Sunday, April 01, 2007

MARTI ZUCKROWV "Dance on Paper"

"Just Because"

I had the great fortune of taking dance lessons at an
early age. It feels like I was born with a passion to
move. I wished I could fly and secretly made bargains
with a God I was told did not exist. (This from my
father.) The dance classes watered the kinesthetic
seeds already stirring in my young body; I was
encouraged to discover new movements, to stretch the
limits of what my body could do. Dance was my magic,
my power to transcend.

Our family was poor and had a hard times making ends
meet. Money for dance classes was not an option.
To help pay the rent, my parents took in borders.
Serendipity or just plain luck, they rented out two
back rooms to a young, newly married couple, Ellie, a
ballet dancer, and Eddie, a composer. It was Ellie,
who recognized the fire in me and convinced my mother
to enroll me in her movement classes, fees waived,

Back then, at the age of 6 and 7, I was
happy being me and happy with the girl body I
inhabited. I was at peace with myself.
Photos of me at 9 and 10 show a chubby girl, with
buckteeth and a buster brown haircut. By then, Ellie
and Eddie had moved out. Ellie kept in contact with
our family but gave up her dance classes in lieu of a
full time job. My lessons continued with another
teacher, Edith Segal, (again at no cost to my parents)
a legend in the Jewish Left Cultural world.

There I learned narrative dance, protesting war and racism and
Mc Carthy-bashing with dramatic movements rather then
words. When I danced, the freedom of my movements gave
me limitless joy. At other times though, self-
consciousness was rearing its ugly head. Discomfort
trailed me like a shadow. I learned to hold my
breath and try to make myself smaller, to take up
less space (the exact opposite of what nourished my
soul.) I don't know what triggered this destructive

Was it my girl body with the "down there"
that I'd discovered gave me pleasure, or the shame I
felt when kids at school blasted the "pinko's" who were
trying to save the Rosenberg's and I didn't speak up
and protect my parents. Somehow the two got mixed up.
My first clear memory of hating my body is from when
I was in the sixth grade. I sat next to Frankie
Acquinita, the cutest boy in the class, the wildest
boy in the group of nogoodnicks (my mother's term) he
hung around with, and the boy I wanted to go steady
with. His interest in me was straightforward: I could
provide him with enough correct answers to a test so
that he could get a passing grade, and for that and
that reason only, he was nice to me. Of course, the
minimal attention he showed me left me with goose
bumps and fantasies of showing up to the 8th-grade
prom with him as my date.

I had all ready begun stuffing my bra with those furry
pom pom like things the girls used to wear around
their necks in the 1950's, an accessory to the pink
angora sweater sets and the gray pleated skirts so
popular in my school, but I hadn't run into
unadulterated self-hatred of my female body. I
accepted my lackluster breasts, because I knew this
was only a temporary deformity. I was fated to grow
knockers (another inherited term) like my mother and
her two sisters had.

They all cursed their huge breasts, bemoaning the fact
that finding a comfortable brassiere was impossible,
not to mention the expense.

All of a sudden, when I hit 6th grade and got assigned
the seat next to Frankie; my stomach became my enemy.
It stuck out. And my chin. It wasn't strong and
angular the way the all American blond girls in
Seventeen magazines looked as they posed in happy
groups of two and three. I had a receding chin.
Frankie's view of me in the small wooden desk on my
left was my profile. There was no way I could hide my
hideousness from him. I remember squirming in my seat
until I was reprimanded by our teacher, a short
muscular man who hated his job and let the class know
he'd rather be anywhere else.

The best solution I came up with was to place a textbook
on my belly and hold it there to hide the bulge I imagined as huge as a
whale. I placed my other hand on my puny chin and
angled my head to the right while sticking out my fake
breasts in Frankie's direction. Needless to say, this
took much concentration and refinement. Oblivious of
my intentions, Frankie's eyes landed on my test
answers, or on the paper airplanes he made and sailed
through the room whenever the opportunity arose.
Anatomically speaking, my girlfriends and I spanned
the spectrum of overdeveloped wannabe almost teenager
to scrawny flat chested tomboy. I was somewhere in the
middle: I was great at punch ball, able to outrun
many of the boys in our class, and aspired to be as
sexy as Marilyn Monroe.

Seated opposite Frankie Acquinta, self destruction
set in. I experienced a debilitating split; my mind
shouting at my body," you are disgusting." I couldn't
remember the "me" from before those words. I no
longer fit in my skin. My ugliness was oozing out all
around me and there was no where to run.
I have spent most of my 63 years battling "fat
thoughts." In many ways, dance has helped me. I
found a way to rise above my badgering mind and live
in my body. It's time for me to live in my body and
love it, JUST BECAUSE.) I hope to get there before
my time runs out.


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