Beleaf it or not...
The above is a dance troupe run by Barbara Roan, based in Bennington, Vermont. As soon as I saw these guys in 1989, flying around a lawn while making bad leaf puns and being chased by a hot guy with a rake, I knew I wanted into the act.
The only problem: I was not a dancer and with only four costumes and roughly 5,000 modern dancers per square foot up in the wilds of Southern Vermont, it wasn't hard to fill their ranks.
But in 1991, fate intervened. One of the leaves fell. She had suffered an ankle injury just as the real leaves began to turn, which in Vermont takes place in about August. A bunch of gigs were coming up -- malls, a bunch of 200th Anniversary of Vermont Parades, and an international children's festival in Williamstown, MA. Someone in the troupe knew how much I lusted after leafdom and helped nudge me towards the dance professor. I was sure she'd say no. If I thought there was any chance she'd say yes, I would've pulled a Tonya Harding on one of the leaves back in '89. That's how badly I wanted it.
When I got up the guts to ask, I was surprised by how passionately I pitched myself. I really played up the fact that I'd studied ballet very seriously for a decade, which is true. But it was also true that after discovering more boys were to be found in band practice, finding serious ballet dancers didn't read books, and finding I'd grown inconveniently large boobs, I'd long since busted out of my tutu.
But I assured Barbara I wouldn't let her down. She looked at me and was moved by how badly I wanted to do it, even as she checked out my Lit/Drama-honed bod and visibly cringed inside.
This is how I came to be a part of the "Fall Fooleries" for one short season.
We went on the road. Sometimes we just ran around twirling and improvising to amuse each other while making bad puns. Sometimes we ran up to people and hugged them. Adults ate us up, but more often than not, when you came close to a kid to spread joy, smiling and waving your fronds -- they were scared shitless. To the kid I made cry in Brattleboro -- who probably has a blog where she's already shared this long-standing trauma -- my bad!
But although I loved the parades best, it wasn't all fun freeform antics. We also has a choreographed dance set to the Maple Leaf Rag. Miracle of miracles: I learned the dance and the fabulous foam outfits covered for a thousand sins my non-dancer legs were making -- or so I tell myself. The dance opened with the hot raker guy, raking some leaves on the stage. He gets tired of raking and falls asleep on his rake while standing. Then one of us hit play on the boom box, appeared and did our dream dance. I don't remember the exact moves other than the hazy memory that a grape vine and a kickline were involved.
We switched costumes for the heck of it and I ended up getting to wear every leaf but the Red Maple. The birch was a bitch because the enitre time you had to hold up a wooden pole to keep the top of the outfit from flopping over.
Birch; 2nd from left
Under the leaf we wore autumnal-colored shiny metallic unitards. No undies, because I soon learned that's how Bennington dancers roll, and I didn't want to be the one dork who had a unitard pantyline. Even still we were boiling hot, even on a crisp day. The costumes retained the sweet and sour sweat of every single leaf that had come before me.
It was, honestly, one of the best experiences of my life.
The other leaves in the troupe welcomed me with open branches and blew away the biases I had formed from my previous experiences with adolescent ballet dancers. These dancers were well-read, smart as whips and unlike me, they could dance their pants off.
Many thanks to the lovely Barbara Roan, for giving this leaf-groupie a shot.
Private to Barbara: if you're still doing the act, I currently have a job in television and a life in NY...
but I'd leaf it all in a heartbeat to do just one more stint in the unitard!
Ian did double duty with the troupe as a hot raker and a leaf, depending.