I’d asked my dad to drop me off a block away from the studio. Not because I was embarrassed by him or anything. We always got along great. I mean I wasn’t a daddy’s princess or anything. But we had fun. We joked when he wasn’t stressed. But I asked him to drop me off a block away because I needed to focus, to get in the zone. I wanted to visualize the day and how it was going to go down. Plus this was the ’90s when everyone smoked, especially us dancers, especially when you’re 15 like I was then, and so I hopped out of my dad’s car and kissed him on the cheek through his window, saying something like, “Bye, Daddy,” and he would have said something like, “Knock ’em dead, sugar”—you know, something like he would have told a son going to football practice instead of his ballerina daughter off to an audition.
And I enjoyed that cigarette when I strolled down Linda Vista Road. This was back when SDB—that’s San Diego Ballet—was over there instead of in Point Loma like now. So I had my duffle bag on me and I was in loose sweats because that’s what you wear before putting on your tights but also because there were tons of creepers over in that area. And I remember just thinking that it was going to be my day, that after what happened at the SAB audition up at DeFore’s studio there was no way I wasn’t going to dazzle the SFB reps. Karen had told me Lola herself was flying down for this call. And the fact that they were holding auditions for SFB at the studio I grew up in, well I just felt like fate was arranging it or something.
So inside I saw some of the girls I knew from classes. Karen gave five of us permission to audition, and then there was the regular cattle call. Girls from other San Diego studios. Girls from OC and LA. Some mid-state and Bay Area girls if they missed the SF call. Others who flew in from Washington and Colorado. Or even farther if they missed the Chicago or New York calls. So you know it was a big deal. And let me just skip ahead and let you know I nailed the audition. I mean you know I did because SFB is where I ended up for good after that summer program. And what I remember from the audition is that we did a typical barre with a company dancer leading it. But then when we went to the center, Lola herself called out the combinations. And it was a surprise that she even flew down, but to have her run the audition, well, I just knew it was going to be a special day. And I tend to stay in the back, or I did back then, because I hadn’t quite broken out of my shell, but Lola called me to the center in front of the panel. She said, “Number Sixteen, up front.” And then she called out a four-four to the pianist, and I was unshakable.
And another thing from that day was glimpsing Amber in her dead shoes. Watching Amber out of the corner of my eye. Her trying to give it her all but knowing there’s only so much you can do on dead shoes. There was this adagio combination she really struggled with. And I know that feeling because someone did it to me weeks before I did it to Amber. When I’d gone up to OC for the SAB audition, I knew I was on enemy turf. But still somehow I did the dumbest thing I could’ve done. I left my bag in the changing room when I was warming up alone in the hallway. And when I was done getting warm and went back to the changing room, I saw my bag unzipped, and my heart dropped and I was thinking, stupidstupidstupid, and you know I’m about to say that my shoes were gone, and I looked around the room and the other girls looked oblivious, in their own zones, and I went into one of the bathrooms. And nothing. Then I went into another and, well, it smelled like shit and there were my toe shoes, in the damn toilet floating around with someone’s shit. And that was that. I had some old shoes buried in my duffel. But they were dead, had dead shanks, just kept them as spares for easy stuff—you know, like you wouldn’t want to do fouettés on them or anything. I was wearing Grishkos back then, loud shoes with a hard box, meaning you had to be good with your feet, know how to roll through your foot. But so anyway, my good toe shoes were in some girl’s shit in the toilet, and you know I left them there. No way I’m reaching in for anything. So I had good soft shoes for the barre, and I made it past the barre, of course, and then there was still a crowd of us asked to go on to center, after girls were being yanked left and right during and after barre—Thanks, Number Twelve. You’re dismissed. Thanks, Thirty-eight. That’s enough—the regular stuff. And then I had to wear my dead shoes for center, and I was in the 20 or so girls never yanked, but I never heard from SAB, and I was pretty limited with what I could do on those dead shoes. I did all the combos, kept pretty good lines, but I just didn’t have the right support on those shanks. I just didn’t pop that day, you know. And I’m not even sure who ruined my shoes. Don’t know who saw me coming and was all—There’s Claudette. I’ve heard of her, strong dancer—or something like that, and then saw her chance. Don’t even know who did that, and I used to worry about it until things kept working out in my favor and then I didn’t think about it much. Even now, recollecting it, I’m seeing how it might have been for the best.
So for the SF audition a couple weeks later my bag never left my side. I was in my home element anyway. And there was this girl who had shown up, Amber, real talented, legs up to her armpits like me. New York style kind of, like she kept a straight back leg to prep for pirouette, but maybe the body type Lola would eat up and adjust to a West Coast style with a bent-knee prep. And there were good girls all over the place. A few of them, you know, it’s like, what are you doing here? Are you delusional? And they get yanked at barre. So of course there’s tons of competition. And you can’t sabotage everyone. And who would want to do that? You need to earn it. It needs to be earned. So I did it not just because Amber and I were similar and the opportunity presented itself. But it was more of a personality conflict type situation. The fact was, this girl was stuck up, like Dana Point stuck up. And she made the same mistake I did a few weeks earlier. She left her bag pushed up against the wall while she went off to stretch. And in that one tiny moment, my thinking was, Okay, they’re only going to take a handful of girls from all the auditions combined, and if I’m one of those girls, I’ll be hanging around the same few people all summer, and if I get taken and Amber gets taken and we somehow, somehow, end up as roommates for three months and possibly longer if the school courts us for the company, well, I’d just be in hell because that girl was obnoxious, toxic really, and here I had an opportunity to make sure she didn’t follow me up north if I was San Francisco bound, which, as you know, I ended up being. So that was the split-second decision. And I walked by like a cat, slipped a hand in her bag, felt for the good toe shoes, and took them with me into a stall and lit them on fire with my lighter. Well, the things wouldn’t light up, but I burned her ribbons down to nubs where she’d sewn them on and then I let the flame scorch over the rest of them for a while, but it started to smell and I got nervous and then I dumped them in the trash because they weren’t actually on fire, just toasted, but useless without time to sew on new ribbons.
And, you know, I think back to when someone sabotaged me that one time, and I didn’t end up in New York because of it, and now, as I said, I see I’m grateful in an odd way because of all that happened in SF instead. The years of solos. Not much corps work. The contemporary stuff choreographed for me. Dancing that mambo pas de deux with Miguel last year, for example, before I retired and he found out he was sick and took a turn for the worse. I mean, that was really special to me and so many other moments. And career-wise, well, Amber ended up at Pacific Northwest that summer, which was really more her speed anyway, and she had a quiet career in Toronto, I think, mostly in the corps I’m guessing, and that’s how it would have worked out for her anyway.
The last thing I remember from that day is walking back down Linda Vista and crossing the street to meet my dad at Rose’s, a little doughnut shop near the old studio. I ordered a lemon-filled and a raspberry-filled, because up to then it had been the standard one Power Bar and 64 ounces of water from wakeup ’til the afternoon audition. And so he was inside waiting for me as we’d planned, reading the paper like people did pre-cell phone era. This I remember crisply. This I remember like it was yesterday and not 19 years ago. He lowered his paper and stared at me while I stood above him. He said, “Looks like you nailed it.” I smiled. And he turned to no one in particular, and said, “She’s going places, this one. She’s all confidence now, this one.” And I said, “Thanks, Dad.” And we ate doughnuts in silence, me devouring the raspberry first, him picking at his bear claw. And I think I already knew things would change soon. I think I knew then that I’d be on my way once spring had ended.