For the better part of a year, I spent every weekend working as a videographer for Showbiz National Talent, on the elite kids and teens dance competition circuit. My job was to send footage to the judges and make sure families at home could see the performances via livestream.
From a tripod at the back of the country’s most beautiful historic theaters, I filmed unending parades of grand jetés and sequins, medleys of Justin Timberlake and Sia booming through the halls. I’d carefully zoom in and out to changes in the music. Tracking sudden leaps and blooming formations came naturally. Long hours disappeared as I entered the story of each routine. It almost felt like dancing. Once, after the last trophy was awarded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the judges approached me while we were waiting for late-night takeout at the hotel bar.
“What studio are you from?” he asked, mistaking me for a dance teacher.
“No studio,” I said. “I’m the Showbiz videographer.”
“You look like you’re a dancer,” he said with a hint of suspicion.
“I used to be.”
On the elevator up to my room, I glowed at the recognition. I knew I was cut from the same cloth as these teachers, the same cloth as my mother, a professional ballerina. But, more than 15 years away from classes and stages, my capacity as a dancer had become irrelevant. On tour with Showbiz, though, I could sometimes feel it in my blood.
My mom danced her way through the 1970s, first as a student at Texas Christian University and then with the Fort Worth Ballet Association, known today as the Texas Ballet Theater. There’s a photo of her in the Dallas Morning News in April 1978. Jan Hines, left; blonde, petite, and tough, en pointe with the legendary Arthur Mitchell, who founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
A year after that photo appeared, an elderly couple drove up a hill on a two-lane road near my mom’s hometown of Tyler, Texas. They were in the wrong lane and hit my mom head-on. She lost a kidney, a kneecap, a month to a hospital stay, and her career as a performer. She was 27.
Teaching and taking classes sustained my mom for decades after the wreck. She rented a studio on the town square in Lancaster, Texas, where my brother and I grew up. It was known lovingly as “The Dance Castle.” My friends took ballet, tap, and jazz in the modest second-floor walkup, next to a boarding house for cats. So did I, a passionate but undisciplined student who mouthed the words to Color Me Badd’s “All 4 Love” in the mirror, against policy.
Rehearsal was her truest love, my mom often told me. Building. Progress. The work was the heart of dance, not the show.