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The Road not Taken
Thought for the Fortnight
As the end of the year approaches, it is often a time for us to review the year and think about how it has gone. Some of us take this a step further and think about how our lives have gone.
What would life have been like if we had taken a different decision somewhere along the way?
I don’t undertake this exercise very often. There is little point. Yet once in awhile, it seems to happen anyway. This article is about one such occasion.
West Side Story
Somewhere in the past year was one such moment. It brought a brief sense of sadness. A thought of what might have been.
The trigger was my first trip to a movie in years, due to the inability to do so during lockdown and caution afterwards.
And what a fabulous choice – the remake of West Side Story. I loved the original movie, especially the beginning where an apparently random set of lines slowly morph into New York City. No one who has lived in New York could watch that without a warm glow inside.
But this one surpassed that movie in almost every way. Both the singing and dancing were brilliant. So full of verve. It swept me away to another place.
And it used the City of New York with true originality. If I may offer one spoiler, it even went to the Cloisters, that completely improbable spot at the northern tip of Manhattan that seems to be straight out of medieval France.
We walked out in the great spirit of excitement that a good movie can engender, especially one full of Leonard Bernstein’s music.
Plus, in my case, a pang of regret.
What few people know, even many of my friends, is that I once wanted to be a dancer.
I had gone to dancing school once a week from the age of four until I was nine. It was run by a woman with the exotic name of Madame de la Tour. I was taught to master the five ballet positions and much else about dancing that I have long forgotten.
Most of all, I learned to enjoy the feeling of movement in my body and the joy of working with a rhythm. Even as a child, it made me feel very alive.
When you think about it, I was well trained by the age of nine.
My Lost Career
Although I always loved ballet, I don’t think that is where my dreams took me.
As soon as I saw all the wonderful musicals developed in the 1950s, that is where my heart lay. The King and I, Oklahoma, South Pacific and even Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I had the records and knew the songs off by heart.
I belonged in them. Just give me time. I’ll be there.
Unfortunately – or, in hindsight, fortunately – my life took another turn.
My dancing came to an abrupt end when my family moved from Washington, D.C. to New York City in 1951. I was so busy acclimatising to all the changes that such a move entails that I didn’t even ask about dancing school for about six months. When I did, my mother said that my dancing teacher had told her my body was stiff and I could never be very good.
(Much later, I was told by a dancer friend that being stiff is something any devoted dancer can overcome with a bit of work. No reason to stop a career. But by then, I felt I was on to other things and it seemed too late, although it wasn’t really.)
I moved on, I was good at schoolwork and found many new interests. I did a degree, then another and eventually ended up with a PhD.
I spent my life using my brain – researching and writing. It has been a good life. I loved what I did and still do.
I rarely stop and think about that lost dancing career. And when I do, I think of all the physical pain involved, all the difficult rehearsals and, if successful, the demands of travel which necessarily impinge drastically on family responsibilities.
And, like the little boy who wants to be a footballer, I need to remind myself that the probability of my ever making a success of such a career was very, very small. Most likely, I would never have made it to a company, much less the big screen.
But once in awhile, when I see spirited dancing, I forget all the difficulties. I forget that I am 80 years old and however good my dancing would have been, I would have been long retired.
I want to say, “Wait a minute, I’m supposed to be up there, dancing like there is no tomorrow.”
A version of this article was initially published by SixtyandMe.com
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