I’ve been actively involved in the entertainment industry since I’m three years old. From what I understand, my rendition of “Ten Little Angels” was enjoyed by every doctor’s office, department store clerk, and deli counter person in the greater Berks County area, and I was paid handsomely in lollipops and Hi-C orange drink on the reg.
Now, I grew up dancing in a studio where I had two teachers. Miss Tina. And Mr. Mike.
Many little girls grow up in dance studios across the country where there are only female teachers, and so I count myself lucky to have been exposed to a male dancer at such a young age.
When I was eleven, that studio closed and we switched to a new one, where I joined the competitive dance circuit and began assistant teaching a few years later. And from the time I was eleven until the time I was twenty-six, all of my teachers were always women or homosexual men.
It was at twenty-six that I connected with Lawrence*. Our paths had crossed before; in high school I used to take the bus up to New York City and walk to Broadway Dance Center when it was still on 57th and Broadway. I took his tap class once, and cried the hardest. It was the most insane class I had ever taken, and it truly humbled me to my core.
At twenty, I auditioned for his tap company in New York while I was still in college. Again, it was a true disaster, and not only because I showed up in a leotard and tights for an a cappella rhythm tap audition.
In between twenty and twenty-six, I booked regional work performing musical theatre and was working toward joining the union. I was paid to travel, dress up, and sing, and life was good. However, all along the way, I become increasingly aware that the theatre world is very much a boys’ club, most often times a gay boys’ club, and I experienced several situations during my time as a professional actress that really rubbed me the wrong way.
I started to realize that I could never quite gain the respect of the directors and choreographers I worked for. Every single job that I booked for six years had a male director, and nine times out of ten, a male choreographer. Always a male music director. And, most of the time, a male stage manager.
Truth be told, I never had trouble making friends growing up. I was teased by tough guys in high school but in the theatre world, I was always treated like a princess. I have three billion gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer friends. I’m an advocate for equality and love and respect my LGBTQ friends very, very hard. This is not about that.
However, I had an extremely hard time getting on the side of those homosexual male directors and choreographers that mattered. What does that mean? Well, the side that gets invited for drinks after rehearsals. The side that has inside jokes during a put-in. The side that is 100% sure that they will get a call from now on for every show that man directs, at least for an audition, if not to be cast. I felt left out, but I wasn’t about to whine about it.
So I started brown-nosing. Like sucking up so hard you could find me around the coffee being catty as all hell, just to push my way in to the club. I hated what it took out of me, and what it took from me, but I was hardcore. I loved my work. I lived for my work. I wanted more of it. All the time. The theatre world is an incestuous one, and I was willing to do almost anything to make sure I was part of the web.
So when I reconnected with Lawrence through an email exchange, and he informed me he was doing a tap intensive that summer and maybe I would be interested, I was like, yes, do you take a payment plan, I will be there. A chance to study with the guy who tore my ego out of my body, not once, but twice, and had me squash it with my own tap shoes as I tried to do what he was doing, to no avail?
Yes. Thank you for your time. I will not show up in a leotard and tights this time.
And that’s when it began.
My falling in love with my straight male tap dance teacher.
Over the course of two years, I took his intensive three times, connected with him via Facebook and email on the regular, and made sure to book private lessons with him while I was home in New York on holidays. Not because I was in love with him. Perhaps I didn’t realize that yet. No. Because he was good. He was smart. He knew his shit, which made me realize I didn’t know an eighth of mine. I had much to learn from this man, and if he was willing to teach it, I was going to be there to pick it up.
This past summer, even though I had thoughts about feelings about things about like you know, the feelings, I dismissed them. Until, I fell hard. On the first day of the first tap intensive, I walked out of the studio with a friend and I was like, shit dude. I have it bad.
I spent the next week blushing, sweating, crying, questioning, and dreaming about my tap teacher. I couldn’t get him out of my head. Every time he would ask me a question, or give me a high-five, or congratulate me on my work, I would swoon. It had to be obvious and embarrassing and terribly painful for everyone within a ten-mile radius to witness.
But I did my best. You know, to like, keep cool and, not think about it, and stuff. And not wear too much makeup. But not too little. And oh my God. Mess.
Finally, the second week, after a tumultuous situation arose in my personal life and Lawrence was there for me, giving the best advice, as he has done on multiple occasions in the past over Skype or through Facebook or email, I decided I needed to tell him. It was killing me. I was even more attracted to him when he exposed his own vulnerabilities and fears, sharing personal information with me during our talk when I was inconsolable. To see a straight, attractive, talented man open up and talk is basically like porn. You know what I’m talking about.
So I told him. I called him, and I told him, and nothing that I wanted to say came out. What came out was like, some words, and some heavy breathing, and some strange stuttering, and when I got off the phone I had nail marks in my thigh so deep I was surprised I don’t have permanent scarring.
I spent the next four days feeling embarrassed but empowered. Confused but less weighted. Sure of my decision, but definitely unsure.
Before I left New York, a few weeks later, we decided to meet up. I knew it was no more than a friendship hang; he made it very clear in our phone call that he did not feel the same way I did when he merely said, “okay”, after I uttered an assortment of words about feelings and attraction while powerwalking around my apartment and cringing.
As soon as he sat down across from me, I almost laughed. He cocked his head to the side and looked at me inquisitively.
“What’s up?”, he asked.
I mumbled something about being tired from trying to see everyone in such a short visit.
Inside my head, I was having this conversation.
“You are such a dork. You don’t love him. You don’t have feelings for him at all. He’s a straight dude and he treats you like an equal. You’re an idiot. Fix it. Fix it now.”
I realized, as I sat across from him, that I wasn’t in love with him. I didn’t even know if I really had feelings for him. What my heartstrings had actually been doing for weeks on end were just pulling me toward a man who, for the first time in my performance career, had spent the last year treating me like a human being, even though I’m a woman. I had actually just spent the summer studying with a man who respects women in this business. Treats them like equals. Like they have ideas. Like they are worth something. And it was so bizarre to me, that I completely mistook it for romantic feelings.
See, what I realized at the diner that night, is that my mentor isn’t just a tap prodigy. He’s a feminist. He doesn’t see gender, he sees passion. He sees artists. He goes to them, he offers his hand, he answers the questions, he offers the challenge, he holds them up when they want to sit down and take their shoes off.
I didn’t want to date this man. My teacher. My role model. My friend.
I wanted to emulate him. I wanted to collaborate with him. Have more conversations. Being on the same page with someone is so rare in this life, that it coerces us into believing we need to nail that person down and keep them locked up in our life forever.
Furthermore, being respected, in this business, in the entertainment industry, is so rare, that I was literally tricked into thinking this man should be my significant other. My partner in life.
How fucked up is that?
It was so unfamiliar to me that I didn’t have to fight my way onto this man’s radar, that he just respected me and was there with me on my journey from the beginning without expectations, that I confused mutual respect and friendship, for a crush.
And true, I will always have a talent crush on the dude. Most humans do.
But I was not, and I am not, in love with him. I put myself out there, and I’m glad I did, but if he had told me he wanted to date me, we would have found out pretty quickly that we don’t actually have enough in common to be involved romantically.
In this life, men who treat women as equals is something I wish we didn’t have to celebrate so hard. Every day, there’s a new article, praising Bradley Cooper for sharing his salary with female co-stars so they can demand a raise, and high-fiving Daniel Craig for calling James Bond a misogynist. And I hope to God one day, that those celebrations won’t be necessary because the point will have become moot.
But in the meantime, I’d like to raise a glass to Lawrence, and the constant love and care he puts into his craft, his teaching, and his communication. I have learned so much from this man, and if nothing else, I have learned that I will not settle for anything less than mutual respect and outrageously exciting collaboration in this business that I have been working in, literally, since the age of three.
If there are more Lawrence’s out there, I will find them, and I will work with them. Because that’s real art.
No boys’ club. No sucking up. No secret happy hours.
True art involves creative people who genuinely want to see you, hear you, talk with you, regardless of your gender.
That’s the business women deserve to work in. We deserve more. And I’m thankful that I’ve learned that at such a young age.
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Cheers to the people in this business who are happy creating work with the misbehaved women, the misunderstood women, the misrepresented women. You make me want to be a better artist. And for that, I’ll just go ahead and tell you too.
I’m head over heels in love with you. Let’s make some art.
*Name changed. Obvi. In honor of Baby Lawrence, who brought us improvisation to tap. Had to at least make it relevant.