The Rutherford Common Room, at least the bottom floor, reminded me of a gymnasium in an elementary school. Like the gym in my elementary school—I think, it had been quite a while since then, to be honest—the floors were wooden, the lights were fluorescent and flickered, and there were a whole shitload of scuff marks.
It was a two-level room, the bottom of which resembled the home plate of a baseball diamond. Two of the were glass, and faced Eliot Hill’s footpath, with a nice view of the library on the crest of the University’s hill. The entrance to the common room, one of them, at least, led in through one of the winding hallways that went right by Rutherford Bar. Opposite the windows, there were a few entrances to the Bar.
The second floor – or first floor if you’re European – led to a game room that held a few disheveled pool tables. For the most part, the game room up top was empty, as most people at UKC would rather get blackout drunk than anything else. (For that, more than anything else, they paid three thousand pounds a year. They sure as hell didn’t get that amount of value from their education.) This semi-functional alcoholism was assisted by way of having a bar in every living quarters on campus. Along the walls of the Common Room were couches and tables, set up with chairs. I imagine that the intended use of this area was for students to study here, however, whenever I walked in I saw groups of people playing Dungeons and Dragons and drinking; talking football and drinking; playing poker and drinking; and sleeping after drinking.
I was there because it was time for the first dance rehearsal, and I was shitting myself in fear. Not because I was about to embarrass myself in front of people—I was counting on that, actually; I’d been working on an absurd accent reminiscent of the battlecruiser admirals in StarCraft—but because I’d inherited a very inconvenient gene from my father: The Not Being Able to Dance Gene.
And yes, I understood that this was a musical, and that, thus, I would have to dance. However, when I auditioned, I didn’t quite believe that I would get the role. I expected to get told “Yes, you were fine, but we found someone who was beyond fine and actually good, so goodbye.” That, obviously, did not happen, and I found myself in quite the predicament of being unable to move with any semblance of rhythm in a setting that required a person to have quite a bit of rhythm.
As such, the cast of Fiddler, the specific number of which eludes me at the moment because it’s been a year (oy) since then, stood in four lines in the middle of the room, facing Jamie the Choreographer, a guy who’d won a European dance championship and was now spending a lot of time with a bunch of schmucks who’d rather be drinking. And now, he stood in front of all of us, doing a dance that I vaguely remembered seeing from my synagogue days as a kid, when we had electives in Hebrew School, and one of those was Dance.
“So then you do one of these,” he said, kind of squatting and shuffling to the side. Think Zoidberg’s scuttle from Futurama, and then mix it with less jerky movements and more along the lines of stepping in time to “Hava Nagilah.” “And then raise your hand up like this,” he raised his hand into the air, palm up. Kind of the anti-heil Hitler. “No, don’t do that,” he said to one of the people in the line behind me. “That’s a Nazi salute.”
The room erupted into laughter and then started chattering like a group of five year olds getting ready for recess.
“Hey! Hey, no! Hey!” He shouted, trying in vain to get everyone’s attention. He clapped his hands, but it led to nothing.
Laura bolted up from the couch and shouted, “Hey!”
Everyone shut up.
She harangued the cast, and after a bit, we shut up and started practicing how to step to the side in time with the music.
Of course, I couldn’t get it. This was my people’s dance—in a way—and I couldn’t get it. “Pfff,” I said.
Jamie came over, rubbed his temples and said, “Okay, take a breath.”
“Watch my feet.”
I tried to do the same thing, stumbled a bit, stomped at the wrong time, and said, “I’m sorry.”
He rubbed his temples a bit more. “No, no worries mate, you’re doing fine.”
That was a lie. I knew it was a lie, because there was a massive vein pulsating in his forehead, and I knew, deep down inside, that I had failed yet another person in my life. I made a mental note to practice the damn dance five hours a day until I could step in fucking time to something that, by my odd logic, I should have been able to do from the womb.
Jamie moved to another group of people, and I turned to the other Papas. (A word: For the “Tradition” dance, we’d been separated into groups like The Papas, the Sons, the Daughters, and the Mamas. The Sons were every guy who couldn’t grow facial hair; The Daughters were the youngest-looking/shortest girls; The Papas were the principle males/the two non-principles who could grow facial hair; and the Mamas were the girls who looked like they could be overbearing and ruin a day via a nice, long guilt trip.) Among them were Johannes, the Faroese Viking who once grew a beard the length of Darwin’s in the span of ten minutes; Simon, the gay Tevye; Marcus, the well-meaning but perhaps-unintentionally sleazy sonofabitch; and Jon, the man who volunteered to be a dead grandmother, and reminded me of Animal from the Muppets for some reason.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” I said.
“I can tell,” said Johannes. “Look,” he continued, displaying the proper way to move one’s feet in a circle, in time to music, without tripping over them.
I tried it again and, once again, gave up in frustration within a few seconds.
Luckily, though, there was a certain team spirit (probably brought on by the realization that if we failed something as easy as moving in a circle, Laura would have our heads on a platter) about it all, and eventually, after about half an hour of tripping over my feet, I managed to not trip over my feet as much, and Jamie had finished tweaking the other groups’ performances.
We all lined up and engaged in linedancing. This was different than any Jewish dancing I’d previously experienced—but then again, most Jewish dancing I’d experienced was in a drunken haze in the basement and wasn’t very Jewish at all. The dance lesson lasted for a good thirty or so minute later until Jamie gave up and asked for help bringing his speakers and CD player back to his car.
The room emptied nearly immediately. Left in the room with Laura, Lucie, Kane, and a few other people in one bunch, I decided that now was the time to swoop in and beg forgiveness for my disturbing inability to dance. “Yo,” I said, walking up and clearing my throat. I pointed at the speakers and said, “need help?”
“Yeah,” Jamie said, wiping sweat off his brow. “You’d think there’d be a few more people offering to help an injured man move a stereo to his car.”I helplessly shrugged.
 There’s a little, squeaky voice in the back of my head that’s saying I’m coming across as being mightily unfair to Laura. She was doing her job as a director, overseeing a horde of libido- and alcohol-driven actors and actresses made up mostly of freshmen. As such, the shift into Director Mode brought her into Janice the Ripper territory, and since I’m neurotic, I sometimes have a rough time separating professional (or amateur, since this wasn’t a professional production, though it could have been because it was really well done, as you’ll see if this goddamn blog ever moves forward) conduct from personal conduct. Basically: Never trust anything I have to say. Ever.