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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Box Step or Bust

Clinton Attache's 1985
(I'm the one third from the left holding my friend.
 It looks like we were all just shown a picture of what we'll look like in our 40's)


I think that dancing is a skill that requires a special connection in the brain.  I suppose some people are born with it, but for me it was a hard-won battle to learn a box step.  Singing and writing music was always the easy part.  I was composing little songs on our family's upright piano when I was a 1st grader.  My mother thought I was a genius.  She still does.  My first vocal solo was in 4th grade.  My mom cut me some Daisy Duke shorts and I belted out, "They call it that good ol' Mountain Dew, Dew, Dew..."  I didn't know what Mountain Dew was until much later. Being a Mormon, that means much, much later.

Choirs all through Jr High taught me harmony and sight reading, but when my family moved to Clinton, Mississippi from Texas, I saw the show choir from the local high school perform for the first time.  They were called the Clinton Attache's (the dictionary says an attache is a person on the staff of an ambassador...I didn't know that till much later either.)  Here was singing and dancing combined, not to mention red lipstick, high-heeled shoes and cute boys in red sparkly vests.

I girded up my middle school loins and auditioned for the show choir.  I chose a quirky but cool song about Mormon Pioneers which was not a great choice for a Baptist teacher, but as I look at it now, I was already forging a penchant for quirky songs to sing for Baptists. Mrs Garner, the formidable teacher, seemed to like the song...or at least my voice, but then I was asked to do a box step.  A what step?  I sent the command to my brain but the connection just wasn't there.

The list of who would be the newest Attache's to wear the coveted red sparkly vests was put up in the hall. My name wasn't on it. I was listed way at the bottom under a category called "Alternate." I didn't cry.  My mom might have, but I was excited to be even an alternate part of that amazing choir that danced and wore fake eyelashes at the same time. I hovered off to the side of the stage and struggled to learn the choreography. At night I would close the door to my room and practice my new moves to the Flashdance soundtrack.

I had this thing I would do. Brace yourself, it will sound silly, but I swear it works even to this day. When I was on the stage I would pretend that God's light was shining right through me. I don't mean that metaphorically. I mean, I would imagine I was like a heavenly light bulb. Sure, I was a lousy dancer and yes, I was a skinny Mormon girl (oh, how I wish I could still say that) but I knew that God's light could shine through me in a way that was unique to me, like a stained glass window of adolescent ambition.

Eventually, I was put in as a bona-fide Attache when one of the other girls missed an important rehearsal. Over the next few turbulent high school years I learned not only the box step, but how to have presence on stage, how to love and respect my friends and Mrs Garner (Mrs Costello now), how to work hard (rehearsals were sometimes every night and Saturday as well), how to travel (our choir did a lot of that), and perhaps most importantly, how to wield a can of hair spray.  The Clinton Attache's is a nationally recognized show choir even to this day.

I have been asked to perform at the 2013 Attache Fundraising Dinner next week.  It will be my first time back in Mississippi for over 20 years. Yes, I'm nervous...and for a woman who has birthed 10 babies, that's saying something. I don't scare easy. Singing, as always, will be the easy part. Being back in the town that made the connection in my brain to the box step will be hard. It feels like I'm crossing a bridge that I thought was burned. Burned not for spite or bad memories, but burned by the busy life in the West that I made for myself. My parents moved to Tennessee shortly after I married Brad. Before Facebook, it seemed impossible to find my way back to old friends. Perhaps, much like dancing that requires a special connection in the brain, going back to where you began requires a special connection in the heart.

Clinton Attache's 1983.
 (I'm standing back row in the center. My brother, Victor, is standing off to the far right.)

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