My mom made me take dance lessons from the ages of 2 to 15. I started actually enjoying them in 1991, the year Michael Jackson's Dangerous album came out. I was 8, taking Jazz and Tap classes at the Wissahickon Dance Academy in Philadelphia.
I knew lots of people in the classes at Wissahickon. My mom took adult Jazz lessons with the other “old ladies,” as she put it. My best friend took intermediate Jazz with me (even though she had two left feet). And so did my ultimate frenemy from school, S.
S and I had a very peculiar breed of friendship – one based on competition and jealously. I’d buy MC Hammer pants, and she’d have to get a more expensive pair. If she wore a brand new Cross Colors outfit to school, I had to outdo her with an even hipper ensemble. And when it came to boys, there was only one guy for us. His name was Ian and he was the cutest boy in 2nd grade – and maybe even all of Greene Street Friends School. So and I raced during recess – to the gate and back – and whichever girl won “got to be his girlfriend.” I had long, gawky limbs, which came in handy: I dusted her.
When it came time for the Wissahickon Dance Academy recital, our amazing Jazz teacher Leon had a vision: Good vs. Evil. The entire Jazz company danced in vignettes to two songs: The Pressure by Sounds of Blackness and Will You Be There by Michael Jackson. In our dance to first song, “Evil” kills “Good” and the world is a mess. Leon, perceptive as he was, cast S and I as leaders of two warring gangs (think Beat It, except swap the actual gang members for 8-year old Quaker School girls). In the second song, “Good” resurrects herself and shows “Evil” that he too has love inside of him (in the form of a skin tight white unitard).
I keep coming back to the final portion of the dance.
Evil is now wearing that white unitard, and he’s realizing his power for good. He’s doing these incredible leaps and spins across the stage, as the rest of the company configures behind him in a diamond shape. We’re actually all wearing white unitards, marching and doing simple hand movements in unison.
When I watch the VHS tape of the performance, I can always pick out my mom because her arms are 10X longer than everyone else’s. And I can always see my best friend, because she’s a few beats behind everyone else. And S, my frenemy, she’s easy to spot, because she's dancing right next to me.
And then there’s the presence of my childhood. That’s easy to find too. It’s spoken by Michael Jackson:
In Our Darkest Hour
In My Deepest Despair
Will You Still Care?
Will You Be There?
In My Trials
And My Tribulations
Through Our Doubts
In My Violence
In My Turbulence
Through My Fear
And My Confessions
In My Anguish And My Pain
Through My Joy And My Sorrow
In The Promise Of Another Tomorrow
I'll Never Let You Part
For You're Always
In My Heart.
With MJ’s last words, the song ends. We configure in our final pose, and bow our heads.
I'm now 26. I have a “real” job, a couple bank accounts, a heart that knows how to ache, stress-related muscle spasms in my shoulders, and beer in my fridge. My mom is older. My best friend is married. My frenemy's father recently died. And now, so too has Michael Jackson.
We configure in our final pose, and bow our heads. Childhood is over. But never forgotten.