Wednesday, September 20, 2006

As mentioned earlier, I am a huge fan of dance. Mostly I prefer classical ballet, but one of the more avant garde troupes I have always cherished is Pilobolus. They describe themselves on their web site as “dancer-athletes”, and this is certainly the case. Their energetic style of performance is half gymnastics, half dance, half street theatre and half what I can only describe as joyous frolicking. (I was never good at fractions.) I have seen them a half-dozen times and loved them every time. See them if you get a chance.

Having thereby laid the groundwork, I can now tell my charming little Pilobolus story. A number of years ago I was working a six month contract in Toronto, Canada, and was lonely and friendless nearly the whole time. This is not because I was shy or inhibited; quite the contrary: I was “Mr. Fun” to my coworkers, if only in comparison to them. And as an aside, I’m not saying they’re anal retentive, but Anglophonic Canadians seem to leave little puckers in the vinyl of their barstools when they get up. They are quite different from the passionate Francophones, who I love and who I visit (MontrĂ©al) when I can.

So, there I am in an interesting but emotionally cold city, being outrageously overpaid and at the same time starkly alone. One weekend I found myself strolling along Queen’s Quay, which at the time was the only place you could shop in Toronto on Sundays. In the course of my meandering I happened across a poster on a street lamp advertising Pilobolus coming soon to some local theater space. I wrote down the ticket number, and eventually I called it and ordered two tickets, best available seats. (I have never ordered just one ticket for anything; hope springs eternal in the Hulles breast.)

“Hunh,” I thought to myself. “Who will I find to go with me?” This was a non-trivial question, since I knew not one single woman in the entire city of Toronto, and going to the ballet with a guy just wasn’t in the cards (then or now).

Finally, a few days before the event, I was in the cafeteria of the company I was unabashedly extorting when I overheard a woman ahead of me in line speaking English with an obvious French accent. I had no idea who she was, but I figured she must like culture shit if she was of French descent, and she had the right number of arms and legs, so I cornered her later in the day, introduced myself, and asked her out to the ballet. Surprisingly, she agreed, although I think “deer in the headlights” best describes her face when I asked her. She said her name was Danielle in a lilting French Canadian accent that drove me crazy. I somehow maintained my composure and told her to meet me in my hotel lobby at 7pm of the day of the event. Woo hoo!

Now that I actually had a date, saints be praised, I began to plot. What else would be fun to do? I spoke to a person I had come to know who owned a very nice Indian restaurant and asked for a dinner reservation following the performance. I also talked to the guy who always picked me up in a limo at the airport, and asked him if he had a stretch. He said sure, and said he’d pick me up at the appropriate time and take care of my transportation needs for the entire evening. He asked if he could bring his wife, who I also knew, and I said sure, thinking it would make the whole thing less intimidating to Danielle. Oops.

The night arrived, and I dressed up and went to wait in the hotel lobby. Danielle showed up, thank God. I greeted her somewhat self-consciously and escorted her out to the waiting stretch limo. As her eyes grew wide, I realized I had forgotten to mention the limo and the rest of the plans I had made for the evening. Cool, I’ll surprise her, I thought. We hopped into the limo, and drove mostly in silence to the theatre where Pilobolus was to perform.

Once inside the rather intimate theatre, we were shown to our seats. The theatre was one of those with seats in tiers that rose up sharply from the stage at the bottom; it turned out that “best available” meant seats in the front row, about ten feet away from the dancers! I had no idea of this ahead of time, but I was thrilled. Danielle’s eyes just got wider, and proceeded to widen even more as Pilobolus wove its magic (and incidentally showered us with droplets of sweat as they spun around). Her eyes were like saucers when the troupe performed one piece that they did in the nude. I had seen the same work performed before in Minnesota, but at that time and in that place they wore flesh-colored body stockings to avoid the otherwise inevitable puritan backlash. Like many things, it’s better done naked.

After the marvelous performance ended, I finally remembered to tell her about dinner. My pal and his wife in the limo picked us up and whisked us to the Indian restaurant. As it was somewhat later than I had expected, we were late for our reservation, but the owner had kept the restaurant open just for us! We were the only patrons, and had a very attentive staff of a half-dozen people waiting upon us as only Indian restaurant serving units can do. This was pretty cool, I thought. Danielle’s reaction to all this was hard to read, but I began to feel that she was becoming uncomfortable. Hmm. I belatedly realized that perhaps I should have told her what I had intended. It started to sink in that I was a complete stranger to her prior to that evening, and that I hadn’t even begun to prepare her for what was in store (although even I hadn’t expected the degree of decadence that we seemed to be achieving). Better do something to reassure her on the limo ride home, I thought.

When at last the limo picked us up at the restaurant, we climbed into the back, with the driver and his wife once again in the front seat. On the way home, however, the guy’s wife kind of slid over next to him and he put his arm around her and they cuddled up! At this point, I could exactly read Danielle’s mind: “Holy shit, this weird American guy certainly went all out to get in my drawers the first date. It isn’t my M.O, but such dogged determination certainly deserves something. What do I do?” I hastened to reassure her that all I wanted was someone to share the evening with, that I liked pampering myself and others, and that I would have done the whole thing even if it had been just me. This was even mostly true, as unlikely as it sounds. Imagine how unlikely it sounded to her.

When we were dropped at the hotel, she simply thanked me for the evening, said good night, and got in her car and drove away. I was ebullient when I returned to my room, however, as I had had a completely magical evening and nekulturny French Canadian girls be damned.

As a postscript, Danielle and I went out a couple more times before I returned to Minnesota, and we parted slightly more than friends and a hell of a lot less than lovers, which was just fine. I bet I ruined her for first dates from that point on, however. Come to think of it, I ruined myself for first dates as well. I haven’t had one like it since.

Maybe being a straight guy who likes dance isn’t so bad, after all.

- Hulles

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