I made it! A day off couldn't be more in order. I don't think I have a strut kick, bell ring, block accent, big wheel or shine out left in my body. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, but sometimes you just need a day to recuperate with a good book, knitting needles, tea, some television, good food & perhaps some freepeople.com. (Retail therapy. Yum. :)
So, my first year as a Rockette. I was just 18 years old, one of 12 new girls in a line of 18 women. I w
as the only new girl who, aside from having to learn a whole brand new show, had to also be a bear in the Nutcracker scene. (In the first act, there is a Nutcracker scene where Clara dances with big teddy bears. I was one of three big panda bears who dance the Chinese dance.) The way the bear costumes work, you put on a gigantic bear head, it secures with a chin strap, & you see out the nose of the bear, which is made from foam. But you can hardly see anything.
There are three colored lights at the edge of the stage, & asides from those three lights, you can't see much else. The feet are gigantic furry bear feet, maybe 2 or 3 times bigger than your own, with jazz sneakers inside them, that you put on & Velcro the bear feet closed over the jazz sneakers. At this point in time we were in tech rehearsals on stage at the Fox Theater in Detroit & there were tons of cameras everywhere because Fox was filming us for a documentary on the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in Detroit.
This was my very first time in my bear head & feet, on the stage with the big set pieces & the lighting. The stage is set so that we look very small, we're dancing under a gigantic Christmas Tree, surrounded by big, beautiful gifts. I was incredibly nervous because of how little I could actually see from within the giant panda head. (I mean these pandas must have been sumo wrestlers in their off season...) So, we scurry on to the stage from between two of the enormous gift box set pieces, & do our cute little panda dance. All I have left to do in order to successfully complete Operation: Panda is to scurry back upstage between two different gift boxes & off of the stage. Simple enough...right?
CRASH! (not simple for me) I turned upstage & ran directly into a set piece so hard that I bounced off it & landed on my back. & if that wasn't bad enough, I had ran into the set so hard that I had knocked my chinstrap lose so that the bear head had turned 90 degrees & was now looking over my right shoulder, leaving me completely blind, wriggling around trying to get upright like a turtle on it's back...Good one Shu. Keep in mind, Nutcracker is continuing around me, I'm in complete darkness, & all I can hear is Dance of the Mirlitons. (reed-flutes) So after what seems like an eternity, I manage to make it to my feet. I'm sure at this point, there's a small army of confused bears in tutus & pointe shoes trying to dance the Waltz of the Flowers while avoiding the disoriented, skinny little girl with the sumo panda head.
If I had any brains at 18, I would have simply turned the head, or better yet, removed it completely and exited stage left as fast as possible. Unfortunately, I did not do that. Instead I chose to leave the big bear head on, cockeyed, so I was still blind, & attempted to scale the large set piece obstructing my get away, like a mime. Until I found the edge, pulled myself around it, falling for a second time as soon as I got off stage. Only then did Dennis, our director, stop the scene to come over the microphone, gasping for breath in a fit of laughter, to ask if I was okay. Fortunately, that little incident didn't make it into the documentary.
It wasn't necessarily funny at the time (to me at least) but now it's one of my favorite stories to tell. I was 99% sure I was fired. Dennis was 99% sure that was the funniest thing he may have ever seen, but nope, here I am, seven years later. Still making ridiculous mistakes every so often. What can you do? I think as long as I don't keep making the same mistake, I'm doing pretty good. You fall down. You get up. The tough part is just letting go & moving on. (on & off stage) Your never going to give a perfect performance, there will always be something to improve on. Take note of your mistakes, don't dwell on them, & keep moving. Don't let those devastating "I wish the floor would swallow me whole right now" mistakes get the best of you, chances are, they'll make great stories later on. (& maybe prove useful to someone else. That story always makes an overwhelmed, frustrated new Rockette laugh. It also still makes some of the girls who've heard it over & over laugh. :) I don't mind people having a laugh at my expense, I do silly stuff all the time.) Being wrong & strong is better than not being anything at all.