Where do I start? So much has happened since the last time I wrote in my journal. Let’s begin with my archrival, Michael Flatley, who has been following me around Seattle. First, the former Lord of the Dance donned a sailor’s outfit and peered in through the window during my Tae-Bo class. A week later, wearing a false mustache, a monocle, and a top hat, he followed ten steps behind me through the aisles of the Queen Anne Thriftway. Each time I placed an item in my cart, he scribbled something in a notepad. Question: When a guy dresses himself up as Mr. Peanut and spies on the man who defeated him in a dance-off, does the Feet of Flames think he’s fooling anyone?
It all seemed innocent enough, perhaps even flattering, until he showed up at my scuba diving class, where I was retaking the final exam. Which brings us to last weekend.
I stood with my diving partner, Sarah Michelle Gellar — who kept sending me mixed signals — at the shore of Alki beach. Wriggling into my wet suit, I fought off panic. I couldn’t fail the exam again. A set of red-headed twins joined us at the shore, followed soon after by the instructor. He warned us that two weeks earlier a diver, presumably loopy from nitrogen narcosis, had died at this very beach because he dove too deep. The instructor looked grim.
As we scrambled into the 42-degree water, the instructor’s worst fears were realized. Sarah Michelle forgot to put air in her vest before she leaned back to put on her fins; she sank and thrashed about, coughing and trying to clear her mask and snorkel at the same time. The prissy twin bumped into me, which made me stumble and knock over the other twin, the huffy one. As I tried to help her up, I accidentally detached the cord that connected her tank to her dry suit, which created a fire-hose effect — the loose cord whipped around and knocked off her sister’s mask. In trying to avoid the hose of the dangerous woman, I fell over backward and found myself upside-down, kicking my legs furiously to become upright. The instructor finally gathered us in a row and calmed us down by clunking the twins’ heads together.
We snorkeled out past a buoy to begin our descent. The arctic water of the Puget Sound stung my face and hands. I felt nervous about getting my ears to equalize, especially since my sinuses were congested with a cold that I picked up while feeding the homeless. I did not want to repeat the dreaded Swim of Shame back to the beach, especially not in front of Sarah Michelle.
As I descended, I plugged my nose and kept blowing furiously. My blocked sinus passages opened by dint of my fury. The four of us students knelt at the bottom, 50 feet below the surface, while the instructor asked us to do skills such as water navigation, manual vest inflation, and mask clearing. We did each task one-by-one and then exchanged the “OK” signals with the instructor.
What happened next is one of those quirky twists of fate that challenges the senses. Two startling events occurred simultaneously, reminding me of my lifeguard days when I had noticed a child drowning in the shallow end at the same moment a teenager smacked her head on the diving board. In this case, at the same moment a sea lion tried to mount me from behind, Michael Flatley emerged from the shadows holding a Fox television camera. Despite the fact that objects are magnified and distorted under water and that his face was scrunched up by his neoprene hood, I knew by the effortless grace of his movement that it could be no one else but the former Dance Lord himself.
The sea lion attacked me with no uncertain ferocity. Sand kicked up as we wrestled in a cloud of jetsam. As I held the beast at bay, I turned around to give the “shaky” signal to my instructor, a scuba sign which indicates that something has gone wrong. Instead of seeing the instructor, however, all I saw was Flatley shooting footage of the dangerous animal attack. Question: Was Flatley skilled in the art of animal training?
The sea lion was a strong beast and an agile swimmer; but in addition to being an elite dancer, I am a powerful athlete. And I have experience with felines. I grabbed the sea lion by the scruff of the neck, which caused his body to go limp. I then held up a warning finger in front of his dazed eyes before allowing him to slink away. Flatley had disappeared — for the moment.
When I returned to the class, the instructor gave me the “stay put” signal and pointed angrily to the cloud of sand where he thought I had been goofing off. I didn’t know the “I just got attacked by a ferocious sea lion” signal, so I just flashed the “OK” sign and kept looking over my shoulder the rest of the dive. Everyone but the huffy twin passed the scuba course. I was elated but badly shaken. I needed a drink.
As the twins and I clinked glasses to celebrate our accomplishment in a tavern that looked remarkably similar to Quint’s wharf house in Jaws, complete with several sets of gaping teeth, I heard a commotion behind me.
It was Flatley.
He had torn off his shirt and was striking a pose, flexing his right arm behind his head and pointing the other arm upwards, as if he were shooting an arrow. Ronan Hardiman’s “Cry of the Celts” began playing on the jukebox. Time for another dance-off — our third. Flatley caught me at a vulnerable time, when I was tired from my bout with the sea lion. The throbbing pulse of the music drowned out the shouts of the bar patrons. All eyes were fixed on us. I set down the boilermaker, rubbed my hands together, and tried to catch the rhythm of the Celtic ditty.
Flatley began with a side step in reel — hop to knee left, spring, 3, 4, hop to knee right, spring, 7, 8. Simple and elegant. He paused and snapped his head, looking at me in defiance. I put together a quick side step in jig, but it was more reactive than proactive. Fury built up inside me.
Don’t dance angry.
That’s the first thing Nureyev taught me, and here I was dancing in a near rage. Onlookers were too awestruck to be afraid. Granted, anger propels you to greater heights on your brise and improves the spin on a tour en l’air. But that same anger causes you to lose control during an entrechat and your poise is shot when you try a trade-slide to open halt. I was tired and sweaty and full of wrath.
But Flatley’s fiery emotions got the best of him as well. Rather than thrilling in my nearly imperceptible missteps, he seemed intimidated by the ferocity of my madness. An amateur’s mistake. He wobbled badly during his pas de bourree, and his cabriole looked downright silly — to the trained eye, of course. By the rapturous looks on the faces of those rubes in the West Seattle bar, we were dancing cherubim. I pulled off a defiant paddle and roll; the crowd roared. The music was barely audible above the din of the frenzied onlookers.
Flatley threw down a shoddy slip jig; I responded with a crisp half-slide turnout followed by a cross, kick, hop back, 3, 4. My rage ebbed; my confidence flowed. The faces of audience members betrayed a sense of marvel and lust. At the moment I reverted to my danseur noble form, Flatley fell apart.
He stopped dancing.
I punctuated my performance with a slip jig chased by a Maxie Ford. Flatley motioned to one of his sycophants to cut the music. Silence overwhelmed the tavern. All eyes were fixed on the Feet of Flames. That’s when he said it.
“I shall stop at nothing to regain my title,” he cried, his torso glistening with sweat. He struck his arrow-shooting pose again. “Nothing!”