Life changed over the next few years. After third grade, Jackie and I both moved. I moved 12 blocks from my old house and didn’t even have to change schools. Jackie moved far enough away that she had to go to another school. I no longer “figure skated” on the concrete slab on the school playground. I had no desire to share that experience with anyone else. I stopped practicing skating jumps by jumping off of furniture or the slide because they really weren’t helping me improve. However, when I was nine years old I got a pair of roller skates for Christmas. As soon as the weather warmed up, I donned my knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmet, and roller skates every day after school and hit the pavement on the driveway (sometimes literally) and loved every minute of it. I don’t think I attempted any jumps on roller skates, but I remember trying to perform in my roller skates on the driveway. I also remember how fun it was to skate fast and do forward crossovers, although at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.
I also kept up with figure skating by reading as many books on it as I could find. My school district’s library had a grand total of two books about figure skating (maybe four or so if you count books about the Winter Olympics in general), but those books introduced me to Peggy Fleming, Sonja Henie, Dorothy Hamill, Dick Button, the pairs team of Tai Babalonia and Randy Gardner, and Irina Rodnina and her pairs partners, Alexei Ulanov and Alexander Zaitsev. I still remember those black and white photos like I saw them yesterday. Thankfully, over the years I got my hands on more figure skating books at school book fairs and through book order at school. (Thanks, Mom!) One of the books even described, in words and with pictures, the differences between each of the figure skating jumps and how to do them. I never knew how to distinguish one jump from the other until I got that book when I was 10 or 11 years old. (For those of you who are curious, it’s all in the takeoff in the jump. Watch the skaters’ feet carefully the next time you watch skating. You can also watch this: http://www.monkeysee.com/play/2327-ice-skating-how-to-perform-the-six-basic-jumps)
I also kept dancing, but not always in a studio setting. I took tap and ballet, but I quit in December during my fifth grade year. I loved dance, but I was bored in class. Due to circumstances out of my control, the class of three I was in had to become a class of two, so my fellow classmate and I had to merge with another class. I wasn’t learning anything in this new class and was not enjoying it.
Even though I wasn’t dancing in a structured studio setting, dance and performing were still very much a part of my life. I performed in my school’s variety show every year from fourth through eighth grade. I performed tap solos every year. I modified two of the pieces from my recital, but the others I choreographed by myself. I also tried out for and earned a spot on the school’s pom pon squad during my seventh and eighth grade years (’97-’98 and ’98-’99). I attended summer camp with the rest of the team, performed during half time at all of the boys seventh and eight grade basketball games, and marched in parades with the marching band as a flag girl.
I also danced outside of the school setting. The day my family and I moved into our house, our next door neighbors, Dale and Arlene, had a barbecue in their back yard for us and everyone who helped us move. As I sat at the kid-sized table, I stopped mid-sentence in a conversation with Arlene when I happened to notice the brick patio in front of me. It was long, deep, flat, and elevated about eight inches from the ground.
“That would make a perfect stage!” I declared excitedly.
The summer before sixth grade, a new girl named Allison and her family moved into the house across the street from us. It didn’t take long for us to become best friends. She taught me a few of the things she learned in baton twirling lessons that she had taken before moving to the neighborhood, and I taught her what I learned in dance over the years. She and I also put together an annual Backyard Variety Show for the summers of ’97 and ’98. Looking back, however, “variety show” may not have been the best title since all of the acts were dance numbers. We spent months preparing for these shows by listening to music, trying on our old dance costumes, dancing in our bedrooms, choreographing solos and group numbers to perform (my cousin, Melissa, usually came in town the same week we performed and contributed her dance costumes, as well), watching musicals and my dance recital videos to learn new steps, and making and handing out flyers to our neighbors to invite them to our production. We didn’t charge admission. The neighbors brought their lawn chairs and sat in the yard, facing the patio. My mom helped my brother set up a lemonade stand, and he sold lemonade for 10 cents a cup. The first year we did the show, Dale and Arlene made homemade ice cream for everyone to enjoy after the finale. Each show was about an hour long and featured group and solo dance pieces. We were the dancers, the choreographers, the PR/marketing team, the sound engineers (we recorded all of our music onto one cassette tape to use for the show), the show order deciders (for lack of a better term), the makeup artists, and the costume/wardrobe managers. My mom decorated the back of the patio with crepe paper and garland. She also assisted with special effects when we needed a lot of bubbles for our 1998 finale: “Adios, Au Revoir, Aufweidersehn” from The Lawrence Welk Show. That finale is one of my favorite memories of any Backyard Variety Show that we did because it got the best reaction from our audience. Most of the people who watched were senior citizens and were familiar with that song, and it came as a surprise to them because we never printed programs. Dale and Arlene graciously let us use their house for costume changes, which we could easily access by entering their house through the breezeway door directly behind the patio. We performed our dances on that brick patio in their backyard, hence the title, Backyard Variety Show.
Allison and I also watched that figure skating tape from 1994. She became hooked, and I rediscovered my love for the sport. When 1998 rolled around, we couldn’t get enough of the figure skating coverage during those Winter Olympics, which Mom taped, and which I watched over and over. My desire to take lessons resurfaced.
During the spring of ’98, I learned that lessons might be a more realistic possibility. An indoor ice rink was being built in a town about 15 minutes from where I lived. It would be finished by that fall.