Sashaying Down Memory Lane

So I finally got around to watching “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” this weekend.  While there is certainly a diatribe to be written about why it took me so long to see such a charming musical, this isn’t that diatribe.

This is a diatribe about dance competitions.  Let me explain how these two things relate:

While watching the movie, I came to this scene.  It is one of the pivotal points of the picture. The Texas A & M Aggies defeated the Texas Longhorns in their yearly brawl. The prestigious alumni of the event plant to reward the seniors with a trip to the titular whorehouse.  This is the song they sing about how excited they are for the night:

As I watched the opening verse of this song, a thought came over me. “I know this song. Where do I know this song from?” I haven’t seen the show, “Aggie Song” isn’t exactly a standard in the Broadway catalog either. I knew it was from my childhood, but I couldn’t fathom how this song about going to sleep with prostitutes would’ve come up.

Then I had the moment of realization: A group of girls in my old dance studio once did a tap dance to this song.

The details quickly came back to me. They wore plaid shirts, cowboy hats, and white pants. Halfway through the song, I kid you not, the gals ripped their pants off, revealing leotards and suntan tights underneath.

I am not entirely sure their ages at the time, but my guess is they were between 14-17 years old. They were the oldest girls in our competition group, while I was the youngest by a margin. If you are unfamiliar with the reality show “Dance Moms” on Lifetime, you probably don’t know that competitive dance is about one step removed from child beauty pageants. In our competition circles, girls would do their routines for a season, dolling themselves up at local and regional events to win a spot in Nationals, held in the redneck mecca, Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

At first, this seemed harmless enough. My sister and I both loved dance and showed a fair amount of promise at it, so when the dance studio decided to form a competition group, we got invites. Even without my two front teeth, six-year-old me was actually pretty cute and I racked up a few trophies with my ballet dance to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from the musical “Oklahoma”.

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The next year though, you will see that the perils of competitive dance were starting to become more apparent. Keeping with the “ballet dances from popular musicals” theme, I did a number to “Meet Me St. Louis”, complete with parasol.

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I hope you can see how much make up I am wearing. This was during the period in the early 1990s where Kentuckians still hadn’t figured out that blue eye shadow should not be slathered on, and instead applied multiple layers of it preferably in a color identical to your outfit. This is also during the time where fire engine red was the lip color du jour, even if it clashed with your naturally red hair.

I look like I am enjoying myself and, at the time, I was. However, there were some far-reaching effects of this year of my life. First, I can’t really watch “Toddlers and Tiaras” or “Dance Moms” cause it is less “let’s point and laugh at the buffoons” and more “there are a disconcerting number of similarities between yourself and Honey Boo Boo.” Second, I can’t own eyeliner and whenever someone tries to apply it on my face, I have some sort of optical seizure. Our dance studio secretary, Miss Eleanor, did our make up for these things and her approach towards the cosmetic arts bore a strong resemblance to Mimi from “The Drew Carey Show”. Imagine a face like that coming at your eye with a sharp pencil and you can see why eyeliner might give a girl the heebie jeebies. By my last year of competition, I was developing into quite the little princess.

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My friend Erin and I did a rather precocious duet to a song called “Polka Dots, Checks, and Stripes”, a children’s music anthem to the importance of individuality as well as the fun one can derive from mixing patterns in your wardrobe.  We actually did remarkably well with the routine, winning our category with ease every time and frequently getting in the top three for overall duets/trios, besting kids much older than us.  In a particularly fitting turn of events, the same dance teacher who thought it a good idea to choreograph a tap dance to a song about men eager to get their procreating on would frequently complain that the other trio of girls our age at the studio got snubbed for their jazz dance to “2 Legit 2 Quit” (Hey Hey!).

This photo was taken at awards, which means it was hours after we actually performed and I still appear to have more make up on than I wore to my senior prom.  I am also wearing a hat with a ribbon hot glued to it.  And that writing on the hat? That is done with sparkly puffy paint.  Please also observe the liberal use of the splatter paint technique too.  And the cuffed jean shorts.  I am a walking tribute to all that is wrong with female fashion in 1993.  Erin is sporting a perm, something she was told to get because our hair needed to match.  There was also quite a hullabaloo around the fact Erin was about six inches taller than me.

The following year, the dance studio broke the two of us up for those very reasons.  Erin was paired with another, taller girl with blonde hair and they did a duet to the Michael Jackson song from the movie “Free Willy”.  In order to find a girl anywhere close to my height, I was forced to partner with a seven year old.  I was 11 at the time.  We did a number to “Wherever We Go” from “Gypsy”.  

You know, the movie about the stripper with a heart of gold?

It was about then that I started to get burnt out on competitive dance.  My mom, who is the absolute antithesis of a stage mom, was also getting tired of the travelling, the costumes, the classes, and having to do things like hot roll her already curly-haired daughter’s hair.  

She drew the line when I was recruited to be in a company number of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.  Less than two years removed from my father passing away, the dance teacher with the Whorehouse tap dance routine told me I was going to play a zombie–effectively a dancing corpse.

My mom was quick to point out the potential psychological harm of making her daughter dress up like a decomposing corpse and prance around so soon after her father’s death and I was demoted to a bat instead.

I quit before I could ever learn exactly what kind of glittery hair and make-up would go with the bat costume.  I also never learned what kind of glittery made-up person I might have turned out to be.

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