Another Clearance of the Evils of Winter
Running into the Radcliffe Gym, you are of course late and barely miss stepping on a pair of glasses left on the floor in the corner where you usually hide. It's a Master Class, so you're of course late and your tights are ripped, you've forgotten to wear a bra, and the barrette keeping your hair off your neck absolutely won't stay closed. And since it's a Master Class, of course, it seems as though Everyone is there-all the very good dancers and the very pretty dancers and even the very smug dancers who talk about Lindsay and Marth just as avidly as others you know talk about Kurt and Carter.
So the self-importance level in the room is rather high, and the narcissism count is even higher (higher than in the dressing room at the Loeb?), and you are feeling fatter and sloppier by the second and wish you were hiding in your favorite chair in Ticknor Library or in a bathroom at Holyoke Center or at the Graduate Center even, really, anywhere, but here, on the slippery, basketball court surface of the Radcliffe Gym, pretending you're a dancer.
You look around the room and see all the dancers rolling over on their backs, rolling over with their legs and feet dangling prettily in the air, as if no position in the world could be more natural. Then, just before you, too, roll over on your back, properly convoluted, you see the young woman who is leading the parade (later you learn her name is Aileen Passloff, and she has come all the way from New York to free your head and activate your hamstrings), and she is wearing some leg-warmers that look like bell-bottoms and a leotard with a zip-up front, all very chic, and most important, and continually more important, she is smiling as if it's going to be all right.
So you, too, roll over on your back, then ease down to the floor again, vertebra by vertebra, exactly as you are told. And you wonder to yourself, as each knobby vertebra touches the floor, whether each had a dense, prehistoric life of its own, and more even than that, whether each tiny knob is some kind of control which if you could only master it, would free you in any of a number of ways, free you from a sad memory or a bad dream, from worrying when you can't fall asleep or when you're not quite sure you want to get up.
But you can't really dwell upon your vertebrae too long, for soon enough you are asked to take your place in a large circle with all the dancers in the room. All the dancers form this circle and look across and sideways at one another shyly or with some contempt. And the very good dancers check to see that their knees and toes are turned out at just the proper angle, and the very pretty dancers draw deep breaths to flatten their tummies, and the very smug dancers continue to look blase and shake their legs, like world-weary professionals.
No one's self-image is indulged for long, however, everyone in the circle has joined hands, cool, dry hands still. Then they've dropped hands, and begun in unison, in a grudging kind of harmony, a series of movements. Stretching up on the toes, wilting down to the floor, swaying from side to side, like weathervanes or stalks of wheat or pieces of hemp hanging from boughs over watering holes, all these pictures, of course, depending on what, at the moment, happens to rest in your mind's eye.
And in your own mind's eye, banal as the image might be, you are a marionette, and the voice in the center of the circle is pulling the strings that move your limbs. You feel the force of your own movement, but also that you have no control. The sensation is not entirely unpleasant, that feeling of temporary subjugation, also provoked by, say, Kuntsler or Jagger or a woman named Cynthia you knew when you were fourteen, who captivated everyone at your parents' parties and finally killed herself with booze and pills.
The voice in the center of the circle interrupts your thoughts by disbanding the whole group and sending them off in all directions, the weathervanes and the stalks of wheat and you, the marionette. Then you are all reorganized in smaller circles, circles of five or six, with one person standing in the middle with eyes closed and letting herself (occasionally, himself) fall slowly outwards, always to be caught in the nick of time by all the pairs of outsreched palms. This is an exercise you've done dozens of times before; William Schutz and Dan Seltzer called it the Trust Game and swore by it; so did your Women's Collective. But still, in these days of the White Lie and the Big Lie and the Nationally Broadcast Administration Lie, you find it a bit odd to be as apparently gullible as to tumble around a circle of perfect strangers.
But you do eventually do it, you volunteer to do it, in fact, and neither you nor the sky falls down. You simply close your eyes and fall gently around the circle, gradually and in spite of yourself becoming immersed in the oceanic rhythm of it all, until even the visions of people you don't always trust slip away, visions of John and Yoko and your sturdy high-school gym teachers and the man who wouldn't let you fall asleep in his arms because he didn't like women breathing over him.
And soon after everyone has had a chance to take a tumble and a few intrepid souls are even smiling a little at each other (the smug at the very good and the very good at the very pretty, who still, however, avert their eyes among themselves), the circles break up into pairs, and you are left standing next to a dapper and muscular fellow named Henry. Henry wears a blue, sleeveless tank top and appears to know what he is doing. He treats you as if you could use a bit of his help, but are not hopeless. Silently, you appreciate this; it is too realistic to be male chauvinistic.
The exercise is designed to relax the body and ease tensions. If it sounds like an Anacin commercial, at least it's not supposed to look like one. Henry stands in front of you with his eyes closed, breathing deeply and steadily, while you examine his body for possible kinks in his muscles and joints. Each time you find such a spot, you place your open palm on it, so that your partner will know to draw his breath from there and undo the knot.
The pace you keep is almost, but not quite, lethargic. Your palms rest on his shoulders, his ankles, behind his knees; then his hands do the same at the junctures of your body. You begin to feel lighter and suppler, as if you have just had a backrub or a very hot bath. But you are never passive; the forces and concentration of your breathing calm your fears. Some moments your mind is at rest like a field in summer; other moments harsh memories lodge in the kinks of your muscles. How when you were eight, you made your mother sit by your bed till you fell asleep because you somehow were afraid the planes overhead were going to bomb your building; or how once you swallowed a penny or how once you were held up on a side-street by a boy with what you thought was a dagger.
These are the memories, thought of course he'll never know it, knotted under Henry's palms. Still, you keep your eyes shut and continue your breathing for what seems like a long, long time, though it's not, and you try to undo the memories so they're no longer painful, though you know they will be again. And when you open your eyes, you catch Henry's glance for a second, a second of understanding, a subdued second, while you realize that Henry had memories too, and you wonder about them.
But before you become the least bit maudlin, the voice in the corner of the room has called you and everyone together again. Then sent all of you careening across the floor, pretending to be, as the voice desires, Greek vases. And this is quite a sight, you think, making your way across the floor, ducking, swirling and tossing back your head. All the very good, pretty, and smug dancers gallop about in the most unseemly fashion, looking at best like broncos or Isadora's scarves, but hardly to be praised by Keats.
And quickly and in the same spirit as when you give someone a nickname behind his back or mentally undress a speaker behind a lectern, you fill the room with all the people you think should stop whatever they're doing now and take a turn as Greek vases-your dentist and your oculist, the Nixons and their kith, especially David Eisenhower, everyone from your Freshman Seminar on The Psychoanalytic View Of Man, the CIA, the CRR, and one of your great-aunts, Howard Hughes and Hugh Heffner, all the women who sleep with Henry Kissinger or pose for vaginal docodorant ads, and finally, every Weatherman on T. V., but especially, Tex Antoine.
When you focus on the room again, everyone is still prancing, hiccoughing, and laughing in a way that suggests a general catharsis. So the spirit, as the voice gathers you into a circle for the last time, is unusually buoyant. And everyone joins hands for the last time, sweaty, clammy hands now. Then they drop hands for the last time to begin in unison, in an easy sort of harmony a series of movements. Stretching up on the toes, wilting to the floor, swaying from side to side like-but this time, there are no specially good of specially pretty or smug dancers who will stand out. Everyone is swaying from side to side as one body, sweaty, tired out and pleased.
And you yourself still feel sweaty, even as you watch someone afterwards slipping into her leather culottes. And you still feel tired out even passing a little group of dancers sipping a vegetarian brew in the gym office. And you still even feel pleased, but you really wonder if it will last, when, for sure, you'll fall on your ass on the ice, running home.