I was in aqua satin, literal tap pants, with a matching top hat. It was my first musical, and I thought they all would be this fun, with as many chorus scenes and dance routines and costume changes. After 42nd Street, other shows were a dragging letdown of waiting for the principals to finish.
But I was still 14, and while I was a little awkward about sitting on a strange boy’s shoulders and chest, I also didn’t care enough to be embarrassed, about how heavy I might be, or how nervous he might be of being able to lift me. I just wanted to shine, to dance and be Baby, but in a tapping crowd.
“My strength is in my legs,” he said. He was older, maybe a senior, maybe named Mark, maybe a swimmer. He was tall, and I was pleased to have been paired with a tall partner. I tried to figure out why he was telling me this. He said something about how he could lift anything with his legs. There was a moment when I wondered, “Am I supposed to go on about how I’m sorry for my weight, apologize, agonize? What does he want from me?”
Either he explained more, or my 14 year old brain, refusing to apologize for a body I enjoyed, found another path — he wanted permission to allow me to sit on his shoulder as he crouched for the lift, rather than expecting him to pluck me up with his arms and place me in position. I was a bit confused, because it seemed so obvious to me that I would sit, and the “lift” was actually a stand. But as a 14 year old girl who had never lifted anything or anyone very impressively, I thought things were obvious that may not have been obvious to an 18 year old boy surrounded by cultural expectations of his upper body strength.
He seemed satisfied with our negotiation, and he crouched, and I sat, and he stood, and I flew.
Most of the negotiations I would have with future dance partners would be so much more tedious, so much more full of angsty self-doubt, and so much less effective. The more I followed the script I thought was expected of me, to be self-deprecating, to offer solutions, to speculate on my partner’s problems...the less my partner and I found our meeting point, and the less I flew.
There is something beautiful about a bit of arrogance, a bit of selfishness, tempered with a wary tongue. If you don’t rush to don accusations, or throw out suggestions, if you stand still, listening with cocked head and quizzical eyes, secure and content in your own borders, the insecurities of your partner may show themselves for what they are, defenses rather than offenses, and the knots of your problem may fall loose at your feet.