Susan White

        I’ve faked a lot of things in my life—knowledge, orgasms, heterosexuality, fidelity, interest—and the pretense has felt like swallowing dry leaves. But there is one thing I have derived nothing but joy from faking: clogging.
        My fast feet scuff, scoot, and stomp to the hillbilly downbeat. My upper body bounces; my chest burns. The back of my hair damp, I tap my toe forward then backward and strike with my full foot, alternate feet, again and again. And turn, lift up a leg, rotate my swinging foot, and stomp. My arms are bent and waist-high, away from my sides—as if icy waves smack my belly. I touch a heel with my opposite hand. Double-step to the beats in double-time, yanking my hamstrings, all the time picturing the strong-legged, gingham-clad, grinning men and women I’ve seen at fairs and on flatbed trucks in parades. And I’m off—free styling—stutter-scooting on one foot diagonally. Back to double-stepping to regain balance. Knees higher and higher, I fairly skip in place, arms doing tricks with an invisible jump rope. I swear to God, my legs move independently of my brain. Then the wind-down: toe, toe, heel, rock-back, toe, toe, heel. My feet slap the barroom floor to the final beats of the song. I walk back to my table of friends, watching their mouths move, but hearing nothing over my blood pumping from my heart to my head.
        You have to understand, I approach all other forms of dancing as I do my annual pap smear: cringing at my exposure, positive that I am disgusting. I feel sorry for anyone inspecting me. I can’t help but see most dancing as a means for flaunting sex appeal. I have never been able to dress or act the part of sexy. Not even on Halloween. While my friends dressed as sexy witches or Madonna, I was a green, pot-bellied Grinch or a hulking gorilla. Clogging—at least my style of clogging—is not about grace or seduction. It’s about enthusiasm and stamina.

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        I’m remembering some collages that my late mother-in-law made after a trip to Cuba in September 1941. She spoke of the trip frequently over the fifteen years I knew her. There was never anything linear or even particularly narrative about her conversational recollections, just bits and pieces. I learned early in our relationship not to ask too many questions—she never responded as I might hope but would lose her train of thought or take offense or jump past the subject altogether. Instead, I learned to listen, nod, and smile over the scotch and sodas she insisted upon. We were collaborators in a strange dance, at once mysterious and meaningful. In part, I was her best connection to a son she adored but who came so late into her life that she often found him difficult to comprehend. At times I think I was the reflection of her idiosyncratic self. Always, though, I was her friend, one more, even one last, in a long line of female friends she had collected over her eighty-plus years.

Collage: Drawing of Marion

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        For fifteen years, I spent practically every night and weekend at a Chicago dance or theater, improv or comedy performance. One night in 2003 as I walked up Belmont Avenue, a press kit tucked under my arm, I stopped in my tracks and said to myself, “I can’t do this anymore.” The weary proclamation had nothing to do with the show I had just seen, nor did it mean that I suddenly hated live performance. I was tired. I had my own stories to tell. I stopped reviewing theater.

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