The light wafted through the windows near the ceiling of Hartwell Hall. It was a chilly February morning, then again, typical for upstate New York. I knew the cold wouldn’t last, once we started rehearsing. I continued to stretch, the tightness familiar in my quads and abductors.
David arrived, long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Hey Ned, sorry I’m a little late. Where’s Marybeth?” He placed the boom box on front of the stage.
“I thought we’re working without her until 8.”
He turned on the music. “Oh yeah.” He smiled, a rarity, and I smiled back. “Keep stretching, warming up. I know it’s cold in here, but we’ll get moving in a minute.” The lush guitar strums of Alex DeGrassi stirred me out of stupor. I sank into my stretching routine: butterfly, hurdler’s, toe touches. Don’t bounce! Remember to breathe! There was so much to learn.
I’d auditioned for David on a whim. I’m a business major, have no clue what I‘m going to do with that. I took a dance class spring semester thinking it would be fun. The instructor, Santos, asked me to stay after one day.
“How’s it going?” he said.
I nodded. “Considering I feel way out of my league, fine.” Lame attempt at a joke.
He grinned. “You’re doing great. I was wondering if you want to take a look at this.” He handed me a flyer announcing the auditions for the Spring Student Dance Concert.
My heart started beating a little faster. There was a list of choreographers.
“But, I don’t know any of these students.”
“Might be good for you to work with David West? He’s patient, and like you, he didn’t come here for dance. Found his way to Hartwell, too.” Santos smiled.
I folded the flyer and stuffed it into my sweatpants pocket. “Thanks, Santos. “
The day we’d auditioned, I wasn’t feeling my best. I thought I would hurl when I found out that we’d be auditioning in tights. I wore them under my sweats, just in case. A friend, Marybeth, who I’d met in Santo’s class was also auditioning for David’s piece and she told me: wear tights. But my legs looked extra scrawny, and I was already self-conscious, like a fish out of water. About halfway to Hartwell, I nearly turned around, head back toward Main Street. I’d sit at Connor’s Corners and lament to Wally, the owner. But something made me plod on.
After a quick warm-up, David had us form odd shapes, again, then again. He’d stand back from the group (there were about twenty of us auditioning, and I was happy that only six of them were male, including me) assessing us. Folded arms, his deep-set eyes scrutinizing every move . His piece, he told us, was for one man, one woman. I thought they called it a duet, but I wasn’t sure if the same rules applied for modern dance. Were there any rules? I marked my way through the movement, hoping that my feigned enthusiasm might score points. I tried to imitate Marybeth, who’d advised me well.
“During warm-up, choose the best dancer, and place yourself behind him or her. I heard that Jamie Bell is auditioning. He gets cast for everything, so watch him, follow his cues.”
I grunted, groaned, sweat like a mule. I gave it my best effort. I’d watched the Sarajevo Olympics the evening prior, and some athlete said, after winning gold, “I just wanted to leave it all out there, on the ice. No regrets.” That had inspired me, and I thought if I could, just give it everything I had, even if I wasn’t the “right dancer” for David’s work, I’d feel okay about myself afterwards.
Easier said than done. I was good, maybe even slightly better than good, when we were twenty strong. Then David pared us down, first to ten, then six. Three guys, three girls. So far, Marybeth and I made the cuts, we were still in. But so was Jamie Bell, the 5’11, sandy blond senior with his wavy hair tied high on his head, wearing a peacock blue unitard, a slim leather necklace tied elegantly around his neck. I wanted to get this now more than ever. David paired us in every combination possible, we worked singly and doubly. Dizzyingly, over, and over. Suddenly we were done.
“I’ll post the results in three days, with the rest of the choreographers. Thanks for a great audition,” David said. He didn’t look at me. Not once.
Marybeth moseyed over while I was pulling my sweats on. “You surprised me, Ned.” She wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. “You kicked some serious butt for a business major.”
I chuckled. “Thanks, you were fantastic. And I appreciate all your help before and during this. You’ll get cast.”
She shrugged. “It’s a crapshoot. Always is. I’m not gonna obsess about it, that’s for sure. Hey, what are you doing now? Want to get some coffee at the Union?”
I pulled on my boots, stood up. “That sounds great,” I said.