Wednesday, December 9, 2009

'Cause This Is Thriller!

I had to move away from Texas to learn to love iced tea, and it looks like I had to move away from America to feel the magic of Michael Jackson.

So the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, walking through the park near church, we came upon a group of people doing . . . something. As we approached, I realized it was a dance rehearsal. Of course, I stopped to watch. It looked kind of familiar, and also very fun.

Besides the director, I immediately pinpointed another girl who really knew what she was doing -- and looked cool and nice, too. Before moving, I'd resolved to take dance classes in town in order to both have fun, get better, and integrate a little more into the city. So I decided to stay until there was enough of a break to ask if they were from a local dance school and to get more information.

At about this point, I realized why the choreography and counts being sung out looked and sounded familiar: they were rehearsing the zombie dance from "Thriller"!

When the chance came, I went up and talked to the girl I'd noticed from the beginning, and she invited me to join them. I was nervous and went back to stand on the side, but after a couple of minutes, I realized I was being ridiculous. I went on over and joined in.

The irony is that I am possibly the only American girl my age who didn't learn the Thriller dance in elementary school. As a result, I was at least a beat and a half behind everybody for the couple of run-throughs I did. If you look very, very carefully, you may be able to see the visual evidence.

Nevertheless, when rehearsal was over, one of the girls told me I was brava, and offered to give me more information on the event they were preparing for. Next thing I knew, I'd exchanged contact information with G and A. Then (another) A came up and introduced herself, letting me know that they were probably getting together to practice at her place during the week, and that she'd get me the information when they had finalized the plan!

Y'all! Seriously! I could not stop smiling! I skipped on the way back from the grocery store that night! We were all Facebook friends within a day or two, and they sent me links to videos from previous rehearsals so I could practice.

And practice I did, for about two hours Monday night. During this session, I made the unpleasant discovery that my ability to correctly follow someone who's dancing while facing me had disappeared over the years. I kept mirroring instead, using my right for her left. Agh! My solution? Turning my back to the computer with my head craned around. Then I graduated to being at 90 degrees to the screen. Also, I should mention here that I have never taken a jazz or hip hop class in my life. I was determined, however, to not show up at A's looking like a fool.

Unfortunately, taking care of details for the move into our new apartment (!) wiped out any rehearsing Tuesday or Wednesday. Fortunately, I have retained the attribute of having steps and combinations sink into the muscle and stay there so that they can be called up later. This was fortunate, because I did indeed go down to the city Thursday night to rehearse!

We were in an apt. in a neighborhood near the Duomo. I got to the building's massive front doors at the same time as F (whom I recognized from Sunday) and yet another A (to whom I was promptly introduced). They rang the bell, announced us, and opened the small door that was cut into the ginormous doors.

I followed them up, up, up the stairs, arriving at last at an apartment painted in bright colors, containing four new friends, a giant and sweet orange and white Persian cat named Romeo, and an amazing collection of more than three dozen vintage Polaroid cameras. G and A arrived soon after, and we shoved aside the furniture to start rehearsing.

It was so gratifying to be able to keep up fairly well, thanks to my work Monday night -- and to be able to keep up fairly well in Italian as well. Everyone spoke English, so they were able to switch if I needed it, but 90 percent of the conversation stayed in Italian. It's a good thing my instructors couldn't hear me, though -- especially by the end of the night when I was all full of the pasta somebody made for dinner, and my brain was worn out -- because my grammar and vocabulary were pretty hideous. But I did it!

I was totally busted on the dance thing, too. A asked me if I'd danced before, and passing by, (another) G pointed and announced in English: "You dance!" I had to 'fess up. Later, A asked how long I'd studied, and after the number of years came out, asked "classico?" I assented, and she said and gestured that she could tell by how I carried my shoulders and back. (I still need to get the scoop on her dance background, which is clearly substantial.)

So what was all of this for, anyway? A flash mob tribute to Michael Jackson, performing the Thriller dance in the Piazza del Plebiscito on Sunday!

I got there at 10:30, ripped white t-shirt in hand and scissors in my bag to help others appropriately zombify their clothes. I followed the lead of a guy who dropped a ripped but clean shirt onto the ground and then did the Twist on it in order to age it and get it dirty, then followed the example of some of the girls and used red lipstick to add some blood stains.

More and more people showed up in various stages of zombie-hood, and small groups were marking the steps. I met many more people, including one guy who is a really excellent dancer -- so sharp. (You can see him at the edge of the video here.) I was completely flattered when A identified me as someone who danced, then bummed when he immediately asked me if I could moonwalk and I had to say no.

As the crowd grew, the choreographer rallied everyone 'round and gave last minute directions over the church bells that had started pealing.

And then we were off! It felt fantastic to be dancing full out, music up, and doing it. We hit the last, scary-laugh note way too soon for me, and then everyone was congratulating everyone else and full of relief that we'd made it.

That was when I found out that I'd seriously misunderstood the event. That first performance wasn't it. The group was trooping around and performing in different piazzas through the city! A had actually mentioned this when I first approached her the week before, but I'd misunderstood and thought it just applied to the rehearsals, which had been in various locations throughout the city for the preceding month.

I had to miss out on the rest of the day, though. Some friends from Rome had planned to come down to do some shopping either Sunday or Tuesday, and we'd gotten a call that they'd made it on Sunday and had just arrived.

The girls were dismayed -- no no, it wasn't over! Wasn't I going to come with them? And everyone was going out for lunch afterward! No!

I was disappointed. I felt like I'd barely gotten started -- which of course, I had. But I'd committed to meeting my other friends, whom I hadn't seen in more than eight months, and I was incredibly anxious to start the public transit trek home.

I'm just beaming that I got to participate in this event. I felt so welcomed by the city, by my new friends, by the entire community taking part in the event. When I saw that rehearsal in the park, it was as though the city were giving me a sign: yes, here, you belong here. And I've laughed and smiled more in connection with this than with most other things over the last several months. I'm a happy, lucky girl.


M said...

Amazing! I'm so so so proud of you.

Love Michelle

Ginger said...

Way to go! What a lot of fun!

bluepoppy said...

brava! brava! BRAVA! oh my god I WANT that life experience!!!