I went to college for dance. It was a great program that I had a lot of problems with. You were weighed in… a lot. And your weight affected everything from your ballet grade to your scholarship. I’ll let you think of that what you will.
Some of the professors really pushed the weight thing, some tried to stay in the back of it, but only one teacher really fought it.
He was a tap teacher and a really fantastic human being. Not only did he manage to inspire confidence and perfectionism all at the same time. He also genuinely cared about his students.
There was a legend about him at school. I can’t prove how true it is, but I do believe every piece of it.
There was a girl who had come to the school as a fantastic tapper, but she had natural hips and wasn’t built like a board. So the weigh-ins pushed her and pushed her until she became really badly anorexic. It had time for adjudication, and she went in to meet with the entire dance faculty.
The department head complimented her on how much her turns had improved, the girl said, “Yes, but I’m not eating.”
The department head said she needed to work on her arabesque, the girl said, “I’m not healthy. I’m not eating.”
The other teachers looked disturbed at what the girl was saying, but the department head kept rattling on about ballet technique and working on her turn out while the girl said, “I’ve only eaten two Oreos in two days.”
Finally, the girl got up and left. I’m sure some of the teachers tried to bring up the fact that the student was clearly in trouble after she was out of the room, but the tap teacher followed the girl out.
And asked her what she wanted to be. Did she want to be a ballerina or did she want to be a tap dancer like Debbie Reynolds? The girl said she wanted to be like Debbie Reynolds. The tap teacher said that Debbie Reynolds had hips and nobody cared. Talent was talent, no matter the size.
He walked the girl out of the building and bought her a steak dinner. I can’t even imagine how pissed off the head of the department was when he ditched the rest of the adjudication day and fought her on the girl’s weight. But I don’t think he cared. The student was more important than being patted on the head for being a good little faculty member.
That wonderful tap man passed away last week. He was a fantastic teacher, performer, and member of the artistic community. He will be sorely missed by all the people whose lives he touched.
But he made a difference. He impacted lives. And isn’t that the most any of us can ask for?