Sunday, March 30, 2008

Arts and Sciences

I have no idea what motivated my mom to choose dance lessons when my nursery school teacher suggested that I have some sort of extracurricular stimulation. I was learning quickly and the teacher thought I would benefit from some extra challenges. My mom could have chosen piano lessons, tennis lessons, gymnastics (although they did all come later) but she chose to call a local dance studio. I can still remember that September evening, sitting at the kitchen table while she made the phone call and suddenly I was enrolled in pre-school ballet at Carol's Academy of Dance. The fall classes had only just begun so I could join my class the following week.

It was 1980 and I was three and a half months shy of my 4th birthday.

Ever the mama's girl, I spent most of that first year in tears. They subsided about two months in when I realized that, being only a 45 minute class, mom was just outside the studio door reading her beat up paperback Agatha Christie novel but the tears would flare up whenever I found myself in a new and strange position. Whether it was trying on our new costumes, joining the other class in the larger studio to practice in front of each other, or learning that our teacher Bonnie would, indeed, not be leading us through our dance up on stage (was I the only one who assumed Miss Bonnie would don a yellow tutu just like ours and do "point and together, point and together, bend and straight!" right along with us?) it was a sure bet that I would handle the situation with my signature style, sobbing hysterically until someone called for my mom. But I hung in there and made it to recital night. I was placed in the front row towards the center because, even after all the histrionics, I actually knew what I was doing.

The next fall I enthusiastically signed up for ballet again...and jazz, and acrobatics, and baton twirling. The following year I added tap to the roster. I guess you could say I was hooked.

By the time I hit second grade I was a full blown competition kid. My best friend had persuaded her mom to enroll her in classes as well and together we lived for our dancing. We danced in each others living rooms and on the playground, we counted down the days until our favorite dance competition in King of Prussia over Thanksgiving weekend, and then we counted down the days until the recital. My dad worked on the stage crew with the other dads and my mom even began "running backstage" - organizing the mothers who volunteered to be "backstage moms" and help dress the group of dancers assigned to them. I had become one of the serious dancers at our dance studio and I was thrilled to be acknowledged as one of them.

My nursery school teacher was correct in realizing my need for extracurricular activity, she was also correct that I was a fast learner. I could read before I started kindergarten and I had an uncanny ability for memorization. By the end of the school year I had been tested for the accelerated learning program and was to start what we called ESCA the next fall (the full meaning of ESCA escapes me but it was our school's gifted and talented program, which it was later renamed). A couple of days a week those of us in ESCA would go to a smaller classroom to work on what I imagine were meant to be challenging projects that were above our average grade level. Sometimes we did creative writing projects, sometimes little science projects. We did plays and art projects. We competed in the Science Olympics and went on an archeological dig field trip. I don't know what was happening back in our regular classroom during our time in ESCA but the ESCA kids were geeking out and having a great time.

Second grade found me in a new "experimental split" grade class. It was a mix of both second and third graders but only one teacher. Sometimes we split up and did work as our separate grades but mostly we worked as one class. In third grade I was in a split third and fourth grade class. I knew that I, as part of the younger class, was part of the gifted students who were doing some accelerated schoolwork but it was just a short time ago that it occurred to me that the older students were probably considered some of the slower learners. The split grades were discontinued after that but I was now ahead of my grade in reading and math so the school formed a little gifted and talented math class for a few of us who were doing exceptionally well. By the end of sixth grade I had finished pre-algebra.

But the highlights of my elementary school career? The fifth grade talent show where I did a solo jazz routine and our sixth grade gifted and talented performance of Macbeth (which I quite possibly still have on VHS tape somewhere).

I was still very much the little performer, as well as the little academic. I would be starting seventh grade in one of the better schools in the county, and I had just been named a member of Carol's Academy of Dance's junior dance company.

My life continued this way through junior high and high school. It became somewhat of a dichotomy. Was I a geek? Was I an artsy kid? Was it possible that I could be both?(!) I continued to take math classes with students a grade ahead of me, even when it meant taking the bus to the high school as an eighth grader and then being shipped back to the junior high for the rest of my day. I moved up to Senior Dance company and we started winning national titles. I became well known in school as a dancer when I got to high school and began performing in the annual show called Dance Theatre. In tenth grade I became a cheerleader. I was the only cheerleader that was a member of the Biology Club.

Junior year of high school arrived and everyone, parents and teachers and guidance counselors and strangers that I'd just met who found out I was a junior, began asking the inevitable questions about college choices and majors. My only true college visit, one where I actually had an appointment to meet with someone in the department, was to the health sciences department of Slippery Rock University. I was there to talk about the physical therapy program; thanks to a torn ACL ligament and a very cute physical therapist my interest in the field had been piqued. I was warned that it was a difficult program, one where I would have to major in biology or physics and then apply for the actual physical therapy program. All in all, about seven years of school was required. As someone who was not all that interested in college (this visit was mostly perpetrated by my mom) I reeled at the thought of seven more years of school and by the time we were home from Slippery Rock my thoughts had wandered elsewhere.

It seemed as though my years of performing had gotten the better of me. My best friend mentioned a "Related Arts" program at Kutztown University that she was considering and I immediately jumped on it. The visit to Kutztown consisted of a frosty Saturday in January where I looked at the campus for about ten minutes and, after seeing that it wasn't a complete hellhole, insisted that it was fine and could we please get back in the car because I was freezing. My best friend changed her mind about Kutztown when her parents agreed to send her halfway across the country to a great dance program (which she left after one semester) but I was accepted into the Related Arts program, thankfully since it was the only school I applied to.

My senior year I was a principal dancer in Dance Theatre, landed a role in the Fall Play, and was working in the acting troupe at the PA Renaissance Faire (stop laughing). I had firmly convinced myself that I was the artsy one in the family, that this is what I was born to do. After all, I had been performing for so long I must be meant for this, right? Never mind that I was also in AP calculus and AP physics, never mind that the rest of my family was very science and tech saavy; mom was a registered nurse, dad was an airplane mechanic for the National Guard, and my sister was majoring in social work at college. My mom kept suggesting alternatives to a theatre major. I could major in psychology and minor in dance, I could go with the physical therapy program and join the college dance company as a hobby. Being the stubborn teenager that I was (and still am sometimes) I refused to budge and when that fall arrived I was off to be a theatre major (oh yeah, we spelled theatre with an "re", no "theater" for us actors).

Four years of predictable college life followed - finding a group of actor friends, going to parties, performing in plays and dancing with the dance company. Other than a basic algebra and a biology class, I was free of all the nerdy stuff. I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts in theatre. Surprisingly enough though, at least to me, I was one of only a few of the theatre majors who moved to New York City to "do the acting thing". Most of my friends fell into what I considered "regular" jobs, some barely thought about acting. I was disappointed in them at first, but it didn't take my logic-preferring practical brain long to figure out that being an actor in New York City ain't all it's cracked up to be.

So...I'm really bad at endings. It's the reason my creative writing stories always went on for chapters and chapters and I dread having to write the conclusion paragraph of my research papers. I'll just say this - I am now 31 years old, I still live in New York City, and I am one semester away from getting my bachelor of science in Veterinary Nursing. I am proud to say that I have gotten a 4.0 every semester since I went back to school. I talk about placing catheters and monitoring anesthesia with my mom, the nurse. The last time I took a dance class was five or six months ago. Maybe there is no dichotomy. I love the performing arts and I love veterinary science. It just took me 30 years to figure out how they fit into my story.

And that's my story.


Anonymous said...

In younger years I wanted to really be an actor, but I gave that up as unlikely fantasy and chose a journalism major.

Yeah, that didn't work either. Sometimes it takes the wrong BA to truly set you right, but damn if that doesn't take up a lot of 20s. Good luck!

TK said...

I have a wife who is a veterinarian, and a sister who directs theater in NYC. So believe me when I say I can sympathize with how challenging BOTH career paths can be. But it seems like you're doing something you love, so in the end, that's the important part, right?


Jayne said...

oh, our lives are so similar. I often think of the other directions I could have gone, but as everyone expected me to continue being the theatrical one, I too just went to the first college that would take me and focused on nothing but performing. I miss performing now, but I also regret not studying other subjects more. Still, look where we are now, old roomie! Who knew?

Felis Femina said...

I miss performing, too. I hope to be able to do it again in the future, even if it's only local theater.

I know, check us out. Do you think those silly girls in a Hoboken apartment had any idea where they would go?

Alex the Odd said...

I can completely empathise with your situation. I was always the artsy, drama club running, random play writing creative girl... and then I took a degree in biochemistry because I loved science so much, it's a shame we don't have American stylt degrees because I really would have loved to take more literature classes than my single sad extra credit module in creative writing.

I'm glad to hear you're doing something that you love now.

litelysalted said...

Do I know you???

I went to KU from 1996-2000. Small world.

Felis Femina said...

litelysalted - I went to KU from 1995 to 1999. Did you know any of the theatre people? I mostly hung out with them and some artsy people.

Maybe we do know each other!