I had to give a presentation today at work. It was really informal, but I was nervous nonetheless. I always am. I blame my nerves on an incident in (of course) my junior high years.
During the summer between 8th and 9th grade, I enrolled in a weeklong "Drama Camp" with a couple of my dramatic friends. I was never much of an actress, but I did have a tendency to enroll myself in various summer camps, so there I was. It ended up being all about the musical theater. I can sing, but I'm not much of a dancer.
Most of the 100 or so campers had been attending Drama Camp for at least a couple of years. Girls outnumbered boys about 8 to 1. As a newcomer, I was immediately among the uncool. The director's daughter Nina was clearly the golden child of the attendees, and was called upon (by the director) to demonstrate each and every acting technique, musical interpretation, and dance move. She did so with joy and gusto. I had conflicting emotions, feeling that Nina had delusions of grandeur, and feeling that I was way out of my league.
I did ok in the voice portions of the camp, but my inherent uncoolness in those surroundings kept me from trying out for a solo. I muddled through the acting workshops, crashing and burning with such flair in the improvisational portions that I actually earned praise. And there was dance. Well, dance is not my thing, as I mentioned. When the dance instructor asked us to separate into two groups, experienced and inexperienced, I happily joined the latter. We spent many hours learning a routine to a song from Cats.
I just looked the song up on iTunes. I knew I'd recognize it if I heard it again, even though I didn't know the name at the time. Turns out the song was a piano instrumental of The Jellicle Ball. It's perky and jazzy. (Listen to a clip here.) Just the song if you want to have 100 campers leaping around on stage making cat hands.
(Even today, 19 years later, hearing that song drives a stab of fear through my heart.)
In dance class, I carefully chose a spot toward the back, and learned the little routine. I conscientiously paid attention when the dance instructor chose a "cue" girl. When this girl ran on, the inexperienced group was supposed to join her. We never did a runthrough of the whole number, but the instructor seemed satisfied.
So recital day came around and hundreds of parents arrived to see what their tuition check had wrought. Some songs from Once Upon a Mattress went well, with the director's daughter Nina in starring roles, again and again. She's in love with a girl named Fred and all that. Toss in some Les Miserables. We all stalked across the stage singing emphatically about the end of the day when you're another day older. Then the time came for our big dance number, and we moved to our places.
It started strong, with the experienced dancers on stage first. I saw the "cue" girl preparing to enter and I readied myself for our big moment. The chorus ended and the experienced dancers began to cat-leap off the stage. Cat hands! Cat hands! I followed the cue girl onto the stage, cat-leaping. Cat hands!
As the fray of experienced cat leaps dissipated, I cat-leaped forward, per the routine. Then I looked around. Somehow, instead of 40 or so inexperienced dancers on stage, there were ... four.
We stood, nearly paralyzed on stage, through an entire verse, our faux paws poised in front of our chests. I later viewed my parents' videotape of the debacle and realized that our moves were confined to panicked sidelong glances at one another and tiny, abortive cat-hand swipes. As the second verse neared, I debated fleeing, but realized I'd look a lot better if I at least did the remainder of the routine. Own it, Megan! Own it.
Cat hands! Cat hands! Step step step! Cat leap! Cat hands! Cat leap off the stage! THANK GOD.
I burst into tears as I reached the stage wings. Meanwhile, the dance instructor yelled "EVERYONE!" and both groups ran on stage, sans the four of us who'd just run off. But other than the cat hands, the two routines were very different. As I wept off stage, dancers began leaping into each other. Cat hands! Collisions! Bad falls! A complete disaster.
I don't even know how it ended. But it was, without a doubt, my most embarrassing moment. And it decisively ended my dramatic career.