I guess it would be easier to write about something else today. The problem is, I can’t. My friend D. died last week.

D.’s been struggling for years, and, well, he just couldn’t struggle any longer.

And I’ve delayed too long trying to find the words to say at his service. I consider myself a seasoned performer, but the responsibility of paying him proper tribute scares me to death.

Oh! Maybe I should find another way to say that.

But, wait, D. would have laughed — and that’s what matters.

So I’m going to sit down and tell a story about one of my favorite dance friends. 

Passionate about the process

The last time I saw him, he’d been working on a piece to set on a company somewhere in California. Santa Cruz, I think he said. I mostly remember the look in his eyes, a look that refuses to remember how difficult setting a piece is because we are more passionate about the process of choreography than performance.

We used to joke that being a choreographer is like giving birth for other “girls.” If we remembered the pain, we’d never go near a studio again.

After he left, I could have called to see how things were going, but it was more fun to speculate and hear about it later, once we were sitting in our favorite café on 17th Avenue East, cupping a glass of Pinot Noir, when everything he said was a little more accentuated and a little less exciting than what he’d actually been through — which, of course, is the point of Pinot Noir.

“Do you remember the year we took our bows to ‘I Want to Dance With Somebody’?” I asked D.

He winced, clearly still troubled by what happened to Whitney Houston in the end. “Never bring that up again.” 

Grabbing the audience

When D. performed a solo, he had the heart and the energy to make his audience feel what was percolating not just inside him but inside them. To watch D. perform was like seeing a natural phenomenon.

“You’re amazing!” I yelled to him once, over the roar of the audience.

I was waiting in the wings, standing there in my Capezio Camisole Empire Dress, trying not to bump into him as he came flying off stage. But there was no way to avoid him, his enthusiasm was that big.

“I know!” he shouted back, and then he ran back out to take another bow.

He was on fire that night.

And giving so much but not overdoing it is a difficult balance. Most of us need to fight against presenting ourselves a little shyly on opening night, feeling too nervous to really go for it. But from the moment the lights came up, D. would absolutely grab you.

And the golden rule of performance is that it needs to grab you.

Like for me, dancing was just the biggest part of the image D. had of himself from the very beginning.

We argued about costuming, which was never important to D. It’s not what he wants people to focus on.

“I’m trying to hide our flaws,” I said. “Costuming will help knit the dropped stitches together.”

“No, it won’t,” he snapped back. “A gussied-up mistake is still a mistake, angel.”

What D. and I shared was being wholly involved in and fascinated by our work, a luxury not everyone can boast. There are days I like to imagine what this world would be like if everyone was able to work this way — even for just one stage of their life.

MARY LOU SANELLI’s latest book is “Among Friends.” Visit her website: www.marylousanelli.com.

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