Dancing Like A Graceful Little Bowling Ball

Ever since I saw Shakira’s music video for “Did It Again,” I’ve always wanted to learn to dance. Over the years I’d watch my friends who danced with a mix of envy and deep admiration. I’d watch endless clips of So You Think You Can Dance on YouTube, I’d write poems and plays devoted to dancers whom inspired me. I’d turn off all the lights at night, lock the doors and dance to Justin Timberlake like a madman, sweat dripping, limbs flailing awkwardly around. But I never pursued it in any way until the final quarter of my senior year of college when I signed up for Intro to Ballet.

Pictured: Chase's inner most dreams. Photoshop magic courtesy of Raine Blunk.

Pictured: Chase’s inner most dreams. Photoshop magic courtesy of Raine Blunk.

The problem was that I look like I am more suited to be giving guys concussions on a football field than to performing a skilled arabesque. Anyone I told that I was about to take a ballet class laughed in my face and immediately demanded to watch me attempt this. My mom questioned hard and long if this was the best use of my tuition. I even doubted they made tights large enough for my neanderthal-like body. But I remained undeterred. I was going to be a ballerina damnit and I was going to be graceful.

I’m not sure I was very successful on either front, but I definitely tried. Every Monday and Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. I made my trek across town from my dorm room to my class; my tights worn under my sweatpants. I definitely looked out of place in class. One of just two males, I was this large, hairy obelisk in a sea of dainty little dancers.

It took me some time to find my footing in both senses of the word. For years, I had struggled to merely touch my toes and now my legs were twisting and contorting and stretching into positions that I was certain would send me to the hospital. With every attempted plie in fifth position, I feared popping femurs, dislocating my hips and all around looking quite silly in front of all the pretty girls.

No. My legs don't work like that.

No. My legs don’t work like that.

They really don’t prepare you for just how physically demanding dancing is. Every time I watched someone dance on TV it looks so effortless and carefree. Their happy stupid smiles deceiving me into thinking that, “Sure, I can do that! I got winded walking up the steps this morning but I can totally do all those leapy-turny things.” But I guess that’s why it’s an art-form. Because it’s a lie.

I was always three steps behind everyone else. My feet dragged too long, my legs fatigued after mere moments in the air. Each swing of my leg nearly resulted in an innocent woman being punted across the room. I was a sweaty, uncoordinated, near-asthmatic mess and that was just the warm ups.

Rhythm always seemed to escape me. My friend Colin tried to teach me guitar a few times and he would have to keep reminding me that I was trying to play a song. I would simply just strum to notes like a stiff, mechanical baby. More focused on putting my fingers in the right places than having any sort of fun. I was the same way when it came to learning steps to a dance, except my professor didn’t go slow enough for me to even know the steps, lotless try to get them right.

"Look mom! I'm a real boy!"

“Look mom! I’m a real boy!”

I’d sway clumsily around the room, trying my best to follow those around me but looking more like I was on satellite delay. Always a step behind, always looking awkward and scared. There was a window that looked out at the hotel next door. Sometimes people would look up, expecting to see some beautiful ballerinas in their element, but instead they saw my Butterballing ass flopping around like a drunk toddler who is both mad and deeply sorry.

But in all this mess, I still managed to stay relatively optimistic. I’d oscillate between excited eager beaver, ready to jump into each new exercise and the deeply regretful realist who knew it was probably better to hide in the corner.

I struggled to find my identity in that class. Sometimes I was the overly self-aware guy, making self-deprecating comments about how ridiculous I looked when I tried to do those fancy ballet jumps. Sometimes I was the astute professional, focused, smiling and diligently trying to perfect my craft. Most times I was just the person crying at the barre when the professor would start yelling at people.

One time I tried to be the super enthusiastic guy. When it was time to work, I slapped the ground and jumped around, hooting and hollering like Ray Lewis on game day. Trying to amp everyone up, but realizing that ballet requires a very different style of hype than a Super Bowl. I never tried to get anyone amped in class again.

"Let's work on them sashays, mofos!"

“Let’s work on them sashays, mofos!”

But the most important thing was that I tried. Consistently and without fail. I didn’t complain, at loud anyway, when I felt like I was dying or when I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t let the crushing weight of my own awkwardness drive me out of class. When I stumbled in my exams, I quickly gathered myself and moved right along, my trademark apologies withheld. I know my professor respected me for it.

It wasn’t always a pretty sight and no I am not considering a career change, but it was a good way to spend my last ten weeks. With the steady ticking of that Doomsday Clock called adulthood driving me insane towards my impending graduation, it was nice to step aside from stacking mound of rejected job applications and do something fun. To do something I’d always wanted to do. It was a good reminder that even in the real world of bills and responsibilities, there is still some room to pursue dreams and take risks.

Sometimes you’ve got to be cool with looking a little silly to do the things you want. An awkward story is always better than no story at all.

Mustachioed Weak – An Experiment in Facial Hair Reconstruction

I’m a beard man. I don’t like to make a lot of show about it, but my beard has been as much a part  of my identity for the past five or so years as my eyes or my nose. It’s just a part that always seemed to have been there. But every once in a while, I yearn for a change. To do something radical to shake up the way people see me. I’ve played with a goatee, I’ve tried several variations from clean and trim to shaggy and long. On my darkest days I even go clean shaven and expose my baby face and nonexistent jawline to the world.

A little over a week ago, I shaved down to a mustache for the first time in my life. I have lived with this awkward lip garnish since then. This is my story.

For reference: This me in my natural habitat. Bearded, proud, sexy.

For reference: This me in my natural habitat. Bearded, proud, sexy.

This whole debacle started at the gym. While I was sitting on the bench pretending like I was talking myself up for another set, I stared at myself in the mirror wall for entirely too long. I like to make funny faces anytime I’m in front of the mirror and I was in the middle of some solid gems when I just became focused on my mustache.

I had always flirted with the idea of a mustache. When shaving I’d leave the mustache long enough for a few selfies before sending it down the drain with everything else. The mustache never left the bathroom. But on this fateful day, I decided to go for it. I mean, what did I have to lose? At best I’d have a solid Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation vibe, at worst it’d be pure Paul Blart.

I have been told many times that I look like Kevin James. I have yet to decide if I should be offended.

I have been told many times that I look like Kevin James. I have yet to decide if I should be offended.

I rushed home that night giddy for this ridiculous transformation. I told myself that I’d leave it for a week. An entire week. I anticipated ridicule and awkward stares, but I tried to push that from my mind by saying, “If people ask just say you’re doing it for your blog.”

I played fast and lose with the beard trimmer that night. I had already been rockin’ the goatee, so I was half way there already. I sheered the chin bush with reckless abandon, quickly leaving myself with the ultimate question: Stubble or clean cheeks? Stubble kind of makes you look dirty, but clean shaven has a very “I meant to do this” feel to it and that could be worse.

The decision was made for me when I accidentally shaved too close and finally decided that I was going bald cheeked. This soup strainer would be on full display. I shaved, dried my face, and threw on a beanie for a selfie.

I was going for more of an "Austin hipster" look than "creepy predator" vibe.

I was going for more of an “Austin hipster” look than “creepy predator” vibe.

I threw it out to the internet and let my friends decide my fate. Then I locked the razors away so that I could not go back on my word. This would stay for a full week. The mustache will know the light of day.

The next morning I woke with aspirations of having a nice relaxing Saturday out. I was going to go to my favorite area of Austin. Hit up the bookstore and see a movie. But first I needed to figure out what to do with my hair that did not make me look like a trendy soccer dad. I don’t think I was particularly successful in that regard, but I had a flannel so I at least looked earthy.

Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I just giggled like a dork. I couldn’t get over the way I looked, how would anyone else possibly take me seriously. The entire drive I was just in my head, trying to imagine what passersby and cashiers would do or say. Would I look like a creeper in the comic book section or would I finally look like I belonged?

I have this chronic desire to not stand out. I am very quiet and reserved. I apologize habitually and avoid eye contact. Anything I could possibly do to not cause a scene. But here I was walking around with a target for humiliation directly plastered on my face. Immersion therapy at its finest.

This week on Fear Factor, Chase must order a cup of coffee without stuttering and dropping things.

This week on Fear Factor, Chase must order a cup of coffee without stuttering and dropping things.

What I quickly realized was that no one really cared all that much. I mean, strangers did not stop and stare. Parents did not whisk their children away from me. No one said anything. I was just as faceless as I had been at any other time. I mean, that sounds like a terrible thing to think to yourself. But when you constantly feel like the entire world is constantly searching for some little screw up or silly embarrassment to hold over you forever, it’s kind of refreshing to realize that people don’t care one way or the other. I mean, as long as you’re a middle class white guy. Let’s not forget that I’ve already been dealt a pretty solid hand.

My friends have tended to have a little more fun with it. My gym buddies all yelled in excitement, cycling through different mustachioed characters I looked like. “Oh you look like Anchorman!” “Oh no, that mall cop. Paul Blart!” I went to dinner with my friends Colin, Steph and Mark as well as Colin and Steph’s kids and I realized that my mustache is the furthest thing from the weirdest part about me.

If you have a cute hat, I will wear it. I don't care if its for a three year old. I don't care if its several hats stacked on top of each other.

If you have a cute hat, I will wear it. I don’t care if its for a three year old or if its several hats.

The mustache even had to face the frightening world of dating. I’d been trying to settle on a date to get dinner with this nice young lady and of course we finally landed on a day during the mustachioed week. But I sent a fair warning, “Just to let you know, I kind of have a mustache right now. If that changes things, I totally understand.” It didn’t. It was a fine evening. She assured me that the fullness of it kept it free from creepy territory. She said it looked very Ron Swanson. #Swansoning.

#living the dream

#living the dream

Now I want to say that the entire week was full of fun and games and celebrity impressions. But ultimately halfway through the week my father and I had to steal away on an emergency trip to Louisiana. My great grandmother’s health had been in a slow decline for months. We visited her in January when she was in the hospital, but this trip seemed to have more finality to it. This wasn’t a happy ending kind of visit.

I was really quiet on the drive to New Orleans. I just kept beating myself up. This was probably going to be the last time she got to see me and I had this stupid thing on my face. I was a walking joke. She wouldn’t see me the way I was meant to be seen and for some reason that bothered me to no end.

She would pass while were there. She was non-responsive once we got there and never came back to us. She never saw the mustache. But at the end of the day, that didn’t really matter much, did it?

I finished the mustachioed week in Louisiana, hunkered in a nursing home room with my dad’s family. There were the jokes. I explained that the whole mustache thing was “a joke that seems very inopportune right about now.” But I did get to see a few old photos of my uncles rockin’ some classic ‘stache work. A moment of solidarity in a somber weekend.

The mustache is still kicking even now. While the cheek fuzz is coming back in, I hold out to show a few friends who missed it while I was away. At the end of the day, this was a silly experiment that wasn’t much of an experiment. I mean, it was refreshing to find that I could do something unusual and survive the consequences, even if it were minor. It was nice to know that I could stand out or at the least attempt to without the world shattering. That its ok to just be yourself, because at the end of the day the world isn’t watching you hoping you’d fall.

It was fun to be a dork for a week, because sadly I think I’m stuck being one for the rest of my life.

Understated selfie with the awkward lighting. #killin'it #mustaches will never die

Understated selfie with the awkward lighting. #killin’it #mustaches will never die