The summer before 7th grade, Oklahoma Kids, a talent group I was part of, performed in downtown Muskogee. A stage was set up on the street in front of the old Roxy Theatre. I would be doing a couple of routines, which required a quick costume change. I started to panic when I looked around and found absolutely nowhere to change. There were no wings off stage to run into for at least some privacy from the audience. Everything was in the open. Maybe my mom had a plan and would tell me later; I didn’t bother asking her.
I came dressed in my tap costume since I would be performing that number first. I had gone over how I needed to undress over and over in mind to make sure I could get it done in less than three minutes before I’d have to take the stage again doing my jazz routine. I’d strip off my hat and neckpiece and throw those off while my sister unhooked my corset and my mom unbuckled my tap shoes. Then I’d whip off my white leotard and my sister would hold out my purple leotard to step into while my mom would guide my feet into my jazz shoes and tie them. I’d slide my belt through my leotard and snap it in the back. One final check of hair and makeup and run back to the stage.
As I took the stage to do my first routine, I searched frantically for any sight of a tent or sheet or anything to shield me from the prying eyes of strangers. I didn’t have full-grown boobs yet; I was in that terrible “nubbin” stage, as my grandma affectionately called it. But they were my nubbins and I didn’t want anyone looking at them, especially boys. Boys I went to school with who were on the street roaming around with their friends and parents.
I finished my tap routine and looked for my mom and sister. They stood outside of the J. Beck Jewelry store on the corner waving for me to come over. The ball in my stomach began to release a little contemplating a quick change inside the jewelry store. As I got closer I saw my purple leotard thrown over my mom’s shoulder and my jazz shoes laid out on the ground in front of the jewelry store. Oh my God! She wants me to strip naked on the street corner!
“Hurry, hurry, Adrianne! Get your hat off!”
“Mom, no! Please, no!”
“Tiffy, start getting her corset off.”
My sister unhooked the corset and my mom unbuckled my tap shoes. I had no choice but to continue taking off my neckpiece. My mom pulled the shoulders of my leotard down. I grabbed her hands.
“No! I’m not getting naked out here!”
“Stop it, Adrianne. You have to get your other leotard on.”
“I’m dancing in this one.” I continued to struggle against her taking off my leotard.
“Get this leotard off now and get into your purple one!”
“Mom, there are boys right there!” I thrust my finger past her face.
“What difference does that make? You ain’t got nothin’ to show anyway.”
My sister took off her jacket and held it out to screen my body from the people who were now hovering around to see what all the fuss was about. “Just get behind my jacket.”
I grabbed the purple leotard off my mom’s shoulder and backed up against the brick wall. I held the purple leotard in my teeth and wiggled out of my white leotard. I jumped into the purple one and pulled it up faster than I ever had before while my sister moved back and forth covering my naked body with her jacket.
They called me to the stage as my mom tied my jazz shoes. I heard the boys laughing and I felt myself start to cry. Stupid boys!
As I ran back to the stage, I slid my belt through my leotard and snapped it together. I took the steps two at a time up the side of the stage then waited. The crowd cheered and I struck my starting pose in the middle of the stage. I looked out into the audience and saw the boys laughing and pointing at me, doubling over from their laughter. In that moment I couldn’t decide who I hated more, my mom or those stupid boys.