I am among the foot-tight, the jiggy-challenged. When I dance, Elaine from "Seinfeld" laughs.
Three-time Emmy-winning choreographer Marguerite Derricks claims she can make a dancer out of anyone. She transformed scrawny Mike Myers into a funky superstud in both "Austin Powers" flicks, set gawky John Lithgow tapping and swinging in TV's "3rd Rock From the Sun" and taught brawny Arnold Schwarzenegger how to tango in "Junior."
Recently she agreed to put her theory to its toughest test, granting me a half-hour choreographical emergency session at her dance studio in the San Fernando Valley. Here she has gathered four distractingly attractive female backup dancers, aged 18 to 21, to assist in my tutelage. Hotties like this never looked at me in high school.
Come to think of it, they're not looking at me now.
"There should always be an even number of girls," Derricks explains. "It just looks better." Two of the four, Jennifer Hamilton and Shealan Spencer, danced in the last "Austin Powers" film. This imparts a measure of credibility and (for me) pressure when Derricks runs us through a compendium of go-go moves from the series. Would I prove sufficiently shagadelic?
Quincy Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova," the Austin Powers theme, thunders over the hardwood floor as I receive my first set of instructions. They make perfect sense to my brain but my body is as confused as a Backstreet Boy in philosophy class. I am proving especially inept at the skill of "popping" (throwing the chest out while pumping the arms). There are people who have been dead two weeks with less stiffness than I present.
"Don't worry, you'll get it," Derricks promises.
Not helping me are a pair of black flare pants I purchased as many sizes as years ago -- I believe along with my Deee-Lite album. The girls giggle, a sound I am not accustomed to while fully clothed.
Next is something called the "butt wind." The rump gyrates clockwise while the hand turns similarly behind it. My gyrating is counterclockwise at first, but after three ass-backwards attempts I correct myself and begin showing definite butt-winding potential. Too bad this is not a move that can be busted out on a dancefloor without sending one's heterosexual partner shrieking toward the exit.
The "jerk circle" is way less awesome than it sounds. It involves the girls ringing around me while Derricks for some reason yells out "Jerk! Jerk! Jerk!" in time to the beat (similar to an actual experience I had in third grade). Derricks instructs me to "freestyle" in the center of the jerk circle, apparently expecting me to access some vast personal library of moves I feel comfortable doing.
Let's see, there's the YMCA letters and ...
Well, that's pretty much it. I just sway back and forth, my lower lip in the embarrassing grip of a white man's overbite, that genetically unavoidable facial tic that occurs whenever one of my kind approaches the boundary of his funkiness. The giggling continues. I'm riding the little yellow bus home from dance class today.
We repeat the entire routine a couple more times. I get the basic moves, but not the feeling or the fluidity. Deney Terrio's legacy is in no danger.
"OK, good," Derricks declares when my 30 minutes is up. "You're a dancer now!" She hugs me before darting off to a meeting. Not wanting to break choreographic protocol, I make sure to thoroughly hug each of my gorgeous backup dancers, too.
I don't know if I'm really a dancer, but I do know I'd like to do more columns like this.
Click here to return to home page