I had every bad idea. I would waltz across the stage with an imaginary partner to Etta James, ending in my own dip; the bride and groom would sit on chairs while I danced around them in a modern-dance culottes and hippie dress, lip syncing their favorite Broadway love song; I would get up and … well, evidently make a fool of myself. I didn’t have so many bad ideas as I had almost no ideas at all, pondering how to make a decent wedding dance for my dear friends–not a first promenade, not a flash mob surprise, not a processional boogie. A dance as gift.
Six months before the wedding date, when we met up at our usual terrible bar near New York’s Port Authority, Bobby had mentioned how much he had cherished the spontaneous “interpretative dance” I had hammed up at our college reunion in which I reenacted our collegiate years with dramatically mimed gestures and fingers raised to indicate time’s passage. As he reminisced, I thought I heard him yell over Carly Ray Jepson that he was thinking of having me make a dance for his upcoming wedding. His fiancée was with us, and the turn of his head, however, seemed to indicate this was an idea they had not yet discussed, so I said something vaguely noncommittal, like, That would be interesting!
Back in school, when I thought occasionally of his proposal, I had set my dial to Daydream-Create Mode™*–and come up with nothing. Busily making experimental theater for the Motion Lab at the Ohio State University, free to contextualize exegetically at will, I kept coming back to the age-old artist’s question: What could I make that wouldn’t be terrible?
May approached, the wedding a month away, and the dance department held its “informance.” At its close, Candace Feck and Melanie Bales, retiring imminently, took the stage on two chairs, facing us. They sat, in silence, looking out. They turned their heads in unison, looked down in unison, and sat back in unison. They lifted their hips as if to walk forward, then suddenly returned seated. We laughed. They folded their fingers and sighed. Suddenly I was in tears. For a few rapt minutes I watched them make small legible gestures that were both pointed and multi-faceted. It was a perfect piece, and our incoming department chair, Susan Hadley, I thought, had made it perfectly for them. I also thought, I found the wedding piece. I just needed permission.
Permission to what? Quote. Borrow. Mimic. Imitate. Copy. Appropriate. Plagiarize … Steal? I had all the relevant synonyms and false antonyms at-hand after spending the previous semester engrossed in questions about agency arising from my solo for Jess Cavender in the risk of having it. I approached Susan with compliments and a question: Could I steal your piece? And of course I would credit you?
Susan explained that she had already employed this same choreography for a number of pairs of people, all with different relationships in different circumstances. She noted that the choreography remained the same for each occasion, but through the magic of gesture in context, each movement seemed to ring true, if differently, in every situation. She gave me permission to take her work and make it my own.
I still doubted whether Bobby and Jess actually wanted me to perform anything at their sure-to-be-tightly-planned love event, but I alerted my date to the wedding that I might be enlisting him in a short dance piece. And then I forgot about it. I was also in the wedding, and those 2.5 days marked the first leg of what was to be a seven-week trip spanning seven states and two countries: excuses. But I did mention to Bobby when I arrived Friday that if he were to want a dance, I had one. Sunday morning as I was beginning to make the rounds for our departure–no dance planned–he said, We’re ready! Everyone wants to see it!
I turned to my date, and asked, Could you do this with me? I’m sorry I forgot, but it would mean so much… please? We asked Bobby and Jess for ten minutes. We secluded ourselves on the patio. I created a series of small movements to a very light mapping of their relationship, remembering Susan’s original, and hoping that our unison and proximity would again carry its own power. We reviewed it, twice. Bobby and Jess brought out all of the guests to the patio, and A. and I sat on a low stone wall in front of a larger standing audience than I had promised my darling, willing, non-dancer date.
We sat and looked down. We looked up and out at our audience. We looked rightward, and front, and leftward. We leaned inward towards each other. And then again. And once more, with a scoot closer. I placed my hand on his lap. He took it. I rose, and he followed. We stepped together. We stepped apart. He stepped away, and I laid my hand on his shoulder. He stepped back. We sat together. We kept moving in unison but for brief moments of divergence. At the very end, sitting close, we reached down to the ground, picked up our glasses, raised two pints, and clinked, a nod to Bobby and Jess’s love of craft beer, and in mimicry of Mel and Candace’s closing champagne flutes.
The bride was crying. The groom’s sister hugged me. The groom’s mother hugged me. The bride and groom hugged me. Everyone hugged A. We all got teary. (They all congratulated A. on his exemplary dance performance.)
Sometimes I feel lost in the “hermeneutics” and “aboutnesses” of art school. I am unsure that dance matters at all, and I wonder if there’s an ugly decadence to my hours in the studio. This wedding dance lends a partial answer to those doubts. Bobby and Jess, and their family and friends, through their tears and attention, reminded me that movement in performance can be deeply affecting.
I am grateful for their invitation, to my brave date, and to Susan Hadley. And I am newly thankful for the time Bobby gave me to ruminate following our little conversation in New York. For a short while I thought that I had made their wedding dance in ten minutes on the patio, or maybe I had crafted it in a month’s time back in Columbus, once I had seen Susan’s original. But I am learning to recognize that my processes reach back further, by necessity. I needed all those months of considering and rejecting bad ideas so I could finally recognize the good one.
With love and gratitude to Bobby, Jess, A., and Susan,
*Kiddin’. That ain’t trademarked.