Tiny Dancer, by Sam Petersen

People repress really traumatic things in their lives. Repression is kind of way to deal with things that might be too hard to deal with at the time so instead we just shut them out. This is kind of hard for me to admit, but please stay with me here. Recently I found out that I had unearthed that I used to…sorry, this is kind of hard to me to say…that I used to tap dance.

I was six, maybe seven, and I tap danced with my friend Daven. We were the only two boys in the tap class and we tapped like no one had tapped before..badly. My mother, Gezzabelle, reacquainted me with my tap days through the power of the video format (now known as ‘film’). I tap danced like a gazelle. Elegantly, instinctually and would often bite other tappers. Sadly three months later, I hung up my tap shoes and never tapped again. Not that I ever really thought about it. Until now.

My friend Daven and I danced to songs such as ‘My Boy Lollipop.’ Daven moved like a young Gene Kelly and I moved, again, like a gazelle. I was a conduit to the tap gods, a creative vessel that knew no limits but tiredness, soreness and laziness. I asked my father, Harlequin, to make me shoes with small pieces of metal attached to the soles so that I could tap wherever I pleased. I presumed the world needed to see me tap. So I started to make assessments based on what floor I could or could not tap on. I would walk into a store, in the country town I grew up in, and exclaim loudly “yeah, I think I could tap on this,” and then proceed to…or, embarrassing my poor mother, I would say “no. You couldn’t tap on this floor.” And refuse to dance in the hairdressers or local supermarket. To say this was embarrassing for my dear Gezzabelle is an understatement. An overstatement would be ‘it drove her to madness.’ But this is neither appropriate or necessary (it did not).

My mother asked me to stop because it was getting embarrassing. For her.

I was consumed by my tap dancing. All of my jokes became about the dance ‘why did the boy give up tap dancing? Because he kept falling in the sink.’ Yes. I was an unfunny child that took my tap dancing way too seriously. And my mother needed a break. She didn’t want me waltzing in to one of her friend’s stores saying ‘I could not tap on this.’ She wanted a normal life with a normal child and this was not me. You know those teenagers that walk a block ahead of their parents because they find them embarrassing? Well, at six years old, my mother walked a block ahead of me. She didn’t want to be seen with the small child with the metal clippity-cloppity’s on his feet. My mother asked me to stop because it was getting embarrassing. For her.

Then it happened. I fell. I was in the middle of a kick-ball-shuffle routine when I fell, dancing to ‘My Boy Lollipop’ with my friend Daven, and hurt my leg. So I sat in a doctor’s office waiting the results. Now, I must warn you, my mother is the most hilarious person there is. The doctor walked in and Gezzabelle asked “be honest, doc, will he ever tap again?” The doctor smiled, confused, and said “he’ll be fine. It’s just a sprain.” Now, Gezzabelle always tried to make me laugh. Always. I had no idea how funny she was (and is, dear reader, she is alive and well thank you kindly for asking) and I was far too serious to realise as a small, mostly human, child. My mother, treating me like a horse with a broken leg, said “be straight with us, doc, he’s had a good life. I think it’s time to pull the plug.” The doctor surely saw the funny side when she started walking around the room ripping random cords from their plugs. Ending with his desktop computer.

And then we walked out to the car. I was hobbling a little and she as serious as ever. Mother turned to me and said “Sam, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is you will never tap again.” She paused for a moment, drew a heavy breath, and went on “the good news is…you will never tap again.”

And I did not. I repressed my tap days until now. They say a troubled childhood usually leads to a life in the arts. And maybe one day I will return to take the stage again but for now, I’ll just keep falling in the sink.

astaire                                                       Me, at age six



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