I love to dance, but I’m not that good at it. In fact, when I was a little girl, my father remarked that I resembled a hippopotamus doing grand jetés across the stage, rather than a graceful ballerina. He was joking, of course, and whenever I remember this remark, it still brings a smile to my face. It reminds me not to take myself, or others, too seriously.
Loud dance music is a must when cleaning the house, it helps with cooking too — and it’s not just me. Years ago, I opened the front door to find my husband shaking his booty while vacuuming the living room with Shania Twain blasting through the house. I watched him complete the floor before letting him know I had entered the room. He looked at me with his impish grin, then went into a whole monologue about how Shania helped him get the cleaning done. That night, he played me her beautiful song, “Still The One”; it was a corny moment, but a keeper.
Have you ever tried to keep still when you hear a Latin beat? I confess I find it difficult — I lose track of conversations while trying to keep my hips from wandering. There’s something about that rhythm that gets to my soul. I just want to stop whatever I’m doing and salsa or meringue across the room. For a second, I imagine that I’m a mirror image of Cyd Charisse, (all five foot three inches of me), gyrating my slim, sexy, body across the floor toward… the kitchen sink and reality.
Thankfully, Zumba classes have given my hips an outlet to express themselves. If I miss a beat here or there, I just make it up with an extra bump and smile my way to happiness. To say I sweat in a Zumba class is putting it mildly. Water pours from my brow and drips into my eyes, so much so that I broke down and bought one of those wicking headbands. I haven’t worn it yet, because it’s slightly intimidating.
Throughout my costume designing years I had to dress many dancers. They are, by far, some of the hardest working people I know. They have to be. Competition is vast, their time is limited and dancing parts are few and far between. Their bodies succumb to pain but they dance through it and do whatever it takes to get through an audition.
In the late 1980’s there was a nightclub in Los Angeles called Helena’s. Owner Helena Kallianiote invited dancers from Tango Argentina to give lessons at her club. If you were one of those lucky enough to pass the inspection by the loafer-wearing admissions director at the door, or be in close proximity to a celeb, then you were in for a fabulous experience. You might dance the Tango with Robert Duvall, or experience this sensual dance with a member of Tango Argentina. This was a gift from heaven — an orgasmic gift actually, incredibly sexy — bring back Helena’s!
We can laugh all we want about the big hair and over-the-top makeup of the 1980s, but the dance clubs were fun. I spent some of the ’80s in London with workmates who, like me, were into fashion. We were all very poor and relied on food stamps in our meager pay envelopes to buy us lunch. But it is often during these times of being broke that creativity abounds.
We worked at Browns of South Molton Street, in London — the place where Joan Burstein would seek out young unknown designers and give them a place of honor in her boutique. Mrs. B’s eye for talent has given rise to many a star. She sent a few of us to visit a struggling young designer, just days before fashion week because she thought he might need assistance. We helped him sew buttons onto his collection. His studio was bathed in mottled light escaping through the gloomy London sky, and the young skinny man who sat with needle in hand was John Galliano, Mrs. B’s latest protégé. Yes, he’s the one who opened his mouth and got into some trouble a while back, but make no mistake — John Galliano is a genius of immeasurable talent.
During the ’80s club scene in London, it was the duty of many hip designers, artists and musicians to frequent the trendy hangouts. Like them, my friends and I took hours to glam up, don on hairpieces, false eyelashes, carefully art directed eyeliner and a mix of garb from Portobello Road, Kings Road and Camden Lock. There were times when we went without food or booze (heaven forbid) in order to buy that one irresistible garment that gave us that certain edge. In retrospect, the word, edgebecame a fundamental part of the hip fashion vocabulary of the ’80s and ’90s.
Relocating to Los Angeles, I found myself with a brilliant English hair stylist named Lorraine for my roommate. Her bohemian creativity and magical scissors gave rise to the English Have Landed genre of hair design in LA during the ’80s. We rented an apartment that was part of the Joe-Allen’s restaurant, where my friend, Janine, was the maître d. Lorraine and I would finish work, take a nap, then begin the arduous task of getting ready to go out clubbing, often stopping in at Joe’s for a cocktail on our way out the door.
Sade, Tears For Fears, Joe Jackson, Billy Idol, Madonna and other acts would blast through the car via cassettes, while the nominated driver drove us across LA. Most of us had worked with the above-mentioned bands on music videos or still shoots with the creative brilliance of photographer Herb Ritts and directors Julian Temple, Steve Barron and Peter Care. Set stories were shared by us glam-squad workers while driving between The Palace, Club Lingerie, Al’s Bar, El Coyote and other dance venues and bars that have long been erased from my memory bank.
In my tweens, teens and twenties, dancing and music were the nucleus of my existence. Together, they fed my soul and heart, and were the outlet for my self-expression (along with hairpieces and eyeliner). Fashionista’s such as Madonna and David Bowie allowed artists like me to express our creativity and get paid for it. When it gets down to it, Cyndi Lauper said it best: “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”
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