Bringing Down the House – by Anne Holmes
Bringing Down the House – by Anne Holmes
Fred loved tap dancing. It seemed as though he had done it his whole life. It was his first memory. Well, maybe it was just the constant recounting of the family legend that made it seem that way.
Family legend had it that Fred would accompany his mom to big sister Sheila’s tap class. Once in the dance studio, he would squeal with delight whenever he heard music and stomp and hop around trying to mimic the young dancers.
The teacher, of course, noticed this right off; that’s what dance teachers did, always checking out the brothers who would dare to venture anywhere near the dance studio with their sisters. This was about the only way to recruit boys into dance class. There was still a stigma placed on boys involved in dance.
So it began that Fred started his first tap class at age four.
Sheila’s interest in tap dancing was short lived, but not Fred’s. By the age of fourteen he was a star tapper at Margaret Johnson’s School of the Dance and he was somewhat of a tap prodigy.
It was May, always an exciting time of year because that meant the annual dance school recital. For the previous two years Fred had performed a tap solo and was a featured dancer in the line-up. And this year would be no different. His piece would be spectacular. It was sure to bring the house down!
Miss Margaret picked out a nice brightly colored sateen tuxedo for Fred. She had a large collection of costumes that she would resurrect each year. The costumes were styled to accommodate at least two consecutive sizes, maybe three. Fred also got to wear a top hat, cummerbund and use a walking stick as a prop. It was almost like he was the reincarnation of Fred Astaire, his idol. They even had the same first name which Fred considered to be of no coincidence.
The day of the recital arrived. Fred would be the first number after intermission, a key time slot. His job was to get the crowd reengaged in the show.
The house lights flickered. With curtain down, Fred cinched his pants up around his waist and tip toed out to a piece of tape smack dab in the middle of the stage. He could hear the audience making their way back to their seats, laughing and talking. He struck his pose. The stage technician and Fred made eye contact and nodded to one another. The house lights dimmed and the curtain went up. The audience began to clap.
Fred began with a slow flap heel heel, flap heel heel to “Tuxedo Junction” producing a rhythm like a train slowly cruising down the track. Then he picked up the pace with flap ball-change, flap ball-change heading downstage, light as a feather. Things were intensifying; flap shuffle step, flap shuffle step, scuff hop, scuff hop, flap ball-change.
He moved stage left; shuffle-step shuffle-step chaine turns, tossed and caught the walking stick. He moved stage right; “Shuffle off to Buffalo” top hat high overhead in hand. Fred worked the audience like a pro.
Sweat was dripping from Fred’s face; flap shuffle step heel toe, flap shuffle step heel toe, flap shuffle step heel toe, step dig, step dig…
… “WOO HOO”…
And the climax…WINGS…
There was a thunderous roar from the audience followed by a gasp, and then silence…
…”HA HA HA HA HA”…
Fred’s pants were down around his knees. Apparently the fit of his pants was no match for the crescendo of his dance.
Fred was a real pro. He pulled his pants up, working it into the choreography as though it was meant to be. Smile on his face, he finished with aplomb.
The whole audience jumped to their feet, clapping, hooting and hollering. Fred took his bow and ran off. They wouldn’t stop. The audience was stomping and shouting…
Miss Margaret ran up to him backstage and told him to do an encore.
Fred “Shuffled off to Buffalo” across the stage, one hand holding up his pants, the other one high over head holding his top hat. The audience went wild!
Back to reality and school on Monday morning.
This was the day of the annual eighth grade class race. It was a tradition, somehow symbolizing running from Middle School (graduation) to join the rat race that would become High School. Fred’s goal was to win. To him, it would be revenge for all the teasing he had endured over the years because of his tap dancing. The jocks tormented him mercilessly. It was the typical name calling jazz; psychological abuse, not physical. The irony was that Fred was in superb shape for a kid of fourteen, a top notch athlete and he could probably whip the butt of every one of those jocks. Perhaps they sensed this and that was why they limited their abuse to verbal.
A group of guys caught Fred’s eye as he approached the school. All the bullies were together, like a gang. The minute they saw Fred they started up. Apparently the news of his performance had spread like wildfire. They followed him, mocking his performance in an uncoordinated way, teasing and calling him names in a high pitched, sing-song kind of voice. There were so many of them, in the past it had been just two or three at a time. This time there were fifteen to twenty of them.
Fred completely ignored them and kept walking. The teasing escalated. Now they were circling him. Every now and then a hand would touch him. And then a leg would stick out and try to trip him. The name calling became really derogatory, the worst it had ever been. Fred focused; he was good at thinking on his feet. He had the ability to change a seemingly “bad” situation into “good”. After all, that was what saved his performance, possibly made it even better than planned.
At ten-thirty, the whole eighth grade class converged on the playing field. There would be two winners, the fastest boy and the fastest girl. All the kids lined up on the starting line. Since there were teachers present, the bullies were on good behavior and kept their comments to a barely audible whisper. They separated themselves into two groups, one on each side of Fred.
“On your marks, get set, GO!”
Fred was in his own world. He heard nothing, complete silence. He saw no one. He was out in front and he was not going to look back.
He crossed the finish line and suddenly became aware of the world around him. His favorite teacher ran over to him.
“Way to go Fred, WOW! You left the others in the dust! I’m sure the high school would love to have you on the track team!
Fred turned and looked back. Five seconds past before then next person crossed the finish line. Fred took a deep breath and smiled. Mission accomplished.