The g-string fit tighter than I imagined that it would. This was about looking cool and deep and it was not working. I wondered briefly what my butt looked like, but I decided that it was best not to check. I looked at myself deep in the mirror in the bathroom. I found that little bit of strength and courage that you have deep down in the pit of your stomach, that is labeled "Use In Case of Emergency." I wasn't going to war or skydiving. I was going to leave my self respect at the door, strap on some spandex, and dance. Dance like I'd never danced before.
I studied the performing arts in school. My degree is in acting but I loved to dance. I don't know if this was because I really love to dance or because I really hate to play sports. Audition season came around, and freshmen weren't allowed to audition for the plays. They were allowed to audition for the dance concert. | wanted to set myself apart from all of the other punks who thought they could walk on a stage or say a line. I wanted to let the faculty know that I was the real deal, triple threat, you better hope I’m not gunning for your role, hard-ass performing arts freshman. Also, as a male I felt I had a deal distinct advantage over the competition. I could lift people and smile while I did it. It also didn't hurt that I would have an excuse, nay, an obligation to talk with the female dancers. College was off to a great start. I was setup to shrug off my lame past of social isolation and complete female rejection like a tattered pair of leg warmers.
I danced. I waited for the cast list. I was offered a role. Not in the main production, but in something called The Charity Dancers. As a well trained drama kid, I puffed my chest out, strapped my dance belt on, threw my pointer finger up in the air like Tony the Tiger and said, "There are no small roles!"
I went to the first day of rehearsal. I was to do a duet to "Hey Big Spender" a cliche, but perhaps there was a new angle that this choreographer was going to take on the number. My partner entered the room. She was a full head and shoulders taller than me, broader and more muscular in every sense. Amazonian. Glacial. My eyes widened considerably as she crushed my hand with her impressive grip. I asked the choreographer who we would be dancing for.
"Convalescent homes. Every Sunday,, for a school year. Let's begin."
And we did. We created a pas-de-deux worthy of Baryshnikov. It was coy. It was powerful. It was deeply deeply erotic. I hung on for dear life. With every lift and carry, I pushed used every last ounce of my strength. When I came home from rehearsal, I soaked my everything and stared up at the ceiling of my dorm's bathroom. "I'll remember dancing for the elderly fondly one day," I thought to myself. We rehearsed every day, and I pretended that I was strong enough for my partner. When the day of the show came, we were given our costumes. Sequins everywhere. This happened eight years ago and I am still finding sequins from that costume. I did not look cool yet.
We performed on a patio surrounded by people taking hits off of oxygen tanks. They loved it. We were a hit. The choreographer pulled me aside. She leveled her eyes at me and put a hand on my shoulder, this was serious business.
"We liked your work out there. We want you to do a solo." A drama kid's kryptonite. "What, everyone looking at me? Well, that's an awful big job, but, of course... anything for the elderly."
We began the next practice.
"My concept is this!" Exclaimed the choreographer as if to an entire corps du ballet at ABT She looked at me in the dance room mirror.
"You, are a chicken. You are happy. You are a happy dancing chicken."
"Wouldn't I be a rooster?" I asked.
"No. Let's begin." I had committed. I had committed every Sunday of my freshman year of college to chicken dancing for the elderly. I reasoned that this could only lead to bigger and better things. Maybe I would move up to modeling clothes at Goodwill for charity, or being a mall Santa. I had committed and I would not let the elderly down.
On the first performance of my solo, the smell hit me first. An elderly home in the slums. Bullet proof glass and flies circulating lazily about food left unclaimed on the tables. The antiseptic of a hospital and the musk of slowly crumbling people. The smell brought back memories of my grandfathers who had passed just a year before. I remembered elderly people sitting in the doorways of the hospice center, watching us as we walked down the hallway, hoping that maybe we were there for them. Dying was lonely business it seemed.
I wanted to dance for them. The choreographer handed me my costume, which I had not previously seen. A white, scoop-necked leotard with a G-string back. White leggings. A set of yellow velour hot pants with a rhinestone belt and a multi-colored chicken tail attached. A beak, and a rubber cockscomb. I was a rooster after all.
I squeezed every inch of my pale, naked, body into the folds of spandex. I looked at myself in the mirror. I wondered how they would see me. Would I look cool? It was just five minutes. Five minutes pass all the time and I don't even realize it. The only difference between this five minutes and any other five minutes is that I will be dancing like a chicken. I made it my mission to pick out the most morose amongst them and make them smile, hell or high water. I strapped on my beak. I adjusted tail.
I became the chicken. I became the happy chicken down on the farm. I shook my tail, I clucked, I flapped my wings. I was movement poetry. I was encompassed the agony and the ecstasy of the human and chicken experience, combined. Most importantly, I stopped caring. I stopped caring so much that all I remember between each turn and leap were the faces of the people in the home. Slow smiles broke on them, then laughter, then before I knew it, they were clapping and hollering. I stood in my final pose sucking air from under my beak.
Somewhere during the flapping and the shaking, I thought, none of these people are thinking about how cool or lame they were their freshman years of college. They are watching someone make a fool out of themselves for their enjoyment. I was proud to be that fool. I was proud to be that fowl.