Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dance teachers do not go gentle into that good night...

(Thanks to Dylan Thomas, the poet, for contributing to my title today.)

When you say the word "marathon" in our family, it means one thing. And it isn't the one you are used to.

For many years even before I was born, the yearly marathon was a dance recital that was indeed, very marathon-ey.  Three and a half hours for three consecutive nights marathon-ey.  You see, me, my mom, all my sisters, and 5 of my nieces all spent copious amounts of time being taught dance by not just a person, an institution.

Her name was Colleen Collins-Smith.  You had to add the Collins into the name, because she never moved past her maiden personality.  She had a yell that could wake the dead.  Her and her prodigious progeny all taught, demonstrated, choreographed, and showcased themselves over 4 generations on various Utah County high school stages.  Each class was peppered with at least on of her daughters or granddaughters, all standing front and center while the rest of the class bumbled behind.  Each year, the big show ended with line after line of dance classes turning their faces away from the audience, sitting, kneeling, stooping, or standing, to the musical version of The Lords Prayer. The culmination of this finale was when everyone on stage would raise their hands above their head, clasp them together, and then lower them into praying hands, right in front of their chest.  Every year, one smart-alek kid would clap their hands loudly.  They always thought they were the first one to think of it.

I first encounted Colleen when I was 5.  I danced with her for a year, and then spent the next 10 enamored with gymnastics.  When I broke my ankle in 9th grade, I didn't go back to the gym, but headed back to Colleen with my best friend Rebecca (who had been taking from her for a few years.)  My first class we learned a dance called Spanish, and it was set to music from The Nutcracker/Fantasia.  My second class, we learned a dance to Michael Jackson's Bad.  I still to this day know most of the steps to these two dances.

The thing about Colleen's dance classes that you had to get used to were this:

  • No matter how good you were, there would always be a relative of Colleen who was better.
  • The position you were placed in to perform the dance was directly correlated to how much you were liked/appreciated by The Family.
  • You better pick the dance steps up right away, because if you missed one little section, you would be lost. For months. Or possibly forever.  So learn fast.
  • Technique was more of a suggestion than a rule.
There were families within the circle, and families outside the circle.  My first day in class when I returned to dance, Colleen had my mom stand up and introduced her as one of her first students (which was totally true.)  So for a while, I had tiny bit of status.  Or at least I learned dance for a few years.

I ruined all that when I was in 11th grade.  I had been taking dance with Colleen, but also dancing at another dance school on the side (unknown to Colleen, but known to my other teacher, Ann.)  I decided to call in "sick" to class one day so I could sit in on a rehearsal with Ann.  It all went bad, bad, bad.  Colleen called back and got my dad on the phone instead of me and found out I had lied to her.  I admitted my lie in a subsequent phone call and the proverbial crap hit the fan.  In the end, I insulted almost the whole Smith family, and got myself kicked out of the partner dance I'd been chosen to do (I hated it anyway.)  In the end, it was about 2 hours of telephone drama between myself, Colleen, and my mom (who somehow got pulled into the ruckus.  Sorry, Mom!)  At the advice of my teacher Ann, I crawled back into the Smith family's graces enough to finish out the year.  But Colleen never, ever after that looked or spoke to me kindly.  I guess my saying that I no longer wanted to "cater to her son Tye" in our partner dance was unforgivable.

So, what is the point of this post you are wondering?  Colleen, the institution, the unstoppable, the beloved of many, and dreaded by more (she never was my dad's favorite, it seems!), passed away a few weeks ago (don't you love Facebook?)  I heard that she was in good health almost up to the very end.  I'm sure she had been in class up to the very last possible day with her record player, her enormous black bun and all black clothes in attendance.  And while we had our differences, I paused for  moment, and remembered her and her contribution to my life, and to many in my family. 

She may not have been the best dance teacher in the world, but she had heart.  She wasn't afraid to put on a show of recycled choreography from the 70's, 80's and 90's year after year and call it The Big Show.  She wasn't afraid to allow that show to go on for hours and hours over many consecutive nights.  She wasn't afraid to put 14 year old girls in markee-like costumes and make them dance to commercials for Mounds and Almond Joy and call them dances.  She wasn't afraid to yell at the smallest 4-year-old open-mouthed and perplexed grandson to pas-de-bourre a little faster.  She wasn't afraid to put a 29-year-old pregnant mom in a leotard and let her do a solo.  If it was for her one great passion in life - dance - she wasn't afraid.  Even if people made fun and called in a marathon behind her back.  It wasn't any skin off her back.

Rest in peace, Colleen.  I'm sorry for lying to you.  Teenagers do that. Thanks for teaching me dance.


Amy Sorensen said...

Awwww. I didn't know she'd passed away. thanks for the memories you shared! Every once in awhile I see Colette at the library but I am 1,000% certain she doesn't remember me, and I've never been brave enough to try to reintroduce myself. Now that I know all the gory, Becky's-a-dancing-liar details I defintely am not brave enough!!! ;)

Sometimes I let out a particular screech and then I clap my hands over my mouth because I just sounded just. like. coleen.

I'm probably wearing black at the time, too!

Apryl said...

Becky's-A-Dancing-LIAR!!!! Ha ha ha! I'm putting that as your name on every package I send to you from now on.
(PS - Kudos to you for even getting through one dance class. My fear of confrontation, drastic desire to please & utter lack of coordination would have resulted in catastrophe.)

Anonymous said...

RIP Colleen. I can't believe you remember the dances. I don't think of you as a dancing liar. You are loyal and Colleen was scary. I call you the smart and loyal dancer. Thanks for posting this.
Love you, Rebecca