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~ And you are? ~

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When I tell people I’m a dancer, the general reaction is something like, “Wow! Really? That’s cool!” Followed by something along the lines of, “Must be nice doing what you love for a living!” Followed by something like, “I love Dancing with the Stars/So You Think You Can Dance!” Then there are those who immediately picture a G-string and a pole, like border crossing agents, M (when we first met), and other guys, in general.

It is cool being a dancer. I mean, how many dancers does the average person know? And how many of those dancers are contemporary dancers? To put things in perspective, if I draw a Dancer Pyramid based on income, it typically goes ballet dancers at the top, then commercial dancers (commercials, music videos), then contemporary dancers, then dirt. Broad generalizations, but you get the picture.

I’m always surprised when someone shows no reaction to, or interest in, the fact that I’m a dancer, which, in my opinion, reveals more about them than me. Humph, I think to myself, one of those! Or I’ll get the hairy-eyeball, and quickly add, “Oh, I don’t perform anymore,” to somehow justify my non-dancer physique. Sometimes I’ll also get a whiff of sarcastic resentment like, “Must be nice doing what you love for a living.” To which I want to reply, “You don’t have to judge me. I’m a dancer. I can judge myself!”

About this judgement thing…

I really envy people who manage to do things – without embarrassment, excuses or apologies – because they want to or need to, or simply because they’re curious. Whether it’s transitioning to another career, going back to school, travelling, adding a part-time job, taking time off, getting help, trying something new or making the most of what they have.

A year ago, I started filling my downtime with catering gigs. I can talk about my curiosities in event planning, the food and beverage industry, running my own business, etc., but mostly it was a convenient way to bump up my income, while accommodating my dance schedule and taking care of my dad.

I consider myself lucky to have begun my dance career in the late 80s, when contemporary dance was thriving in Canada. I’ve travelled across the country, toured the States and Scotland, danced in grand and not-so-grand theatres, and had profound experiences performing with, and for, some of the country’s most prolific dance makers and artists. Some people think I was a damn fine dancer! I’m also lucky, because I was able to sustain a performing career without relying on other jobs. Most contemporary dancers can no longer do that, nor can those of us working freelance in non-performing dance activities – like teaching, choreographing or rehearsal directing – especially if we also want/need dedicated time with family and life, in general.

It’s been an interesting journey into the food/event service industry where, for the most part, my experiences with clients, chefs, co-workers and guests have been pleasant. There have been some incidents but certainly nothing crazier than what I’ve experienced in the dance world. Egos, entitlement and unpleasantness exist in all industries, and I definitely learn a lot about people in this one. I did have a couple of encounters recently that inspired me to write this post.

I was at a catering gig, standing in the lobby awaiting guests. Suddenly, a guy and gal I went to grade school and junior-high with walked through the door. They weren’t together, they just randomly walked in at the same time! What are the odds? I’d always wondered what it would feel like if I had to serve people I knew, and I was about to find out. I approached the gal, who immediately lit up and called out my name as we gave each other a hug. She asked me how I was doing, if I was still dancing and writing. I asked her what she was doing these days etc. – all good, nothing weird at all. The guy had disappeared and when I saw him again, I was standing in front of him with a tray of appetizers. He went in for a double air kiss and after an initial, “Oh my God! How are you?” and some blah, blah, blah, we were done.

Afterwards, I was a little jarred from the encounters, wondering what my former schoolmates were thinking of me, serving them food at a reception all these decades later. But then I realized I was the one who was judging me. But why? After a lifetime of trying to explain what I do for a living, I know full well how impossible it is to encapsulate it all in the span of a double air kiss and a few niceties. And if someone thinks they know me, based only on an apron and a platter of sliders, again, doesn’t that say more about them than me? Why should I sweat it? I’m still me doing all of the things I do – some I love, some I want and some I need to do.

So, it really wasn’t the worse thing that could happen. A worse thing would be the experience of the 80-something year-old gentleman I met at a Bar Mitzvah on the weekend, who was imprisoned in an Auschwitz death camp at age 11. He somehow survived that horror and, following the liberation, moved to Israel and then to Toronto, where he’s lived for more than 45 years raising children and grand-children, and eventually writing a book about his story.

As we stood in the middle of the boisterous and extravagantly decorated hall, he easily welled up and told me his name and the title of his book, before being whisked away by the mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy. He made such an impact on me that I googled him when I got home, and ever since then I’ve been thinking about the people we meet, and how we meet, and our stories, our victories and failures, our encounters, the stuff we endure, the stuff we can’t even imagine and on and on.

I suppose I could have met this man under different circumstances, but as it was there we were, at a coming of age celebration, a Holocaust survivor and a dancer/writer/server, chatting by the salads and cold cuts, on an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon.

~ crickets… crickets… ~

I spent 20 minutes on the phone yesterday talking with dad about sex. To be clear, it wasn’t a generic chat about characters in a movie or flirting or attraction, it was, quite frankly, DAD very specifically telling ME how infatuated he’d become with a woman he’d just met, and how much he wanted to “fuck her.”

Yup. Just typing these words makes my head want to explode, so you can imagine the discomfort I experienced yesterday—the twisting and contorting of all my insides—as dad breezily chatted away about being “a man who needs a little hanky panky.”

Dad’s filter has definitely been affected from his stroke. Not surprising, since such a large mass of his brain was damaged. Even so, he’s usually his polite, well-mannered self. But every now and then, out of the blue, he’ll pull out this gem, when a guy wearing too much cologne walks onto the elevator: “YOUR GIRLFRIEND MUST REALLY LIKE THAT COLOGNE!”

Then there’s church. We’ve never been a church-going family, but dad’s spiritual/religious beliefs have surfaced in the last couple of years, so now we go. Just me, my sister and dad. It’s actually rather pleasant. Everyone is super friendly and not too “churchy,” but the 1 ½ hours would definitely go by quicker if I understood what they were saying. Unlike most kids of Korean parents, we weren’t expected to learn Korean growing up. Of course, I regretted it as soon as I cared about such things, but as a kid I couldn’t care less. So now I sit there in church, discreetly stretching my IT bands and glutes, planning my classes, making grocery lists and, every so often, praying.

It’s always in those particularly quiet church moments when dad decides to say something to me. Be it his unpredictable filter and/or his diminished hearing, but his volume is usually a couple of notches too high, despite the fact that I’m sitting right beside him. This nugget cut through a lull in the pastor’s dramatic sermon the other day: “HONEY, MY GROIN AREA IS ITCHY!”

In many ways, I’ve been in training for the “sex” conversation with dad ever since the stroke. Honestly, with everything I’ve done for and experienced with him, a frank chat about sex on a Monday morning shouldn’t rattle me.

The initial impact subsided quite quickly. Then, I gathered my organs, put my head back together and went on with my day.

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