ON THIS DAY 20 YEARS AGO: The Musician & the Dancer
Updated: Mar 24
I have only eaten at a five-star restaurant twice in my life. Once when I was flown to New York City to film my Warrior Princess dance with World Dance NY. Hmmm...that was right about this time of year, too. In the course of one whirlwind evening, I got to ride in a cab past the ginormous Christmas tree, through Times Square, past the Empire State Building, and I got to experience a NYC subway, complete with graffiti, snoozing guy, and urine-coated floor. I also got to dine at a fancy Mediterranean restaurant. That was an awesome adventure!
But that was thirteen years ago.
Twenty years ago, I was dining in a five-star restaurant in Colorado Springs. It was just past my birthday and the man I had recently started dating took me to a celebratory dinner at a swanky jazz joint where we shared small, ornate meals with large, ornate price tags.
The layered flavors of these oddball delicacies earned the five-star ranking. However, I still can't justify spending that much money on food any more than I can on jeans.
I blame my father's frugality and the Capricorn cusp in me. I'm way too practical.
The Sagittarius of my Sun, however... "I'm absolutely worth it, and so was the artist-chef who wined and dined us amidst such glorious architecture!" (Gotta say that in my booming, Jupiter-voice.)
At the end of the night, my date walked me up the stairs of my new, second-floor apartment. I had just moved there a month-and-a-half before, after obtaining a new job. Everything in my life was new that season. Job, home, man, attitude.
I'd never been able to afford a two-bedroom apartment before, but working for a local internet company as their office manager had given me a raise that bumped me into a new bracket.
So had my increase in performance hours, along with my decision to stop teaching weekly dance classes in favor of monthly workshops. Students were just too wishy-washy, and I had wound up spending more in studio rent than I made teaching for too many months over the past year. I didn't want to put all my energy into acquiring a constant rotation of bubblegum beginner classes. I wanted to teach the things I'd been dreaming of teaching for years, but never had students who were advanced enough.
Under the tutelage of we instructors, including my best friend and me, the Colorado Springs dance community had been growing quickly for the past few years, so I was finally able to teach topics like Sword Dance, Candle Dance, E-Motion, Floorwork. My first two workshops had proven the decision sound and lucrative. I even had students preregistered for January's workshop, and many looked forward to the other topics I had coming down the pipe.
Between the two Moroccan restaurants in town, I performed a minimum of two nights a week, often three or four nights, and was occasionally hired for other private parties, so I was a general dancin' fiend.
In that new apartment, I traipsed about in hog heaven. I got to turn my second bedroom into a writing and sewing studio with a separate costume closet. I also was able to dedicate the majority of my living room (huge! it was so huge compared to my old tiny renovated Victorian one-bedroom) to a dance space for rehearsals and private lessons. I had been gifted thirty 2X2 ft mirrored tiles, which I planned to use in a Wall of Mirrors, as soon as the living room was ready to decorate.
As it was, the wall was stacked nose-high with boxes. Between all my work and dance hours, I still wasn't close to being moved in. I didn't mind. I was just thrilled to be in this new space.
It was into this organized mess that I invited Galen Leyforth.
Six-foot-five, platinum blonde hair down to his ass, and dark piercing eyes. He was a lead singer in one of his bands, did rhythm guitar and backup vocals in two others. If the Fellowship of the Rings movie had been out one year earlier, I would have said that he would give Legolas a run for his money.
Galen actually looks more like Haldir, but taller, and he has Elrond's voice. Elrond's stare. Elegant and cool, poised and formal, he wields a vocabulary that rivals mine, as well as an equally inquisitive mind. As we got to know each other, I discovered him to be just as passionate about his art as I am about mine. Potential union with him carried the seeds of the most storybook romance ever told: The Musician and the Dancer.
27 years old
I had always thought that the way super-swank, high-fallootin’ parties and people were portrayed in movies was overblown fantasy. Turns out it’s quite accurate.
"Oh, let me introduce you around," she had chirped, taking me by the arm with her mostest-hostess smile. She's the only person I've ever met here, and I'm supposed to spend the next hour mingling with the crowd, letting them get an up-close-look at Scheherazade-in-their-midst. She's hired me as part of the entertainment for this annual charity gala at the Broadmoor Hotel. This year, their theme is Arabian Nights, hence: me.
With all these glamorous women in their ball gowns and up-dos, splashing dots and swaths of rainbow amidst the sea of black tuxedoes, I actually blend in quite well, considering that I'm in a belly dance costume. I've chosen my most expensive, spangly one, the turquoise-and-silver Turkish two-piece with the hourglass mermaid line. The sides of the built-in belt/skirt are cutout latticework; the fringy detail is a coral reef of rhinestones, sequins, and shimmering silver beads. I am laden with more frippery than three of these ladies combined.
Of course, I've draped the turquoise half-circle veil across one shoulder and tucked it into my belt for now. I don't think a bare midriff would really do for this cocktail party. Neither will bare feet, so I've donned my silver heels.
Our hostess brings me to a circle of ladies and introduces me around. Several ooh and aah over my costume and exotic role, then see someone they know across the room. They leave us with the three remaining women, who sidle closer and pelt our hostess with questions about some other event I've never heard of.
The blonde just to my right glances down at me over her shoulder. In three-inch magenta heels that match her equally mermaidy dress, she has the perfect vantage point from which to narrow her eyes and sneer down her nose with the classic smashy-pursed lips. With an annoyed sigh, she arcs her nose ceiling-ward as if moving is just ever-so-beneath her but she will do what she must.
Then she shifts sideways. The spectacular beaded back of her gown overtakes the breadth of my vision. Her stiletto heel clips the toe of my shoe, and I have quick scoot backwards to prevent having her in my vertical lap.
My brows hoist up toward my velvet headband. My eyes have a little trouble blinking. I'm pretty sure my gaping gob could house about five of those jumbo shrimp over yonder at the snack table.
I blink again and stare harder.
Yup. I have just literally been edged out of a conversation.
The hostess doesn't notice. She's still across the circle, smiling, nodding, chirping. They're all chirping. The bitch in magenta tosses her sleek, blonde twist with a laugh that oozes such oily affect I have no trouble imagining how she got into that fabulous gown. She looks like a million bucks, and apparently that's enough to warrant inexcusable breeding.
I'm quite certain she thinks this is the Mannerly Way of the highest and most noble preeminence. Ahhhh, such lofty refinement. (We must speak these words without unclenching our teeth, dahhling. Perform correctly now.) Ohhh, such lovely graces. We must not be seen fraternizing or even being civil to The Help.
Mustn't allow them to imagine they are remotely equal to the tops of our shoes, except to kneel and kiss them--oh, heavens! Do NOT sully my custom-dyed, encrusted shimmer suede with your atrocious, artist lips. I shall have to burn these shoes now.
A most bohemian guffaw bursts from my mouth before I can stop it. I'm not entirely sure that I would have, if I could have. My laugh smacks into her spangle-draped back and gets lost in her perfect skin. My huge eyes slide off to the side. "WOW," I mutter with immense enunciation.
And let me assure you just how immense my enunciation can get around that word. I can fit a whole pop can in my mouth. Look, Ma! No hands! Some of my beloved asshole-friends even have blackmail proof, so when I saunter over to the shrimp and relish in a few, I'm probably a subtle echo of Veronica Franco.
I stroll. I nod. I smile. I nibble. I answer the questions of friendly ladies who assume I am one of them, just decked in some sort of bold, flamboyant statement-of-a-gown. Thankfully, most of them express their excitement to see me dance when I explain my Scheherazady self.
While performing, theirs are the eyes and smiles I cling to with my claws, for the show is a nightmare. Horrified gasps. Comments hissed behind hands. Stuffed-pigeons blustering over too-tight bowties.
I perform my first two numbers down on the dance floor in front of the stage where only the front row can see that I am actually a choreographic technician and high-class artist, in addition to an acrobatic gravity-defier with a sword. After that, I dance two more numbers among the crowd and encourage them to get up and try.
During negotiations and planning, when I had informed my hostess that, no, I would not be accepting body tips, she had offered to go behind me with my basket. I hadn't done body-tipping at the restaurants in some years, had never been comfortable with the tradition, and had no intention in starting up again amidst such a prestigious crowd and such a formal affair.
Doesn't matter. From the majority of reactions, I may as well have unhooked the center-closure of my top and let my tits jounce free.
Once I take my bow to clapping-amidst-crickets, I retreat to the bathroom--yes. At the Broadmoor Hotel with its full stage and greenroom facilities, I have been relegated to the marble-encrusted bathroom. And how do I know that there is a greenroom?
Because I've been in it.
When my painted-porcelain smile began to crack and no amount of shrimp-stuffing would keep my thoughts wrangled behind my shiny teeth, I had retreated backstage on the premise of "wanting to get a feel for where I'd be performing." There I discovered the seven-man band, kicked back with beers and unbuttoned collars in one of the performers' rooms.
Ah, seven heavenly palm trees on the desert horizon.
I peeked my nose in farther, caught the eye of a few of them, and said, "Hi. I'm the dancer. Would it be okay if I hung out with you guys until my show? They are...not very nice to me out there."
"Oh, I'm sure," a gray-bearded guy said.
"Come on in," said another, tall and white-haired.
Thus did I spend the next couple hours in casual safety with My Kind. They all watched my show from seated and standing perches up on the stage, and I would have much rather performed for their admiring artist-eyes. As such, I really want to catch their act in return, so I lock my dastardly self in the handicapped stall and chang into my own evening gown--the backless one of midnight blue lace with a slight train, a thigh-high slit, and black vinyl fringe. I put my hair up, add a quick few curls to frame my face, and touch up my makeup.
This does not go over well with The Narrow-Eyed Cats.
What is a dancer to do except smile sweetly and compliment their outfits?
They really hate that. Because what can you say, especially to someone in an equally fabulous gown? That sucker is mermaid-licious, too, and paints all my best assets in chic, nighttime elegance.
After hunting down my cluelessly sweet hostess, I graciously receive my payment as well as a whopping $12 in tips--hey, this is a very worthy benefit and an auction, so I never understood why she wanted me to follow restaurant tipping protocol but...whatever, she's the boss.
Since the band is jammin', I really yearn to cut loose and dance after all that stuffiness, but I have nowhere to put my bags and coat. Upon spying a couple of the gals who were kind to me during the meet-and-greet, I beg them to let me sit at the empty spot left by people who have gone home early. They're overjoyed to hang out and hit the dance floor with me.
I am overjoyed not to be shunned and shouldered aside.
For the next few hours, I bask in one of my favorite pastimes to an awesome party band. Doesn't hurt that one of the guitarists keeps making eyes at me. He is the youngest of the group, tall, elfin, engrossed in everything he does--always a turn-on to me. His glorious curls hang down alongside his face, damp with sweat, begging to be pushed back off his face and his guitar strings. Every so often, he gives them a fling, then bends back over his instrument.
Every-every so often, his eyes lift and lock onto mine. They are as dark as his guitar, as fervent as his hands on those strings--and those hands are wondrous things. Long-fingered. Graceful. Strong and dextrous.
I can tell you now that the answer to all your questions--the same questions burning through my mind that night--is a resounding YES. They are.
I know this because at the end of the night while the band breaks down, I take my time bidding farewell to my new single-serving friends. I then stroll past the band to thank them for being so kind to me amidst such a stressful event. As the older men reply with strains of, "Our pleasure," their eyes keep sliding over to their youngest member.
Mine follow suit.
With no one remotely put out that he's paused working (his bandmates are all a-grin behind him, which he pretends not to notice), he jumps down to compliment me on my performance. I return the sentiments. "So..." he starts in a soft, understated voice quite different from his belting stage tones. His curls cover much of his face, as it is turned aside. I'm pretty sure he's blushing under there, although his profile is in silhouette with the work lights of the stage behind him.
I’m a sucker for a great nose like I’m a sucker for great hands.
"So," I offer, taking a step toward him. I tilt my face directly toward his and fix him with a smile beaming certainty of what he's about. Most of his bandmates wear wedding rings. He does not. Neither do I.
His mouth cracks in a big grin and his gaze drops even further. "So, do you ever drink coffee?"
His mouth hangs open as he wrangles together a whole new set of words from the ones he'd planned on saying.
I grin to put him out of his misery. "I do, however, drink tea, and I know of a really great place that serves both."
The smile returns, bigger, toothier. He chuckles, and then the eyes again. He makes the slightest hint of a bow, head tipped with a little movement from the waist. "Would you care to introduce me to this place and accompany me for a hot beverage some afternoon?"
Tickled, I return the gesture. I've never known a man to remotely hint at a bow outside my old Medieval reenactment group. "I would like that," I return.
With the exchange of our phone numbers, that's that.
For the next six weeks, I spent every Sunday afternoon with Galen Leyforth. He lived an hour south, and came up to Colorado Springs every weekend for one of his regular gigs. He was as formal as he seemed, only taking my hand twice in all that time. The first time, he helped me down some icy stairs on our winter-wonderland park stroll.
During our second visit to my favorite teahouse--our sixth date in a row--he confided in me that having to drop his five-year-old son off with his mother before his gig every other weekend was a source of great sorrow for him. He'd always wanted to make a loving family. The divorce hadn't been his choice. Not at all.
Upon falling silent, his eyes shouted pain while his fingers strummed the long peach fringe that dangled from the lampshade between us. It was an agitated movement, at odds with his customary poise. I placed soft fingertips over his. He blinked out of his reverie and stared at me, seeming surprised at such tender comfort being offered to him.
I added a sad little smile and a nod of understanding.
The corner of his mouth turned up as he breathed out through his nose. His gaze went liquid and more open than I had ever seen it. Then his caresses shifted from the fringe to my fingers. Our hands danced among the soft peach strands for several minutes, and we didn't need to say anything more.
After Galen took me to that fancy dinner to celebrate my birthday, I invited him into my box-riddled apartment. He took off his big, heavy boots and laid his black leather jacket atop the nearest box pile. Mine made quite the contrast--a flared, scarlet number with cuffs and collar of faux leopard fur.
I led him to the futon that doubled as both my couch and guest bed. For a time, we sat and continued the conversation we'd been having in the restaurant. Both our elbows were propped up on the back rest. Both our knees were propped up on the cushion.
When our words faded, our gazes intensified. His long arm straightened toward me. His fingers traced the bottom edge of my sleeve. At my smile, his pinky finger touched mine. I touched his back.
Such a slow pace was heaven to me. I hadn't been with a man or even dated one in over a year-and-a-half. Until Galen, I hadn't wanted to. My declaration of celibacy to clear my head and heal my heart after a decade of turmoil and trauma had only been for a year-and-a-day.
After six months of enforced solitude, I no longer needed the time constraint. I had gladly abandoned all interest. The boundaries of the vow had shown me how often I had fallen into relationships to stave off loneliness or "until something better comes along" or for any number of banal and unhealthy reasons.
But this...I wanted this.
I was ready for it. After eighteen months of soul searching, after swearing several other vows to myself, and after embarking upon several monumental quests, it was time.
So on this day twenty years ago, just about this very hour, in fact, Galen Leyforth leaned closer to press his lips softly against mine. I breathed him in for a long moment. It was a delight to let him make the first move and to feel all and only YES humming in every core of my every cell. Kissing him back, I shifted closer and drew him in more deeply with the tug of my hand upon his face.
But there was no tumble that night. No urgency. Not even between our mouths or our fully-clothed embrace. There was only that slow, steady, gradual, honey-rich exploration of each other.
When we finally drew apart with matched sighs of satisfaction, I could feel that my eyes were as hazy as his. I didn't want to send him back out into the cold for an hour-long drive on the dark, winter freeway. He didn't want to make that drive, but he had to work the next morning, and so did I.
We agreed that it would just give us more to look forward to on the weekend.
As promised, he came to visit me the next Sunday after his Christmas Eve gig. He did kiss me again. But I was incapable of tilting my face up to meet him. If the neck brace hadn't stopped me, my agony would have. He couldn't hug me hello or goodbye except with the most tenatative, surface embrace. When we gazed into each other's eyes, I had to squint because the afternoon sunlight behind him was too bright. My forehead felt like it had been compressed down upon my brow ridge. My eyeballs felt like someone had driven spears through them.
Still, it was heaven to see him.
He helped me make goulash and we sat down on my living room floor on either side of my steamer trunk. I hadn't yet acquired a dining table, so we had dinner down there, where he told me that he wanted to officially date me. He wanted me to be exclusively his.
He had no fucking clue.
To my credit, I couldn't have warned him to save my life. It would take half a year for me to fully comprehend the ramifications of being slammed into a construction median by a drunk driver two nights after our first kiss. It would take many more years before I really learned how to live with it.
Every time I think about Galen, I wonder what he and I would have become, had I decided to take Nevada Avenue back to my new apartment on the Solstice, instead of I-25. I wonder how we would have been together if he’d simply gotten to stand at my side, instead of having to face down the demon that had infiltrated my skull.
The demon’s name was Traumatic Brain Injury, and neither of us knew anything about it beyond some Cousin Eddie jokes and the stereotypes of combat vets or football players.
'TIS THE SEASON
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: DEC. 19: ON THIS NIGHT 20 YEARS AGO.
--OR if you want to dive into how I got my start dancing, that adventure begins here.
**This piece was cross-posted to Medium, so if you'd prefer to follow me over there, here it is.