“One Nation Under a Groove”
To All My Readers, far and wide, those who have been with me since I began blogging in 2003 and those many of you who have joined my list along the way, I hope you will enjoy this post in the spirit it is intended. It is rather unapologetically…me. Real, perhaps even raw, and as good-naturedly humorous as you know me in person or online. It’s also proof that, in trying circumstances, when we stand our ground, we are often ultimately rewarded in unexpected ways.
When I was a child my father and two of his friends took me to the see The Nutcracker at The Fox Theater in Atlanta. They had spent most of dinner telling me of the Art Deco theater’s magical wonders: the balcony seats under a striped tent straight out of Arabian Nights and the azure blue sky of the ceiling beyond with its twinkling stars and whisps of moving clouds. Nothing could have prepared me for The Fox’s gilded box seats with their Alhambra style arches or its crenelated, castle facade proscenium. The entrance to the ladies’ room with its relief carved and painted depictions of Osiris and Isis looks like a set from some silent era movie about Cleopatra, and the lounge sports rows of velvet cushioned seats in front of mahogany dressing tables with brass sphinxes on the ends and lion footed legs.
Legend has it that The Fox is The Rolling Stones’ favorite US venue. If so, Mick and the boys have good taste. This is a building that feeds my soul. When the ballet began, so did my secret dream of dancing on that stage to the audience under the azure blue sky.
My friend Gail recently asked me what had originally sparked the Middle Eastern influence in my work. I cited my first trip to Cairo when, much to my surprise, I fell in love with Islamic style architecture nearly as hard as I’d long been with all things ancient Egyptian. Trips back to The Fox, however, remind me that it was there that my obsession with ornate detail and the miraculous combinations of compound curves was born.
Last spring, about the time my husband began asking what I wanted for my birthday, The Fox emailed their line up of summer concerts. Chris didn’t have to ask twice about George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. He bought tickets and, much to my usually non-fan-girling surprise, VIP passes for the meet and greet. When I met violinist Joshua Bell last year I choked and couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t sound stupid, but when George stood up and gave me a brief hug, I blurted out with total sincerity “You are my funk hero!”
“ Are we gonna do this?” George asked.
“ Yes, we are!” I replied.
Ok, let’s do this this!”
Photo snapped, moment over, we floated to the Marquis Club for dinner and watched the first act on closed circuit TV. For Fishbone we took our seats on the second row near center stage. Their singer rocked a suit that could have stepped out of Yayoi Kusama installation, and the whole band had the energy to match. Galactic, who followed, was fronted by a singer with a 4 octave range that we were too close to hear from the speakers further back but we could hear above the drums directly from her.
And then it was time.
And then some tiny object, some later said a piece of popcorn, arced from behind us and landed at the feet of the front row. Next thing we knew security was clearing the pit and ordering us to move.
“No,” my husband said.
Management showed up.
“No,” we both said.
“It’s not safe.”
I looked up. No missing chunks of ceiling or speakers. “We’ll take our chances.”
“You want us to bring in the police.”
“Sure,” said my husband.
Atlanta’s finest showed up and told us we’d have to move.
Still we persisted.
Parliament minus George were all on stage, antsy, puzzled, and ready to go. I could feel the tension of the crowd behind us as we stood our ground. The only thing stopping the show from starting was us.
“The fine print on your tickets does not give you license to move us and does not allow for refunds,” my husband countered. Gotta love a man who actually reads the fine print.
We were flanked by staff on my side and cops on Chris’.
If there is one word in the English language I have come to hate, it’s ‘ma’am.’ My husband’s often spoken and respectfully intended “yes, sirs” and yes, ma’ams” aside, when someone I don’t know calls me “ma’am” it’s usually in an irritated tone that precedes their rudely shouting at me what I can’t have or do that I’ve already paid for. “Ma’am” has become customer-service-speak for what an exasperated person in charge is thinking but can’t say when they haven’t been properly trained how to handle difficult situations.
“Ma’am, you have to move further back.”
Emboldened by my husband’s knowledge of their policy and his own refusal to ruin my birthday present, I countered, “Unless you can give us comparable seats to these, we’re not going anywhere.” I was secretly thinking those gilded box seats might not be the worst thing in the world.
As if I had uttered, “Evanesco!” the manager magically evaporated from my left, and APD dematerialized from my husband’s right, George Clinton walked on stage, and the music began. A few of our row mates edged back to their seats though the front row remained clear. We fist bumped the people behind us, who would also have been told to move if we had caved. We were suddenly the front row.
Most people don’t know that I had a brief career as a professional dancer and was studying to become a choreographer before I was a metalsmith. My ankles’ need for frequent ice packs are testament to my classical training a lifetime ago. But to “Flashlight” and “Give Up the Funk” there is only the pure, untamed, and untrained spirit of the toddler who used to throw down in the back seat floor of Evelyn Waldorf’s big Lincoln to Parliament on the AM radio. I spent the whole show dancing.
Then out came the man in the white fun fur pants, the phallic fake nose, and not much else. Though no cars drove on stage and The Mothership did not land (no Bootsy either), this was the over the top, just short of campy, funky show I was expecting. They played for over two hours with no break. It felt like 20 minutes.
Toward the end, Fun Fur Pants Man came down and began inviting a few women up on the stage. As he looked around for the next hopeful, my husband exaggeratedly pointed at me while gently pushing me forward. Fun Fur Pants Man paused, looked like he was going to move on, but instead smiled, extended his hand and helped me up.
There it was: my dream come true. Dancing on the stage at The Fox with George and Co. The very stage on which I have watched Mikhail Baryshnikov, Twyla Tharp, Loreena McKennit, Hiroshima, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eddie Izzard, and many other creative greats, the same stage that has been home multiple times to the most soulful works of my choreographic hero Alvin Ailey.
Stages are a funny thing. From this perspective when the house lights are down, the house tends to be a black hole with illuminated exit signs at the other end of the universe. They are, in short, rather terrifying, a place I associate with butterflies in my stomach and Carly Simon sized stage fright. The Fox’s stage is even stranger because I couldn’t see the exit signs, nor the azure blue sky ceiling, but I could see my husband, iPhone in front of his big grin, videoing my every carefree move. In front of hundreds of people, dry-mouthed, out of breath, and thinking that if objects falling from the ceiling hadn’t killed me, an imminent cardiac arrest just might, I was dancing only for me in absolute joy.
After the show ushers and staff stopped and complimented me, and I ran into a friend who has by now told everyone we both know what she witnessed from the balcony. We ran into the guitar player in the lobby. He gave me a side hug and said teasingly but challengingly, “You weren’t supposed to be dancing like that!”
The enormous elephant in the room at last, but I’d already faced tougher challenges that night like not getting kicked out or arrested.
“Why?!? Because I’m old???”
“No, because we’re the professionals. We get paid to be that entertaining.”
“I was that inspired by what you played.”
He laughed in acknowledgement that there could be no more argument and gave my shoulders a final squeeze.
I never cease to be amazed at how randomly connected life can be. Looking back, life appears to be a chain of intertwining links that form a clear path from one point to the next, but in reality if any one of those links didn’t connect, we would likely be on an entirely different trajectory.
We can only control so much. The rest depends on hope, how we navigate chance, and how we persist.
When the man with the killer abs, cool shades, and fun fur pants calls you up, there is only one thing to do: