When Natasha, Seamus, and I signed up for our first tap class, my goals were simple. I just wanted to improve my coordination, meet some new people, and someday earn the right to wear tights and a tuxedo jacket with tails. I never imagined that tap dance could drag me down a path of violence and destruction – that same path I fought so hard to avoid all these years.
Like any disease, this cancer started slowly, almost undetectably. Seamus was the first to exhibit symptoms. Before we became dancers, Seamus was a laid back, happy-go-lucky kind of person. He had big, crazy ideas, but they were always hypothetical.
“I’m thinking about going on a diet where I only eat round things.”
“I’m gonna write a Broadway musical called ‘Moving On Up,’ based on The Jeffersons.”
“I think I might get a tattoo on my arm of all the cities I’ve been to in the past year.”
See, it was always crazy stuff like that. No one ever believed he’d really do any of those things. So when Seamus showed up to class sporting a swollen tattoo that said, “Cleveland,” I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
As time passed and we moved on to Tap II, Seamus became more and more passionate about how great tap dancing was. How it was so much better than every other form of dance. He said that just because we didn’t wear ruffled shirts and tight black pants like the salsa dancers didn’t mean we weren’t as important.
In order to get the respect he felt tappers were due, he decided to get organized. That’s how Seamus started the gang. Natasha was his first recruit, mainly because she came up with their gang name: the Tap Dawgz.
I told Seamus and Nat that I thought that might be a copyright infringement on the movie,Tap Dogs, but Seamus said he didn’t care.
“Look, Jenny – I’m the leader of a gang now. I have a tattoo. I just got my hair buzzed short at Klassy Kuts. You think I give a crap about some stupid copyright law? Besides, my lawyer said we’re okay because of the different spelling.”
Nat chimed in, “Yeah, just let them try to file a suit against the Dawgz. Who are they gonna sue once I bust a tap in their ass?”
They started pressuring me to join their gang, but I resisted. At least at first I did. It was scary how easily I found myself falling back into my old routine. After initially dismissing the idea of joining their tap gang, I caught myself doodling out a few logos for the Dawgz. First, some tap shoes with a skull and crossbones on the side, and later, a Rottweiler wearing a top hat.
But Seamus wanted more than just a logo from me. He said if I wanted to be a T-Dawg, I had to prove my loyalty. In order to be initiated into the gang, Seamus said I would have to sneak into the ballet class that meets before tap and slice up some shoes. Slice them up real good.
I didn’t like the idea of hurting anyone, especially the slight ballerinas in the 2nd floor studio. But old habits die hard, and when I came to tap class with a pocket full of severed pink satin ribbons, Seamus knew I could be trusted. He said my gang name could be Cyrus.
The Tap Dawgz were tight – all three of us. We answered to no one but ourselves, so when a rival dance gang – The Damen Avenue Jazzies – started encroaching on our turf, Nat said we had to take a stand. She said we’d be nothing but punks if we let them hang out at our Starbucks. I didn’t want to get sucked into a violent situation, so I brought up the fact that there were four other Starbucks locations within a five block radius, but it didn’t seem to matter.
Seamus said we had to prove to them who owned these streets, so one Saturday morning we went to the Starbucks looking for them. Seamus sent me in first to check out the situation. A quick scan of the coffee shop revealed three Jazzies who were getting their morning coffee before heading off to the studio to practice. Two of them were sitting at a table by the window reading the Tribune. Their matching red legwarmers told me all I needed to know – these were old school gangbangers.
All the playground karate in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the massacre I was about to witness.
Seamus immediately walked toward the blonde one, who looked to be their leader, while she was at the counter asking for a little more honey in her Chai tea. As soon as he approached, the tall one at the table saw what was about to go down, so she tried to distract Seamus with a frenzied interpretive dance called Time Unbound. It was dizzying to behold – I felt her anguish as she jerked her body back and forth, shifting her arms mechanically like the hands of a watch, and ultimately falling to the ground in what I believe was a poignant reference to sand slipping through an hourglass.
As hypnotic as her dance was, Seamus wasn’t phased. He slammed his cane down on the counter, sending raw sugar and nutmeg flying into the eyes of the Jazzies’ leader.
Seeing her two fallen comrades, the third woman tried to grab her gym bag and sneak out the side door, but Nat saw her just in time. Nat bent down, unscrewed her tap, and whipped it at the woman, knocking over the Grande cup of coffee that she had been drinking. The woman ran out screaming, scalded by what was left of her Americano.
“I catch you on our turf again, and next time it’ll be a Venti mocha! Chocolate stains don’t come out, you know!”
Seamus looked on proudly.
As I looked down at the disaster we had created – a trail of coffee seeping toward my shoes, sugar crunching underneath my feet, Java jackets strewn all across the counter – I felt sick to my stomach.
“Oh god. God. What have I done?”
I looked up at Seamus and saw him helping Nat carve another notch in her tap as she screwed it back on.
I want out. I love the Tap Dawgz – I mean, they’re the only family I’ve got – but I can’t do this. I didn’t struggle for 20 years to stay on the straight and narrow just to allow some feud over the box step vs. the time step to drag me back into this violent cycle.
So I told them I was leaving the gang. They were free to use my logo if they wanted, but I was officially out. I handed Seamus the dog tags he had made for me with the name “Cyrus” on them, and turned to leave.
As I walked away, Seamus yelled, “You’ll be back! Where else are you gonna go? Once a T-Dawg, always a T-Dawg!”
Not if Mrs. Garcia has something to say about it.
Filed under: Tap Dance on November 24th, 2004 | Comments Off