Voice & Dance Lessons
We should remember to celebrate friends helping friends
by Hank Trout
Friends have brought to my attention that my For the Long Run columns for A&U have all dealt with rather somber subjects—overcoming survivor’s guilt, the straight-washing of the history of the Plague, HIV-accelerated aging, the abuse of LGBT elders, confronting the systemic neglect of unresponsive medical professionals, and of course Tommy, my cancerous appendix.
Now, I admit, I rather enjoy my role as A&U’s resident grumpy curmudgeon—I’ve earned that position, thank you very much, by being older than the glaciers and nearly as cold. But jeez! I don’t want to be known as the magazine’s insufferable one-note “Debbie Downer!”
What to do? What to do?
I could attempt a vaudeville act—a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down my pants…. Nah, too messy.
I could try my hand at jokes—“Two long-term survivors walk into a bar, and…” Nope. I’m not much of a jokester.
So, let’s see what else I might—
“A little song, a little dance….”
Honoring Our Experience, a social support group for us long-term HIV survivors here in the San Francisco Bay Area [A&U, April 2016], periodically sponsors a Saturday night dance, called REVIVAL. Recently, the group has added a talent show to the festivities—drag performances, poetry readings, etc. When Gregg Cassin, the founder of HOE, asked me to write something new and read it at the REVIVAL in February, I happily agreed.
I wanted to write something about my life-long love of dancing. From the age of six until I was in high school, I begged my parents to let me take dance lessons. I wanted to study tap, ballet, modern dance, every kind of dance I had ever seen. Long before I had the word for it, I envisioned myself a “gypsy,” pirouetting from one Broadway chorus line to another.
Unfortunately, although he never articulated it in such terms, I am convinced that my father feared that taking dance lessons would make me gay.
Boy oh boy, did I show him!
Anyway, the piece I wrote is a five-part meditation on all that dancing has meant to me over the years. “I Just Wanna Dance” ranges from 1959, when I watched, mesmerized, as Martha Graham commanded the stage on The Ed Sullivan Show, to 2018, when the virus has robbed me of the strength and stamina to dance. It ends with a fantasy about “a tall, strong dancing god” who will “dance me to the end of time.” I memorized the piece and prepared to recite it.
Unfortunately, the morning of the dance, one of my debilitating back injuries erupted in excruciating pain. I knew that I could not attend the dance and perform. Saddened at breaking my promise to Gregg, I emailed a copy of “IJWD” to my friend and fellow HOE Michael Hampton, and asked if he would be kind enough to read the piece in my absence.
He did more than just read for me. Much more.
Michael rounded up four other HOEs on the spot—George Kelly, Ernesto Aldana, John Traglia, and Harry Breaux—and each of them read one section of the piece. And it worked beautifully! In fact, when I saw the video of their reading that another HOE posted online, I realized, Yes! This piece was written for five voices! The passion with which all five read my words was both exhilarating and humbling. Their reading eased my pain—I was almost happy that I had missed the dance.
Having thought about how quickly Michael and the others rose to the occasion, immediately stepping up to help a friend in pain, I’ve come to see their reading as a metaphor for the myriad ways in which all of us who survived the Plague have stepped up for each other. Every long-term HIV survivor whom I know has selflessly expended countless hours in service to other long-term survivors. From the very beginning of the Plague—when our government ignored us, the medical community shunned us, our families ostracized us, and religious leaders condemned us—we have known that it is up to us to take care of each other. We stepped up then, and we continue to do so in ways both great and small.
Remembering those selfless acts of kindness that we long-term survivors have rendered each other makes this grumpy old curmudgeon very happy and very grateful.
It makes me want to dance!
If you would like to read I Just Wanna Dance, please log on to https://www.diverseelders.org/2018/03/13/i-just-wanna-dance.
Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-eight-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.