Dear random old man I passed on the street-corner one morning,
The morning began like many others: I woke up, ruing the three glasses of wine and four gin and sodas I’d consumed the night before, not to mention the chicken nuggets I’d subsequently drunkenly shame-eaten in my bed. The empty ripped-apart McDonald’s bag lay on the floor, eliciting as much regret as a used condom beside a college girl’s bed the morning after a questionable Tinder date. I pulled myself together best I could and mentally prepared myself for the long day of peddling mediocre vegan food that lay ahead.
About a year ago, while hanging out with a friend of a friend, I was complaining about how emotionally exhausted I was by online dating and seeking romance in general. She mentioned how she’d been speaking to a couple guys herself, and that she’d be happy to pass one along to me. She gave me the guy’s number and let him know someone would be contacting him. Thus began one of the most confusing experiences of my life.
One year ago today, we suffered the devastating loss of Deb Burr, studio director of The Dance Exchange and second mom to myself and dozens of other girls.
Deb, we think of you and miss you every day. It’s still so weird not to hear your hoots and hollers from backstage as your girls continue to kill it at every performance. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
But, because I know she’d tell us to stop crying about it if she were here, I wanted to share a couple of my personal Deb memories:
When I was 16, I borrowed someone else’s costume for my solo. It was at least a size too small and was thus incredibly unflattering, but I didn’t notice until I saw pictures of my performance from one of the competitions. I looked like a stuffed sausage. Horrified, I went out and bought something else to wear. I told Deb that I’d gotten a new costume for myself because the original one made me look disgusting, and, immediately putting on her Protective Mom Voice, she demanded, “Who told you that?” Deb was fully ready to clap whatever bitch called me fat. Of course, I had called me fat, but I’ll always remember how she was ready to defend my honour at a moment’s notice.
My final year competing, to Deb’s exasperation, I insisted upon doing a musical theatre solo. The number required me to wear a floor-length feather tail. Deb (and everyone else) knew that I was (and still am) incredibly clumsy, and she was skeptical that I would get through it unscathed. Before I went on stage with it for the first time, she said, “Sam, don’t trip on your tail.” I made it through the whole dance without tripping, and, feeling like the baddest bitch on the block, I hit my ending pose and strutted offstage. I saw Deb cheering in the wing, ready to give me her customary post-performance hug. About two steps away from the curtain, disaster struck. I somehow caught one foot on the other and went tumbling forward, almost face-planting into the wing. I just barely caught myself on my hands and knees. I was momentarily horrified by what Deb would say, but I looked up to see her doubled over laughing. I started laughing too as I crawled out of the wing, and she helped me up, both of us now teary-eyed with laughter.
These two memories demonstrate just a couple of the many wonderful facets of Deb; she was fiercely protective of her girls and her studio, and she was always good for a laugh. She was tough on us at the studio, but as long as we tried our best in our performances, even if we bombed it, she was always still so proud. She was passionate about her craft and her kids, and more than anything, she was one of the strongest women I’ve ever had the privilege to know.