their professional partners performed their technical rehearsal on the dance floor. I was up against some stiff competition, but I realized that over all those days of agony, I had unraveled the mysteries and plot of the jazz/swing movements, and the sadomasochistic commands had become routine. It was at this point I could congratulate myself on what I had left behind—a wiggly noodle figure—and emerge ready for competition.
The drama I had lived through was almost over. It all came down to this flash on the dance floor. For two minutes and 30 seconds I had to produce. Sid and I didn’t verbally communicate, but it was a feeling; it was electric. I heard our names being called, and I was out on the dance floor surrounded by hundreds of people. My chosen music, All That Jazz, began, and my body started to move. I got lost in the dance, spinning, strutting, soaring through the air with intoxicating speed, completely in a state of ecstasy. Finally I was having fun!
After everyone had performed, the judges announced their decision. Sid, the genius with a cool edge and extraordinary choreography, had molded me into the winner of CAN Dance 2011! I left not only with the trophy, but also with a beaming husband and a new title: Trophy Wife. It felt fantastic to hear people say, “You deserved it,” or “I knew you’d get it.” I had pushed my body and mind to new frontiers—an accomplishment that I treasured even more than the trophy that was clutched in my hands.
This year’s “Dancing with Our Stars” to benefit CAN takes place Oct. 20 at Michael’s On East. For information call 366-0461.