Just before my afternoon rehearsal, my BFF and I decided to meet in the park to catch up on life. This girl is the closest of the close of my “sister-friends” and was the maid of honor in my New England wedding. We’d known each other since 1993 when we were on a dance scholarship at Broadway Dance Center. She was a baby-doll dress, combat boot-wearing recent High School graduate from a small town in New Jersey. She had big hair, red lips, a bright smile and a quick wit. She was 18years old, loved boys, rock music (Bon Jovi, to be exact) and beer. She was an awesome dancer and my instant buddy.
I was a 23 year old recently emancipated “devout” Jehovah’s Witness. I freed myself from the clutches of religion that summer when curiosity led me to audition for a world tour with Freedom Williams of C&C Music Factory who was embarking upon a solo career. The last time I went on any dance auditions I was still in my teens and performing with the local pre-professional ballet company that I eventually became the manager of. Little did I expect for Freedom William’s choreographer to call and offer me the gig. Rehearsals were to start the next day. I had a dilemma. I could either return home to the small, college-town where I grew up and continue living with my parents while managing the ballet company and toting my Bible from door-to-door. OR I could move to NYC and go on tour with a famous recording artist. A huge part of me was dying to break free of the conservative religious mold and parental expectations that had shaped my life up until now. I had always wanted to live in NYC ever since my childhood summers spent training at The Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey. Needless to say, I had a monumental life choice to make in a matter of 5 minutes. My mother would consider this a test from Satan; dangling the proverbial apple in front of my face. I saw it as a gift from God and chomped right into the succulent Big Apple. I had already been rehearsing for 3 days before finally mustering the courage to call my parents. It was from the pay phone at Broadway Dance Center that I announced I wasn’t returning home. Silence... for a long time.
I asked my BFF if she wanted to be roommates. We moved into a 1-bedroom sublet on 109th between Broadway & Amsterdam, complete with mice and roaches. It was here that our sisterly bond was formed. Although she was 18 and I was 23, we were both experiencing independence from our families for the first time. Her parents thoroughly supported her move to the city to pursue her dance career. My parents, however, remained “silent”. My “worldly” pursuits were too weighty for them to bear and nothing to be proud of. So my BFF became my family. The unconditional love and support she got from her parents and siblings, she passed on to me.
Besides the 5 year age difference, she was raised Catholic and I, a Jehovah’s Witness. She loved partying and I was just slowly re-discovering the feeling of a good buzz (I was mildly “rebellious” as a teen before embracing the straight and narrow as a JW). She’d use words like “fuck” and “shit”. I’d flinch and still use more “Christian-like” euphemisms like “shoot” and “darn”. She was wild and spontaneous (from my Christian standpoint) while I cautiously and tentatively explored my newfound freedom without the watchful eye of my parents and congregation.
What we did have in common was that we both lived and breathed dance. We took 3 or more daily classes together and would scream “Fierce, girl!” while the other was dancing. If we weren’t in class, we were working together at the front desk at Broadway Dance Center. On Thursdays, we’d religiously pick up Backstage Magazine and circle the auditions we wanted to go on. Plus, we shared meals together which occasionally consisted of the rice and roasted peanuts left in the cabinets by the previous tenant when our funds were too tight for real food. Over rice and peanuts we’d bond over being broke and the inevitable insecurities shared by dancers about appearance and talent. But we laughed a lot too. And most importantly, we shared the same fundamental values about friendship. Complete honesty and trust were non-negotiable. Despite straying from our religious upbringings, we still believed in “Do unto others...”.
I knew my BFF so well that, while sitting in the park before my 1st day back at rehearsal, I sensed something was wrong. The subtle shift in her facial expression made my gut churn.