My First Year Not as a White Marsh Skater.... (et al)
It seems that spring has finally sprung in Maryland. (I say that now. Next week, we'll have a foot of snow! 'Tis Maryland....) Yesterday, Bobby and I both took off from work since we'd been out late the night before. We went hiking on the McKeldin trails again, basically the same hike as last week, but this time we knew where we were going and we chose trails that kept us alongside the water at all times. It was perfect hiking weather: in the low 80s F, with no humidity, and just a bit of a breeze. In a few weeks, we'll be getting into the 90s F with 100% humidity and "Code Red" air warnings...then hiking is out of the question; it's uncomfortable if not dangerous. So we eke what we can out of this time of perfect weather.
Today I went to the skating show of my old skating group, the group where I started skating fourteen years ago.
White Marsh Skating will always have a special place in my heart; in a lot of ways it was White Marsh Skating--particularly my first teacher Ms. Jackie (who is my teacher again, after a lot of years)--that gave me a lot of the confidence I have today, particularly in my physical abilities. Before I started skating, I believed myself incompetent physically...not only incompetent but hopeless. At an age and in an era where physical prowess was somewhat prized and largely a determining factor in a kid's popularity--kids who can always kick a homerun on the kickball court were prized friends--it was no secret that I (to be blunt about it) simply sucked.
There were adults in my life who took every opportunity to make sure that I--and all of my peers--were aware of this fact.
White Marsh Skating taught me differently; it taught me that it was the adult's problem--not mine--however cruel and ruinous that person had been to me. I quickly ascended to the top of my class; I was prized as a "natural" by Ms. Jackie, and by my fifth year, I was a soloist.
It was always in the back of my mind--as I watched other skaters grow older and go to university and quit skating--that I didn't think I possessed the will to leave my skating group. I simply loved it; I lived for the weekend of the show, for the weeks of rehearsal preceding it. I would tease my fellow skaters that I wanted to skate until I was ninety, with wheels on my walker instead of tennis balls.
Then Ms. Jackie "retired" and her assistant took over, and the little problems that had always irked me became magnified until they shadowed the joy I felt when skating at White Marsh. Take their tendency to wax the floors a few weeks before the show: on rollerskates, a freshly waxed floor is like ice. In a sport where most of a performer's success relies on her ability to catch and hold an edge, we would land jumps and have our feet slide out from beneath us. I remember rehearsing once, going into a set of successive three turns, and I fell hard, tearing up my knee. They had waxed the floor "for the show" because the lights looked nice on it. Yes, I said--with a rage against the "powers that be" that shocked and dismayed me--and my bloodied and broken body will look nice under those lights too.
Allison, our new instructor, began to care less and less as the years went by. She was climbing the corporate ladder, preparing to get married, ready to start a family. A weekend recreation skating group was the least of her concerns. She would choreograph our routines on the spot; for our "lessons," she let us languish over the same comfortable skills for years on end. We were never challenged, and our advanced specialist number--which had for years been prized for its innovativeness--began to slip too, until it became literally a display of Allison's favorite dance moves from Brittany Spears' music videos. I only wish I was kidding. We were the group that had done Chorus Line and Riverdance and Will Roger's Follies...and last year, we spent our four minutes in the spotlight rehashing to N'Sync's "Dirty Pop "moves Allison had learned in her aerobic dance class.
Last year was also the year that Ms. Jackie came out of retirement to start a freestyle skating club for those of us
Going back to White Marsh today, I wasn't sure how I would feel. Would I miss it, walking in the door and seeing the ticket collectors and the kids zipping up and down the hall on skates, feeling the nervous anticipation of standing in my space on the floor beneath the blue and pink floorlights, under the heat of the spotlights? The look of the audience: those familiar faces where you look for confidence. The backstage rooms, smelling of damp chiffon and makeup and spray-on glitter...would I miss it?
I sat and watched the entire show with my fingernails in my palms, feeling that thrill of anxiety before a big jump or spin, that moment of narrowing your focus to forget the audience, the lights, your itchy costume: breathe, prep, think. And the thrill of success...or the disappointment of "messing up," of two-footing a landing or slipping on a spin. And then the mentality of moving on, of looking to the next skill, of wiping clean your mind to all thoughts of failure.
(I only fell once in a show, at the age of thirteen, on a forward spiral. My spirals are prized by even excellent skaters. To go down, literally, flat on my face...I remember bawling backstage afterward. I didn't even come out of it with a bruise, but that hurt worse than any fall I've had since.)
I waited to miss it; I waited for the longing, the nostalgia...and it didn't come.
Upon walking in, my first thought: The stage is that small? How did I skate upon it?
Even skaters who I know are excellent looked stilted and slow. Skills look smaller there.
And the advanced specialist group has degraded. Advanced specialist was always the only "invitation only" class. No one should expect to be moved into AS. But Allison changed that policy so that anyone in university was automatically placed in AS, meaning that skaters who really didn't belong would be moved up. I remember resenting these girls for holding us back and going to lunch between shows last year, and one of them blushingly admitted to feeling ashamed in our class. "I don't belong here. I know it." My resentment died and with it came a great feeling of regret at my own snobbish foolery, as though I thought they liked being obviously inferior any more than I did.
When it was over, I was thankful that I'd been given the chance to move on. The show was enjoyable and I was proud of my peers, many of whom I've skated with for years and whom I hope to skate alongside for many years more. As I type this now, they are getting ready to perform again. I can see how it must be: trotting along with skate covers shoved up around your knees to check your makeup in the bathroom; pinning each other's costumes into place; lending tights, safety pins, lipstick, hairspray; waiting with held breath for your classmate to come back from her solo. How did you do? And her relieved smile breaking: I did okay.
Or--fortunately rarely--comforting the one who fell; there is always another number, another show, another chance.
I walked out last year with my costumes tossed over my shoulder, listing with the weight of my skate bag, alongside my patient husband who goes to every show. I didn't look back.