I have quite a history with Michael Jackson.
Many, many years ago when Michael was still a black guy and sideways ponytails were oh-so-chic, we saw each other frequently. Of course, my view of Michael was partially obstructed by the large pink hippo head I was wearing…but I saw him nonetheless. I was a dancing hippo in the Disneyland parades and Michael was the King of Pop.
Yep…this is me in the flesh. 1983.
Doesn’t look like me, does it? How’s this…I’m the hottie on the right.
Back in the 80’s (or the “olden times”, as my niece says), Michael Jackson couldn’t get enough of Disneyland. Most tourists were too busy chasing down little Jimmy before he grabbed the steaming horse turd in the middle of Main Street to realize that Michael was in the park…standing right above them on the rooftops of Main Street USA. That was his favorite place to hang out during parades. He could see all the action and not worry about the crowds freaking out. That made sense to me until one hot summer night when our paths collided…literally.
Let me just preface this by saying that being a demure, pink hippo ballerina involves several wardrobe “dressers” who were responsible for getting me in and out of the large pink hippo head and body I had to dance in every day. I could not dress or undress myself. The wardrobe staff that worked the parades was top notch except for one guy: Howard.
Howard was a creepy guy. Understand, the parade staff was mostly made up of young women and gay guys. (Sometimes it was hard to tell who was what). Howard always wanted to help us young ladies…and his hands were very slippy. There was usually an “oops moment” where his hand would slip and he’d graze a boob. You can understand, then, why none of us girls were too happy to see Howard walking our way when we needed assistance.
One particularly hot summer night, I pirouetted my fat pink hippo ass through the gates at the Main Street Egg House and into the backstage area of Disneyland. (Any part of Disneyland where the tourists aren’t allowed to go is called backstage, for you non-Disney folk). The heat was cutting off the circulation of blood to my head, I think, because the other 3 hippos managed to grab all the non-creepy wardrobe folks…and here comes Howard straight towards me. HELL no.
I made a mad dash for the main wardrobe area as fast as my fat little pink legs could carry me. It was only a few hundred feet away, but when you’re wearing a giant hippo suit with a head that severely limits your field of vision anything can happen. And anything did. I got lost.
It can get pretty damn dark backstage, especially on a night with no moon. I put my hand out to guide me and felt the corrugated steel paneling that covered the back of the Space Mountain building…so I knew I was close to the Wardrobe Department. I kept walking, using only my hand on the wall to guide me and…SMACK!!!
I plowed into something. I didn’t know who or what it was, but I hit it pretty hard. Next thing I knew, there were hands shoving me back against Space Mountain and men were yelling at me to “Stay where you are, hippo!” Seriously. It was like an episode of CSI gone horribly wrong.
At this point, it was incredibly hard to breathe in that damn suit and I was starting to freak out a little. I saw at least one badge flashing outside the perfectly red kissy mouth of my hippo head. I was more than a little concerned, as any dancer imprisoned inside a large hippo body should be. I wanted out.
When the hands released me and the voices started demanding I explain why I was so far from the parade dressing area, I asked if someone would PLEASE help me get the hippo head off. After I explained the mechanics involved, I heard a disgusted security guard mutter “It’s all sweaty in here”. My reluctant savior put his hands inside my costume (don’t ask) and finally the head came off. I found myself staring into the extremely pissed off expressions of 3 Disney security guards. Heaven help me.
The rest of the group I’d plowed into had already proceeded on and I glanced over to see none other than Michael Jackson, surrounded by security guards, looking back at me as he was escorted a safe distance from the crazy ass hippo. He was wearing sunglasses. At night.
May I present Exhibit A. Look familiar?
Back in the 80’s, Disney security was made up mostly of ex cops and ex Marines who were lead by a profound need to badger the ever loving snot out of the rest of the “cast members”. They particularly enjoyed doing it to the dancers in the parades and shows, as our tendency to hug each other repeatedly and burst into spontaneous song apparently signified a huge threat of some sort.
It was the 80’s and the life of a typical gay person was a lot different back then. It was nothing for me to show up at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner with 8 or 9 gay guys in tow, friends who’s own families had shunned them and seemed perfectly able to turn off their love for their own flesh & blood like water from a faucet. My mother…and my family…welcomed them all with open arms. So, as if that wasn’t enough, these guys would come to work every day and face harassment and ridicule by certain security guards who thought it was their duty to straighten them out. You can imagine my attitude, then, as they held me prisoner against the back of Space Mountain and proceeded to berate me for not watching where I was going.
I think I might have made the situation worse when one of them asked me why the hell I wasn’t watching where I was walking and I retorted with “What the hell, man, I’m wearing a hippo suit…HE’S the one wearing sunglasses in the dark, why don’t you go yell at him?”
They appeared mortally offended that I would dare stand before them and make light of the fact that I might have killed King of Pop with my giant smooshy hippo belly. “Watch your attitude, young lady. That was Michael Jackson!”
“Well how I was supposed to know it was Michael Jackson…he didn’t shriek HOOO HOO when I ran into him!!” I don’t know what came over me, honestly. It might have been the heat…or the near miss of another breast exam from “Dr Howard”. I’d just had enough.
“That’s it!” Security dude #1 grabbed me by my chubby little hippo arm and hauled me over to the security office. I waddled along with him…and then I couldn’t fit through the door. He walked through it and I bounced right back out. He tried pulling me. BOING! Bounced right back. Third time, he pulled me harder and I squeezed through. A few of the glass sparklies flew off my tu tu and scattered across the floor.
“You’re taking the blame for that…not me,” I said quietly, almost instantly regretting it.
I was asked for my ID. After I explained that there’s no pouch in my costume so I can carry my purse inside my giant hippo bowels, he asked me to just give him my name. I cooperated with him after that. Ten minutes and several admonishing glares later, I shoved myself back through the doorway with a written warning and a new found fear of bumping into neurotic celebrities backstage.
Michael and I went on to see each other again that summer. He was always on his perch above Main Street USA and I was always delicately moving my fat hippo feet to and fro, twirling for delighted tourists and secretly wishing my hippo hands had five fingers so I could flip off the security guards who flanked him. Can’t flip the bird with four fingers. Disney wardrobe designers are smart cookies.
As the years went by, I was entertained and delighted by Michael Jackson’s music…and increasingly alarmed by his personal choices and lifestyle. Whatever my opinion was of him personally, though, I can never deny the affect that his music and dancing had on my life in the 80’s and 90’s. I could do every one of his moves, save one: I could never moonwalk.
Fast forward over 20 years later and here I am. I’m no longer a 125 lb dancer trapped in a hippo body. I’m a 300+ lb former dancer who’s lost her way and has recently discovered she’s hiding again…from exercise. My brother has no problem with exercise. He is passionate about it. He can’t wait to get out there and tear up the mountain bike trails. Me? I didn’t get that gene. I missed it somehow. Or so I thought…until I started looking back far enough to a time when I couldn’t hold still. Ever.
Like I said the other day, I never had a problem with exercise when I was a dancer. All I wanted to do was dance. It’s all I could think about. And even now, after all this time, when I see an old musical or hear a great piece of music, I get an overwhelming physical urge to get off my 3.5 asses and DANCE!!! I can’t help it. It’s just how I’m built.
That’s what made me realize that I needed to look fear right in the face and say “SCREW YOU!!!” I’d purchased a boxing game for our Playstation 3 because I thought the answer to my problems was to punch air while holding oddly shaped game controllers in my clenched fists. That’s not what I need. I need to dance. So I put the unopened game in my purse and hauled my 3.5’s to Sam’s Club and exchanged it…for The Michael Jackson Experience. Hoo hoo! Shamone!! (Whatever that means.)
All that effort and I still had to talk myself into putting the game in the console. I get the feeling this is one demon that won’t go quietly. I strapped the Sony MOVE controller to my wrist and started the game up. Here we go…first selection…”Who Is It?” from the Dangerous album. Love it.
The choreography was very simple. My dancer’s brain hasn’t changed much in over 20 years…but my body has. I am no longer coordinated. I’m clunky. I can’t pick up routines on the first run through as I used to. And I can’t jump or spin without taking out at least one piece of furniture or falling head first into the fireplace. You don’t want to know how I know that.
I was just trying to get through it and mark down the choreography the first time. I kept catching glimpses of myself in the side of the screen, all fat and gross and out of sync with the music. I kept fighting the urge to put away the game until I hit my goal weight. That’s the crux of the problem: my old dance teacher is still in my head. If I’m not perfect, I shouldn’t be doing it.
There came a point, though, near the end of the song when I was following along nicely and the music was groovy. The music started to build. I was in the zone. Suddenly I felt an enormous surge of something I haven’t felt in a long, long time: passion…for dancing. I was overwhelmed. I no longer cared what the hell I looked like or how many steps I was missing. I just wanted to rock the hell out.
I was exhilarated…my heart was pounding like crazy…I was smiling ear to ear…tears were streaming down my face…and I was afraid. A lot of old, unpleasant feelings were coming back…and a lot of JOY. It was all mixed in together and uncomfortable as hell.
In the years that followed my escape from my dance teacher and from my miserable life as a young dancer, I blocked anything and everything to do with dance from my world. I quit my job at Disneyland, I left the dance studio behind, and never looked back. I thought I could do that forever…until I was standing in my living room four days ago.
I’ve realized now that I’m only going to get through this if I face my biggest fear. Dance, and all the issues that still lurk in the dark, is both the demon AND the savior here. I have to look past all the bad memories and move on to make some happy ones. All the walking trails and Homemade 5K’s in the world aren’t going to save me from myself if I can’t make peace with this now…because this is what keeps me from living a more physical life.
True to the spirit of Battle of the Butt, I’ve come up with a plan of attack. It’s time for a little “strategory”. (If you’re not a fan of Will Ferrell, you probably won’t get that one.) After a little recon work, I realized that simply playing this video game isn’t going to be enough cardio…so I decided to jump right on Fear’s back and kick his ass. Next payday, I’m joining a local Jazzercise group…and I’m taking 4 classes a week. Hell yeah, baby. This is happening. With a quickness.
I’m tired of the fat. I want to ride rollercoasters and dance with my husband. I want to ride in an airplane without needing a seatbelt extender. I want to be able to throw out workout pants because they’re out of style, not because my thighs have rubbed holes in them. I want to go to a Texas Rangers baseball game and fit in the damn seats. I am living a coward’s life…and I’m sick of it.
It’s time to step out of the shadows and into the sun. No more cowardice. No more bullshit. No more excuses. Life is too short.
(By the way…remind me of all this bravado when I can’t walk to the car because Jazzercise kicked my ass, ok?)
The plan is: Jazzercise 4 days a week. The Michael Jackson experience AND treadmill the other 3 days a week.
Payday is a week away.
Michael Jackson The Experience