Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Baseball and Dancing: The Parades Pass Me By!

Years and years ago there was a marvelous lady in a Texas town who was a fixture and institution. She ran a dance studio that produced a yearly extravaganza seen by several thousand people. Her productions were in place of the traditional dance recitals that most dance studios do to show the development of students. But Dixie Dice was different. She was an institution, a cultural icon that transformed that Texas Town into Broadway Central at least once a year.

Every summer she would go to New York and see virtually every Broadway show, returning full of ideas for shows, borrowing a little from this and a little from that. She would write the scripts, cast the parts, and manage to involve every dance student in chorus lines, chorus scenes, and/or roles that moved the plot along.

I knew nothing of Dixie Dice when I began playing softball at the tender age of six. I went from position to position, playing third, and then finally settling in as a catcher because I had a strong and accurate arm and could throw runners out at second.

When I was about seven, a new kid joined the team. His name was Jimmy Hobbs, and Jimmy could pitch a softball so hard, it knocked me over when I first tried to catch him. Jim was strong, and I was impressed. I asked him about it.

"Dixie Dice," he said.

"What's that?" I blurted out, not sure I had heard him correctly.

"I take dance lessons with Dixie Dice."

"DANCE??!!??" I was flabbergasted. This is about the only time I have ever used that word, but it seemed to me at that moment Jimmy was possibly insane.

"Yeah, come along with me. I go every Saturday."

So I went with him to the Dixie Dice Dance Studio, and she loaned me some tap shoes. First we warmed up with exercises to make us more flexible and stronger. Then we started with flap-step routines up and down the studio, gradually increasing the tempo and adding music. Then we learned shuffle steps. I caught on fast. Dixie was impressed.

Now you should know that Dixie Dice was famous not only for her Broadway-style shows, but the local legend was that she had discovered Cyd Charisse who happened to be from our town. The legend was that Dixie Dice had taught her in ballet classes and recognized that she had star talent. All of the biographies seem to start when Cyd is about 12 or 14 and don't mention Dixie, but the legend goes so far as to claim that Dixie was responsible for getting her a start in Hollywood. It may or may not be true, but the point was that everyone in town subscribed to the local legend.

If you have never seen Cyd Charisse then you should be aware that she has been described as the most beautiful dancer ever filmed in Hollywood, and she had legs that were legends unto themselves...

My skills as a dancer over the next few years were increasing literally by leaps and bounds. Dixie's model for me was Donald O'Conner, and it was one of those "anything you can do, I can do better" fantasies that fueled my efforts, along with encouragement from Dixie Dice. If you have seen any of Donald O'Conner's tap routines, then you have an idea of what I was doing at around age ten. Of course, I am sure my fantasies must be mixing with memories to the point that I can't be too responsible, but Dixie seemed to see it and began to plot my career as a child star in Hollywood. Of course, this was the fantasy of just about every mother with a child the age of Shirley Temple. Except that Dixie wasn't my mother...or my father.

Dixie had contacts in Hollywood, and they were willing to see me. So Dixie drives to my house and meets with my parents and tells them that she is 100% certain that I could become a sensational child star. She already had some auditions line up in Hollywood.

My Dad paused and then smiled. He said, "Dixie, we love you, but there isn't a chance in hell that my son is going to Hollywood."

That was that. A promising career nipped in the bud, or should I say toe? My mother was strangely silent. I had a feeling that if it had been up to her, I might have gone.

But as for baseball, I did get a lot stronger. I became a hardball pitcher with a winning record, throwing a devasting fastball and a slider that I could aim at behind the player's back and it would break across the plate for a strike. Even threw a few no-hitters. I played softball and baseball for about nine years, but that career slipped through my fingers, so to speak.

Thinking back, it was another era, another lifetime, but I am all the richer for the fantasies that framed my younger days in a past long ago and a place that no longer exists.

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