Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dancing in the Light

Last night I watched the Kennedy Center Honors. They have a special place in my heart because in 1978, Liz Stevens asked a few of the Carter political appointees to help out with this new project her husband was working on. She said it was simple work. We just had to escort an Honoree while they were at the Kennedy Center for the evening of special activities. It sounded like fun and I agreed to help out.

The nominee I was assigned was Fred Astaire. When I was a little girl I dreamed about tapping like Fred, (whom I worshipped on the silver screen), but my mother didn’t think I would practice, so tap lessons were not on the list of things I could do. Oh, my cousin had an old accordion available so she encouraged me to do that. But the damn thing was so heavy I couldn’t carry it from school to the lessons.

Anyway, tap was always a passion. And in my imagination, Fred Astaire was always my partner. You can only imagine how excited I was about meeting him. But meeting was only the beginning. We were all introduced to our Honorees early in the day. Since most of us worked at the State Department, we could walk the short distance to the Kennedy Center. (Some of us galloped).

There were five nominees that year. Although they were exceptional performing artists, they were neither voted on nor was there any particular reason they were the first, except that they accepted George Stevens invitation to be honored. They were Fred Astaire, Marian Anderson, Richard Rogers, George Balanchine and Arthur Rubenstein. The people in Washington were ecstatic…. Real artist/celebrities coming to their town. And not just any old celebrity – Marian Anderson and Fred Astaire! All of them would probably dress up and even glitter. (Washington in 1978 was not the sophisticated city it is today. There were two restaurants that were open late – both in Georgetown. One was Spanish (not Mexican) and one cheese. (You can only imagine).

Fred Astaire was absolutely charming and incredibly forgiving. When we were introduced I could not remember my name. But he looked at my tag and reminded me who I was. He insisted that I accompany him to the celebrity cocktail party and that I wait backstage (instead of outside the box) so I could see the tributes and meet the artists. He assured me that he would call me on my radio if he needed anything, but said there was no way he was going to miss a moment of the show to go to the bathroom. The cast from “Chorus Line” performed as part of his tribute. It was so exciting to be there backstage and witness the frenzy.

It was very late when I went to retrieve him after the show to escort him to the after dinner. The technology was such that it was done in real time. He was elated and exhausted by the kudos (Hollywood loves Washington, and Washington loves Hollywood), after the show. While we were walking through the Center he asked me if I enjoyed the show and did I like to dance. I told him yes and admitted that he was my fantasy dance partner and had been from the time I was a little girl. And he asked me to dance. Right there in the middle of the Kennedy Center lobby, in front of God and all the other VIP’s in the hall. I didn’t hesitate for even a minute. “Yes, I would love to dance with you.”
It was Thrilling. Thrilled, moved to tears at the same time, I was laughing and listening to my heart beat louder than it ever had in my life. He sang, “Dancing in the Dark.” The lights were bright but for those few moments, there was no one else in the hall. A treasured memory, to say the least..


We’re just sayin’… Iris

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