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Five Times They Danced, and One Time They Didn't

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Flying Down to Rio – Carioca / Music Makes Me

"Two heads together / They say/ Are better than one / Two heads together/That's how/The dance is begun"
"Music makes me do the things I never should do."

Hermes Pan took a deep breath. Took another deep breath. Told himself not to panic.

He just needed to go to Fred Astaire, one of the leading lights of American and British theater, who'd been dancing since he was in the womb, and tell him how to dance.

Hermes had figured that as Dave Gould's assistant, he'd be... assisting. But you give one suggestion on how to pull off a big dance number, and they expected you to keep pulling rabbits out of your shoes. "Why don't you just pop on over to stage 9 and help Fred?" Hermes muttered under his breath. "How about the earth open up under me."

He breathed again. Told himself to stop stalling and go. Fred Astaire was just a man. Just a really famous man.

Hermes opened the door and saw something he never would have expected.

Himself.

Obviously, not himself. But some other him. Thin and slight and spinning. Tapping the floor and beating the air with airplaning arms and rippling fingers. Feet in rapid counter to the music.

The other him stopped on a beat. "Damnit." He started again. Stopped. Went over to a spot by the wall and hit something metal with his tap shoes. A nail went flying into the wall. The man began again with sharp irritable taps.

Hermes cleared his throat. He said, "Hallo."

The man stopped and looked at him. "Didn't see you there." Walked forward. Feet in cranky rhythm. "I'm Fred Astaire."

Hermes coughed "I'm, I'm..." he couldn't remember his own name. He blinked breathed, said, "Pan. I'm Pan." Fine. Sure. He smiled weakly. "That first step. I like it. It's... swell."

Fred shrugged. "It's very simple." He snapped off a few steps.

Without stopping to think, Hermes snapped the steps back at Fred. "Yeah, I know. I just like the way you do it." Hermes circled around Fred, repeating the steps, adding his own staccato rock back at the end of each beat. "When I do it, I get something different, but I like the way you can travel with it."

"Traveling's not the problem." Fred ran a quick line of steps, flailing his arms as if he was out of control, perfect control, back and forth across the room. Then he stopped. "I just can't figure out how to get to the next bit."

"But that's easy." Hermes slapped his hands together; arms fully extended forward, then slapped the ground with his right toe.

"Huh." Fred repeated the line of moves and then shifted on the toe tap into a step where he almost twisted all around on his long legs. He was wearing grey pants that were too short and very loud pink socks.

Hermes mimicked the move and then threw in a variation of small hops, his feet together.

Fred picked up the step and embroidered on it. They tossed back steps and windmill hands and arms until the clock went all around.

Finally, they stopped. Fred grinned. He said, "All right."

He held out his hand. Hermes shook it, his heart beating hard and his head light. He was grinning.

The door opened and a tiny red headed woman came into the soundstage. Fred said, "Pan, this is my wife Phyllis." He pulled Phyllis under his arm. "Phyllis, this is Pan. We'll be working out dance numbers together." Fred curved around Phyllis a little and gave her a peck on the cheek.

Phyllis smiled softly at Hermes. "You'll have to fowgive Fwed, we're still pwactically newlyweds."

Hermes stifled a laugh that might have come out a giggle and shook her hand. "Pleasure to meet you." Looked at Fred, who could be his twin, his brother, some other half of himself. "Pleasure to meet both of you."

 

Gay Divorcee – Night and Day

"Like the beat beat beat of the tom-tom
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick tick tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall
Like the drip drip drip of the raindrops
When the summer shower is through
So a voice within me keeps repeating you, you, you."

 

Fred cleared his throat.

Pan looked down at his hands and flushed slightly. He'd gone into lead position again. He glanced down. "Sorry."

Fred laughed, not unkindly, and said, "Pan, just hold your arms out."

Pan sighed and stood like someone going to the cross. Not much different. What was he doing here? Noodling to figure out solos was one thing, but Pan didn't know anything about romantic numbers.

This was stupid. Abruptly Pan twisted left and started for the door.

Fred took two long steps and blocked Pan's way.

Fred said, "Yeah, I like that. Do it again." Pan shook his head and started for the other door. Faster, but Fred long legged around him. Blocked the way. Fred did this little thing with his fingers. His arms were wide open in hold, but the two middle fingers twitched forward go.

Pan spun around and went for the door.

They did that for what seemed like hours. Walking back and forth. Pan evading. Fred spinning around him. Blocking his way

Somewhere in there Hal Borne was playing Night and Day. Pan felt the beat, beat of the keys as he strolled and spun back and forth across the stage.

Felt like this walking would go on forever.

Nothing was forever. On some millionth walk, arms back and forth as he paced, Fred caught Pan's wrist. Pan turned to look. Fred smiled wide. Let go and did one-two-three tap and spun.

Pan rolled his eyes and headed for the door. Found his wrist caught again, but this time, Fred didn't let go. Spun him quickly and then they were waltzing. Just the barest pressure of Fred's thumb on the small of his back as they stepped into one, two, three. Their noses almost touching. The faint piano in the background. Their steps in counter point as Fred spun Pan under arm in open windows and then back into waltz position. Fred's wide fingered hand spread across Pan's back. Seeming to span his whole ribcage. Heart pounding from the exercise. Legs rubbery and limp from motion.

Still they danced.

Box step and pivot into head spinning rotary. Release into the barest hold of Fred's thumb over the back of his hand and then a snap spin. Motion curling Pan's own arm around himself to fall lockstep into some dreamy skater's position. They drifted around the stage.

Finally they came to a stop. Stared at each other. The piano trickling away. Leaving only the tick, tick of the stately clock. They'd been dancing for hours.

From somewhere, Pan found himself saying, "That's the first minute. Now we just need to figure out the next two."

Fred laughed, noodled a quick tap break. Twitching his hands in the air as if to pluck canes and hats. Pan wouldn't put it past him. There was a row of nails in the wall that told their own story.

Then they started again. It was hours yet before Fred would phone Phyllis to say he was going home.

 

Roberta – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
"They, said some day you'll find,
All who love are blind,
When you heart's on fire, you must realize,
Smoke gets in your eyes.

It was a dance of two people who trusted each other. Hearts that burned in steady beat. Feet in perfect syncopation.

Flowing walk down stairs, arm in arm and into almost touching, but not touching steps. They mirrored each other. Spinning like two gears in the world's engine. Then out across the floor, arms spread out. Reaching never to touch. Round and round each other. A dip, a spin and then a slight touch. Elegant and straining for what did not reach.

Fred held Pan's far hand up and made an L of his arm.

Pan could feel the radiant heat of hours of motion, but not a whisper of fabric. Just a dry wide hand holding his fingers. Spinning him around and then the delicate touch moved to his waist.

Still they moved in perfect rhythm. Hours of dancing trained into this perfect flow of psychic steps and delicate windows. Smoke getting into Pan's eyes from his beating heart.

Finally giving into a waltz. Back and forth rotations that grew wider and deeper as Pan leaned back into the spin. Back bending like a vine. Then up to spin.

Break away. Their arms almost intertwined, their bodies bent around each other. Not touching. Spinning gears, almost feeling the teeth where their steps were joined. Hips side by side as they smoothly shifted into waltz position, but they did not waltz.

Instead Fred dipped Pan back, almost reaching the floor in a fluid smoke motion.

Slowly curling back up and they danced, side by side, Pan's forehead on Fred's shoulder. He could feel the bone even through three layers of fabric. Forward and back.

Break away to once again perfectly mirror each other. Dance around each other. Two planets. Hands joined, they spun back up the stairs. Walked, as if off stage, arm in arm away.

They smiled at each other and nodded.

This was the last day of practice. The last day they would dance this dance. Next week, Fred would practice his solo.

Next week Pan would teach Ginger this dance. He would be Fred. There would be two Fred's in the world. So, of course, in those moments they wouldn't dance together. Wouldn't meet.

Except when Fred called him at midnight with some idea for a dance step that had come to him in a dream. Except weekends at the house or down to the race track or dinners, but it wasn't the same. It wasn't this.

For now, he was Ginger.

Hal started the song again. Arm in arm, they began the dance from the beginning, one more time.

Top Hat - Cheek to Cheek
Heaven, I'm in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek

Pan had to bribe Bernard a week's pay for the dress (and for some not entirely small alterations, happily hidden under the feathers) but it was worth it to step onto the sound stage for the post production recording and be able to strike a pose.

Fred turned red and then white and then laughed. Although, Pan was worried he might have a stroke when he saw Pan's heels, freshly dyed to match the red dress. Pan felt like a rooter, or as Phyllis had said, "Wed Wooster." It was worth it to have Fred catch Pan in a fast Viennese spin.

They danced on the muscle memory of a thousand hours, singing. "Feathers, I hate feathers. And I hate them so that I can hardly speak. And I never find the happiness I seek, with those chicken feathers dancing Cheek to Cheek".

Fred pivoted and bent Pan back. Feathers tickled Pan's arms, faint soft touches as they navigated their way through each other's feet. Bending back. Feathers flying in Pan's face. In Fred's eyes and they were laughing.

Fred sang, "Feathers, I see feathers, and they hang around me through the week, seem to hit me like a gambler's unlucky streak," Pan spun around Fred, tiny red fuzz flying to decorate the plywood dance floor in feathery gore, "when we're off together dancing cheek to cheek." Light tap steps, up, down, around, feathers flying.

"Oh, I love to climb a mountain, to get away from feathers, but it doesn't kill me half as much as dancing cheek to cheek." Arm in arm forward and around and into those wonderful feather flinging backbends. Gliding back and forth. Arms extended. Tap, tap, tap. Hips rocking side to side as they traveled up stage.

"Oh, I love to go and flush them, in a river or in the drink," then back into waltz position, as Fred swung Pan into a back bend, his wide hand supporting the small of Pan's back, "but I do enjoy it twice as much as dancing cheek to cheek." Traveling with the waltz over and back and bend. Deep, swung on air and Fred's long wide spread fingers.

Then they got dramatic. Leapt and spun. Ran and danced across the stage. A trail of ostridge feathers too red to hide in the sand.

Fred slipped under Pan's arm. Spun to wrap it around his shoulders and into the waltz. Their faces, almost touching. "Don't dance with me, I want my nose to be free, the air away from you won't tickle me through." Out of the dizzying spin and into step across and back. Each of them dodging the others steps. Flinging feathers in Pan's wake.

Then on the spin, Fred curled behind Pan. Wrapped his arm around Pan's waist. The silky fabric the only part of the dress not covered in feathers. Circle and intimate spin.

Until the leaps that had Pan flying over Fred's extended leg and down into a bend. Up again and another great long legged leap and then back into another deep bend. Feathers completely covering Pan's face in a red fuzz world.

But he could still feel Fred's arm under his back supporting him. Fred's leg curved under him, the curl of his body. His voice singing, "Feathers, I see feathers. And my nose's clogged so that I can hardly breath. And I seem to blind with feathers I can't see, when we're off together dancing cheek to cheek."

Fred lifted Pan up. Pan blew feathers out of his mouth and grinned at Fred. Fred grinned back.

Then they shook hands, before collapsing to the ground in laughter.

It really was a terrible dress. Pan wondered when he should wear it again.

 

Follow the Fleet - Face the Music and Dance
There may be trouble ahead
But while there's moonlight and music
And love and romance
Let's face the music and dance

Sometimes Pan found himself buying Fred socks. Not just because he was in the store, but he'd find himself going in special just to see if he could find really obnoxious socks. Not just green, but pink and yellow and green. Socks to make your eyes bleed.

Just to see the grin on Fred's face. Just for the "You're a spiff, Pan. These are terrible." Fred always put them on right away.

Sometimes Pan found himself fingering ties and wondering what they'd looked like casually knotted around Fred's waist as a belt. Tied off just so.

Fred said that Douglas Fairbanks showed him that trick. These days it was always Fred said. Twelve hour days and sometimes Phyllis invited him over for dinner and drinks on Sundays. Fred said, Fred said, Fred did. Wide fingers curved around Pan's back.

There was no pink sock dawn revelation. It wasn't slow like the beat, beat, beat of the raindrops.

It was just there. In between the slow legato and the staccato repeat of soft shoe on hard floor. Hal's beating fingers on the piano, a counter current to their feet as Pan spun in tiny chaine turns, his hands lifted. Fred's arms around him circling his waist as he spun.

Dancing. Where you can do things that you can't with speech, because dance is the physical expression of an idea. A dream. A dreamlike dance. Swaying into Fred's wide hand and then striding across the floor together, arms almost drifting on the notes. Out and the arms up at full extension as Fred spun Pan around and around. Traveling across the floor and melted into a stop. Swaying side to side as hands were gently pulled down across a beating heart

Push away. Pull back. Push away. Pull back. Gently. Softly. Then sweet spin on one foot as Fred danced around Pan, one arm around his waist, Pan's arm wrapped around Fred's shoulders. Shift and spin again.

So it went. The dream that was the dance. The dance that was the dream. The unspoken moonlight, and music, and love and romance.

Rapid spins to outrace time. Push away. Pull back. Let go. Then race back to spin together again. Tiny traveling steps as Fred spun Pan around, a constantly traveling moon in orbit and Fred steadily turning to face him. Passing Pan from arm to arm. Hiccups of Marzkuraish leaps, as Fred whirled around Pan. Then off to the end, because songs always ended.

Turning away into a fast kneel. The inevitable longing that informed the rise. Only to sink again. Facing the music of the piano and dancing. All the things that you could do in dance that a person would never dare say, because it was an abstract.

Pretending there was no fiddler to pay. Dancing side by side in a long fondu. Perfectly matched paces: one, two, three, four and into a ridiculous Joose lunge. Backs arched and long legs wearing pink-green socks pointed at the soundstage sky.

Then there was the fiddler to pay and clapping. Little Phyllis standing by the side. A rare visit to the set. They were all going to dinner and drinks. One big happy set. She was smiling up at Fred and talking with her quirky little lisp. Fred loved her. It was in every tilt of his head to catch her soft words and the line of his legs. So, Pan loved her too. Standing there. Getting his breath back. Watching them.

It was alright. There was the dance, and Fred was wearing the socks and tie that Pan gave him.

 

The One time they Didn't

Then there was no dancing.

They weren't working together on "Daddy Long Legs." So many movies and dances. Not that they ever not worked together. There was always noodling and long midnight phone calls sharing dance ideas and years of dancing silent communication.

Fred was quiet now. Fred didn't noddle.

They'd put little Phyllis in the cold ground last week. Too many cigarettes and finally cancer had its way.

Fred always noodled. Even when he was just walking. There was a twist and step. Even his walk was dancing.

Limping now.

Still. He was sitting in the dark of his living room when Pan came over. Fred had his face pressed into a towel. Small silent jerks of his shoulders. Mustn't disturb little Ava, who must surely have her own twelve year old griefs for her lost mother.

Pan sat down on the couch next to Fred. Didn't say anything. Just put his arm around Fred's shoulders and let him cry quietly into a towel in the dark.

Then after a moment, he went over to Fred's drums growing dusty by the couch and he started softly brushing out the rhythm of the "History of the Beat." The first number in Daddy Long Legs.

After more than many moments, Fred got up and came over to slowly doodle to the rhythm.

It wasn't much, not really a dance, but it was something. Steps and music saying what words couldn't. Abstract as beating rain drops and smoke and time. Saying, "I miss her too." Saying, "I'll be here until you're ready to restart the beat of your heart." Saying, "Listen to the beat, beat of the tom toms, until you can face the music and dance again."

Fade to Black