That's the sound of my hearing aid running out of battery and shutting down as I head towards dance company auditions, relaxed and very, very early. Except now I'm not early; I've veered east in a frantic scramble home to get new batteries and end up sliding into the studio at precisely 6pm, the official start time, dancer 54 out of 56. They have run out of information sheets. Fortunately, I'm already warmed up from the 4-mile detour and too high on adrenaline from the battery run to panic.
This is good, because attempting to lipread the first choreographer through a forest of 55 other twirling bodies is impossible, especially when the choreographer is spinning around and doing moves that involve arms going over faces. I catch glimpses of moves and try to stitch them together; I catch -- or think I catch -- the phrase "floating and free" and wonder what other instructions everyone else is hearing. We file out of the room and get called in to do the choreography in groups of 5. Fortunately, as dancer 54 of 56, I'm in the last group and have time to watch the other students practicing. From this, and from a few kind souls I recognize from summer's Modern Dance 101 class, I gather more pieces together; we turn and jump and roll in vaguely this direction, I think. I guess. Maybe. I'm not sure what comes between this foot tap and that leg extension, but I need to turn 270 degrees somehow. I'll make it up.
I hope they like improvisation.
My group's turn. I am clearly one of the least experienced dancers auditioning, and clearly am not doing the assigned choreography -- but I'm making mistakes boldly and shamelessly. It's all I can do. Look, I can move! my bones and muscles try to say. It's not shyness or hesitancy -- here's what I look like when I do not know what I am doing! I'm still trying! Really hard!
Simpler movements, walking across the floor, prancing, sashaying; easier. I can see from the students ahead of me what needs to be done, and I can hear the drumbeat coming through the speakers in the corner. Then we're asked to improvise, and I watch far more experienced and better-conditioned dancers doing leaps and falls and spins and backflips (backflips!) across the floor. But again: shamelessness. I dive headfirst into an Aikido-style forward roll I haven't done inside a dojo for 7 years; I let my limbs actually splay out through the music, and when they turn on "Call Me Maybe" I spin across the floor signing exaggerated ASL versions of the few lyrics I know, and catch one of the teachers watching me and laughing in surprise. That's good, right? I think that's good.
Second choreography. I've learned things in the past hour; now I don't even try to listen to whatever words they're saying, or even to follow the movements myself as they go; I mostly watch -- inch to the corner, make sure I have a clear view -- watch and burn moves into my memory. And then, as dancers 1-50 go, I practice in the other room, between the other students chatting in small groups. About what? I don't know; I've never known. But at least this time I know what I'm supposed to do.
Supposed to do, but am physically incapable of. I can't stand and do a backbend into a pelvic lift, nor can I hold a breakdance-style freeze or do a split. "Modify the moves if you don't have the strength to do some of the more challenging bits," they'd said. So! Being bold! I'm not the only one who's modifying moves. At the sight of that first backbend, a tremendous groan went up from the assembled students, and I see many others doing things other than splits. This is more than a little comforting, especially since the battery-run adrenaline is gone and I am actively fighting "WHAT AM I DOING HERE I AM WAY OUT OF MY LEAGUE" panic.
Successfully, though! My group's turn, and I pop and bend and fall and turn myself upside-down into a modified freeze; as I balance on my right shoulder and left hand with my feet in the air, my hearing aid squeals feedback against the wooden floor. My legs will ache tomorrow; it's been 2 hours.
And now the dancing's over, and they're talking time commitments, rehearsal scheduling, what callbacks tomorrow will be like. We're all invited to return if we're still interested; my head is spinning back and forth as details ping-pong between the dance teachers. Schedules. We should bring them. This form. Fill out. Numbers. Give back. Yes. Follow other students. Can do. Ask questions, make sure I gave them everything they needed from me. My hearing aids are soaked with sweat. I take them out and let them dry on the floor beside me as I scribble in the form: name, address, major, phone number (SMS only please, I'm deaf), performance background (public speaking and a lot of teaching), why do I want to participate in the company? Because I've never danced onstage; it's a world I unconsciously assumed was impossible for me to join, but I had also never tried until today.
I am the last one to finish filling out forms and leave the dance studio to drive home. Now I start to breathe. Maybe if I get cast into a piece, I'll be with a small enough group that I'll be able to lipread the choreographer. That would be great; dance classes here are large. Maybe I won't get cast, and that's okay -- I know I tried, and gave it the best try I'm able to, shameless improvisation and all, and I will still be taking modern dance class Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I move onwards to more schoolwork before collapsing from residual jetlag; I have only been back on the continent for 3 days now.
But I will stretch my legs and rub my feet and check my muscles before I sleep. After all, callbacks are tomorrow.