Thursday, June 2, 2016

He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing

Hips come and hips go and my beloved dance teacher Doug Rivera has now had both of them replaced. His latest hospital outing brought him bionic hip number two and the requisite helping of pain.  After six weeks, he’s dancing like a pro again. He’s Gene Kelly meets Iron Man. He may be 70-something but he still sports the wide and mischievous grin of a naughty teenage boy.  Doug’s jazz class caters to middle-aged (and beyond) dance devotees who’ve been twirling around in search of our inner Isadoras since puberty. We’ve got our Bob Fosse moves down, more or less. We’ve done our fair share of questionable double-turns and lopsided leaps.

Oh, yes, we’ve been there and done that with more ego-deflating teachers than we care to recall. Now we just want to groove at our own decelerated pace. We don’t want to be judged anymore, thank you. The days of tyrannical instructors disparaging us are well behind us. Doug praises us for simply showing up. “You made it!” he calls out, excitedly, even if you’re a few minutes late. He tells us we’re limber if we manage to bend down and touch our toes. He tells us we don’t have to get the routine right as long as we smile. He tells us we’re wonderful… amazing… beautiful. We tell him he’s delusional. Still, you can’t put a price tag on that sort of crazy unconditional love and non-stop encouragement. At this stage of the game, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

During Doug’s absence, I went a little bit nuts. I forgot just how far I’ve evolved. I forgot how secure I’d become. I forgot all my glorious resolutions. Above all, I forgot how much I disliked the delayed onset of muscle soreness.

What happened to that fancy affidavit I signed in my attorney’s office? The one that clearly stated the following in specific legal lingo: 

I hereby swear to never endure another dance class where I’m forced to travel in a diagonal direction and, God forbid, solo across the floor, attempting double turns and leaps I was never good at to begin with, in an effort to save face, even though I risk permanently damaging various joints and soft body tissues, not to mention bruising my fragile psyche, all for the entertainment of others.

That affidavit went missing, along with my common sense. Luckily, I had a co-conspirator. I corralled Carrie, or maybe she corralled me, it’s all so humbling I’ve lost track, to search for a substitute dance class, an outlet where we could show off our impressive skills and put the other, less gifted dancers to shame. Talk about fun. We could hardly wait to get started.

Our first venture, billed on the schedule as Beginning Jazz, turned out to be false advertising. It was an advanced ballet class. Carrie and I were in way over our heads. The music started. The room started spinning. And that’s about all I can remember.

Strangely enough, Carrie and I were undeterred. We decided to wipe that class from our memory. We went straight into denial. It never happened. Next.  A few days later, I called Carrie. This one was definitely my fault. I take full responsibility for the impending shame. “Let’s try another class!” I declared, secretly icing my hip flexors off-camera. “There’s a jazz class over at Hama’s.” There was silence on the other end. “Carrie? Are you there?” “Hama’s? I don’t know. He’s hard,” she informed me. "He’s not the teacher. It’s someone else. Kristen. And it’s beginning!” “Yeah, okay,” she said, reluctantly. “What time?”

I should have taken Carrie’s lack of enthusiasm as a warning sign. She’s a smart, intuitive career gal who’s organized big conventions in Vegas. She knows trouble before it even hits. Once again, Beginning Jazz was a sad misnomer. Beginning Jazz was yet another euphemism for Advanced Humiliation. Carrie and I tried so hard. We contorted ourselves into weird shapes. We dizzied ourselves across the floor. We did our pirouettes and leaps. We did our best to defy gravity. We tried to follow the instructor’s head-scratching lyrical style, as far removed from Fosse as dance can get.

Overall, the experience was mortifying. Naturally, we went back a second time just to confirm our first impression.  “Never again,” I told Carrie. “I don’t know what I was trying to prove.” Wisely, she replied, “We wanted to prove we still had it.” “Apparently, we don’t,” I concluded, sadly. Once again, I’ve revisited one of life’s great lessons, better said with a Southern accent: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Unless of course, a hip is involved.


  1. I was just thinking about Doug, wondering what he was doing. And I'm SO glad to hear he's still dancing and still the positive teacher I remember. I studied with him about 30++ (+?) years ago and I adored the man. I was always high when I finished class from the energy, enthusiasm and love. Thank you for your blog. And please give him my best. He probably won't remember me, but I'll never forget him.
    Emily Schiller

  2. Wow, Doug Rivera. All the women back in 1970 were in love with him. What made me think of him? Oh I know. I was just watching an old movie with Steven Peck playing a small role. Anyway, where is Doug Rivera teaching? I'd love to catch a glimpse of him or dare I, take a class?

  3. I've thought of Doug many times since I took his Jazz class more than 30 years ago. He was a great teacher & I only left his class because I moved out of the area. I'd love to be able to take that class again! I am thrilled to know he is still teaching. Keep on keeping on, Doug!
    Judy Hack

  4. Do you know if he will be teaching a dance class this Sunday (11-27)?

  5. Will Doug be teaching Super Bowl Sunday? Not that I care about SSS, but I do care about Doug and would prefer not to travel 50 miles if he is "no in casa".

  6. Will Doug be teaching Super Bowl Sunday? Not that I care about SSS, but I do care about Doug and would prefer not to travel 50 miles if he is "no in casa".

  7. Will Doug be teaching Super Bowl Sunday? Not that I care about SSS, but I do care about Doug and would prefer not to travel 50 miles if he is "no in casa".

  8. I had a dream last night about Doug which prompted me to Google him, and found my way here! I, too, am a huge Doug Rivera fan from my days with him as a teenager over 25 years ago! His classes were simply the BEST: passionate, alive, kind, and fun. I always left feeling high on life and good about myself. I'm so happy to hear he's still dancing and sharing his infectious love of life and dance with others. Please tell him hello from Sheryl Paul.

  9. Oh how many searches I've done for Doug, and how happy I was to read this! I see that I'm not the only one who felt this way about the classes and the man. I took from Doug starting around 1978. We stayed in touch until I left CA. I would sure love to get in touch with him again.

  10. I love all these comments. Sorry I never replied! Doug is still teaching Tuesday nights (8) and Sundays (4:30) at Anisa's in Sherman Oaks.

  11. Did you notice that the comments were from 2012? Do I perchance smell a cold case blog here? If so, it's timeless and entertaining, so sent out more of your "Best of..." material.

  12. Yes I'm well-aware. I first posted it in 2010, which I reveal at the end of the blog. I'm reposting a lot lately. My readership is way down. Trying to figure out what to do. Panic is top of the list, followed by pouting, arm flailing and despair.