Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yarn and Sequins

There is a hobby that is shared among many dancers across the world, from the dressing rooms of the West End to the wings of Broadway theatres. Showgirls in feathers and fishnets can be found doing this between numbers, and ballerinas sit in legwarmers and pointe shoes with this same hobby on their laps. What is this assumedly glamorous hobby? Crocheting, of course.

I learned to crochet when I worked in Branson and had long late-night rehearsals for a new show. We dancers often had to wait for hours until the Powers That Be decided they were ready for us, so we sat in the front row of the theatre with balls of yarn strewn between the seats, How to Crochet books in our laps, and made the time pass more quickly.

Crocheting is great for performers. It’s better than reading a book, which can absorb your mind too much and make it difficult to jump up and resume rehearsal. It’s soft, small, and easily portable, easy to pack into your dance bag or to stuff under your dressing room table.

This week, Nevada Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker began, and I looked around at the kids in the cast to see what they had brought to amuse themselves. I saw coloring books and video games, snacks and decks of cards. They’re too young to need something involving yarn at this point. But then, past the makeup table and racks of costumes, I saw a child on a chair with the familiar string leading to the bag next to her. Her hands were busy, and a friend watched her for a moment before moving away to a video game. On the other side of the room, a teacher stood observing everything while crocheting a baby sweater with soft orange yarn. The tradition continues.

Years ago, the show I was in traveled to Nashville to perform on a TV show, and I sat in the green room waiting for our turn on the set, working on my latest afghan. Suddenly I heard a voice next to me.

“What are you making?” I looked up to see an old stagehand in worn black clothing who eyed my yarn with interest.

“It’s an afghan for my cousin who is pregnant.”

The man smiled through his long grey beard. Then he reached into his back pocket and pulled out…yarn, and a small silver crochet hook. “Here’s what I’ve been workin’ on.” He held up an intricate doily that was about six inches in diameter.

This began a nice conversation about yarn and patterns and which size crochet hook we prefer. I’d never had such a conversation with a stagehand. After all, these men tend to be gruff, no-nonsense people who move heavy equipment and protect us dancers from being hit with cables or flying backdrops, their jobs forcing them into the dark shadows. But I guess they need something for the downtime just like the performers.

So the next time you see a live performance, when you see that dancer running off stage, she’s not necessarily exiting toward a press interview or a Hollywood party or to drinks with the cast. It just may be that what waits her is a humble ball of yarn and a small metal hook. I think it’s a nice contrast to the sequins and glitter.

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