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At Liberty to Go Into Her Dance

July 04, 1986|SUSAN ANTHONY | Anthony is an Australian foreign correspondent based in New York

Recently I went to my first New York audition.

It was for a part that would, for one short, shining, historic moment, make me a star of stage and screen.

I was auditioning to perform in what may well be one of the biggest gala extravaganza music-and-dance shows ever staged--the Liberty Weekend Centennial closing celebrations on Sunday.

I went because, deep down, I am really a tap-dancer. Being a journalist is just a disguise.

I went because, as an Australian who has lived in New York for several years, I thought it was time I did my bit for America.

I went for David Wolper, the impresario who produced the Olympic Games ceremonies in all their glory and who is now producing the apparently even more spectacular Liberty Weekend extravaganza.

Maybe I also went because I liked the idea of performing in a show with Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Shirley MacLaine, Charlton Heston, and one of my all-time tap-dancing heroes, Gene Kelly.

And the idea of being part of a nationally televised celebration of Americana with a cast of thousands featuring a 500-member marching band, a 1,500-piece high school drill team, 1,000 guitarists, 1,000 fiddlers, a 1,000-voice choir, 200 Elvis Presley sing-alikes, and countless assorted other performers, probably had something to do with it, too.

It's not the kind of opportunity that comes up every day, even in New York. As the ad for the event says, "The night you'll always remember on the weekend you'll never forget."

They weren't going to pay any of us amateur hoofers a nickel, but that seemed like a plus to me. It would keep the professionals at bay and give us nobodies a chance. New York is, after all, the show business capital of the world, and the competition to star on stage is fierce. But with no pay, and plenty of people required, I was sure that David Wolper--and America--needed me.

My colleagues in Jerry Ames' advanced tap class agreed.

'It'll Be . . . Cake'

"Every woman in New York who can walk will be there," they said. "It'll be as mad as the Macy's tap marathon. For you, with all your years of tapping, it'll be a piece of cake."

Showbusiness magazine wasn't so confident about the turnout. It asked: "Can producer David Wolper get 300 female tap-dancers to rehearse for three weeks and then perform at the nationally televised closing ceremony of Liberty Weekend at the Meadowlands on July 6--without paying them?"

Well, he'd get me, at least.

The auditions were set for a Sunday morning in May. I was up with the birds and off to the New York Coliseum. The city that never sleeps was asleep, but I did anticipate a mob scene outside the Coliseum.

The place was dead. The organizers were desperate. Only 49 people had shown up. I signed in, got my number, and waited with some of the other hopefuls, all but two of them amateurs like me.

I also looked at the rehearsal schedule for the successful, noting that 11 rehearsals were required. Ah well, the price of fame, I told the artiste in me.

Where Are the Crowds?

The first group was apparently still auditioning upstairs as one of the organizers came down with a walkie-talkie to check us out and pep us up. Not believing the low turnout, he approached a group of tourists waiting for a bus outside to see if they were tap-dancers. Then he announced that he would probably have more auditions next week. He'd decided that 10 minutes ago, he told me despondently.

All of this looked pretty good for me. They could hardly be too picky with so few to choose from, I thought, revealing a terrible naivete about the cruel realities and the heartaches of life in show business.

When the time came, we were herded upstairs to change and learn the routine while the previous group auditioned. No tap shoes were necessary, which seemed odd until I realized we were simply learning the choreography. Most of us danced in our sneakers and street clothes, although one of the hopefuls, a cheerful buxom blonde, wore a memorable stars-and-stripes leotard with a Statue of Liberty watch.

Double-Quick Drill

Our instructor, who would have done an Army drill sergeant proud, snapped us through the steps and the accompanying arm movements while we stumbled and mumbled and begged her in vain to go through it again more slowly.

All this took what seemed like less than 10 minutes, by which time we were supposed to know exactly what we were doing. Only two did, the two professional dancers.

Then the audition was on. We auditioned in rows of five, dancing behind a line of big square numbers while the selection panel watched with note pads, furrowed brows, and, no doubt, heavy hearts.

Of the 15 of us, only two (yes, the pros again) got the nod. The rest of us were thanked politely for our time and effort.

I didn't burst into tears. I didn't fly into a rage. And I didn't beg for another shot at it. But I did sulk mightily as I skulked away to pick up my bag and leave.

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