Is All the World a Stage?

So if it’s Thursday, I must be writing about Zumba, right? We had a wonderful class again last night, and, in the midst of our stomping and twirling, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. You know what? I look stupid doing jazz hands. Seriously stupid.

I wrote last week about how amazing it is to dance like no-one’s watching. It truly is. I guess that’s the important part: I need to make sure no-one’s watching, and I don’t want to watch myself either. How embarrassing!

I’m not much of a performer, I guess. I love nothing better than to tell a story or share a joke and make people laugh – my heart leaps when I am able to do that. I’m not shy. And I have done loads of public speaking. But to perform in front of an audience, like to dance or sing or act, would cause me to cower into a shivering heap. Or to go and hide under the nearest bed. An audience of one, in the mirror last night, was enough to cause my cheeks to burn crimson.

I did plenty of amateur dramatics as a little girl. I am the youngest of four, and my performances usually took the form of hands-on-hips tantrums at my older siblings to take me seriously. If they tried to applaud any one of those performances, they would have instantly regretted it.

My sister was always something of a thespian. Her favourite activity of a weekend was to write, produce, direct, narrate and star in a play for my parents. I remember one of our family homes had sliding glass doors that separated the lounge from the dining room: the dining room became our stage, the sliding doors our scarlet, velvet curtains. The audience, usually of two, relaxed in the royal box that was our lounge.

I was always a useful prop. I remember having to put on my school tracksuit – it was olive green – and stand with my arms in the air for the duration of one play.  In the closing credits, I was allowed – as the tree – to take a bough bow.

Occasionally, when the demands of writing, producing, directing and narrating were too great for my sister, I was given the title role. I remember being cast as Rapunzel and having to sit on a chair on top of the dining room table and let down my “golden hair”.

Let me digress here to tell you a bit about my hair. My parents believed in common-sense economy and their approach to life was typically post-war: no nonsense, no frills and definitely no long hair. Every time my sister and I went for a haircut, I’d long to have a word in private with the hairdresser, so I could ask her for “a trim”. It never happened. My mom would always insist on a “good haircut”, which meant that – yet again – I would walk out of the hairdressing salon looking like a boy.

So, golden locks were not in abundance in our home. I am blonde, but short hair that did not quite reach my collar would not do for Rapunzel. We twisted a yellow and white striped towel that tumbled from my head like a really heavy plait, and my handsome prince duly climbed that to reach me in the tower that was the top of the dining room table. I think we might have used a chair or some other hidden device, but it all ended happily.

Another time, I was cast in the role of Queen Victoria. Gordon, a painfully shy and obnoxious little boy who was the son of my parents’ friends who were visiting that Sunday, was cast as Prince Albert. He did not want to be in the play. His older sister threatened him with something, so he duly obliged. We sat on chairs next to each other, as husband and wife usually do: I had a doily on my head, and he was biting his foot.  I banged on about how much I wished we had a baby, and he nodded and chewed his foot and closed his eyes. The curtain went up.

“Three weeks later!” announced the narrator, my sister. The curtain opened to reveal a scene in the home of Victoria and Albert. With doily-decorated head, I lovingly cradled a baby doll in my arms. Albert continued to bite his foot. An immaculate scene indeed.

At high school I had the excruciating experience – as house captain – of having to direct and act in a house play. I had no intention of appearing on stage, but as the date of our performance neared, several cast members got ill, broke their legs or lost their voices. The play was called “Ants” and I had to play the part of an army ant, dressed in camouflage fatigues. I wouldn’t let my parents come and watch the play, and my time on the stage features among my worst, most sweaty-palmed and agonising moments of my life. I was certainly not born for a career in theatre.

So, my stupid jazz hands are not going to hinder me from going to Zumba classes. I’ll continue to shimmy and twirl and stomp my feet to those crazy Latin beats, but I’ll sure as heck step away from the mirror. Well away.

Sunshine signing off for today!