Rocco

In all of my books, I write about teachers. There's two piano teachers in Joy Returns!, a riding instructor in Kate and the Horses, and a guide in The Loudest Meow: A Talking Cat Fantasy. Teachers have always been very important to me, and I think they will always have a place in my books.

Lately, I've been thinking about a teacher I had when I was a teenager. I've been reminded of her because, due to rain and snow, I've been staying in the house. I've found myself walking around rooms for periods of time, mostly with headphones on and listening to something or watching something on the bedroom TV. So I'll walk and march and then I find myself occasionally throwing in a dance move that Rocco taught me.

Rocco taught jazz dance at a studio on Monday nights. I don't know why I started going. It was near my gym. I was an awkward adolescent who just happened to be anorexic, which meant that I was isolated, perfectionistic, a compulsive exerciser, very concerned about how I looked, and what I weighed. For jazz dance, we wore leotards. Mine was bright green. There was a window overlooking the class where people could watch what we were doing. I stayed in the back and tried to forget about that.

Rocco reminded me of a young Cher, if Cher didn't have long hair. Rocco's hair was short and simple, like a bob, but more glamorous. Rocco couldn't have a bob. She was a woman of few words. She might seem gruff, but I thought she was kind.

When I started the class, I felt lost, underwater with a giant wave on top of me. But somehow I kept going. Rocco played Stevie Wonder—“Sir Duke” and “Boogie On, Reggae Woman.” She told us one time that she would have to miss a class, that she was dancing in the Academy Awards. They still had big dance numbers then. When my family was going to New Jersey for a summer vacation, I told Rocco I wouldn't be here the following week. “Send me a postcard,” she told me, which now seems like it was one of those offhand remarks that any cool person would say, but I took her at her word, and I did. I didn't know her last name. I just wrote it to Rocco. What did I say? I can’t imagine. We never exchanged more than one sentence at a time. When I returned to class, Rocco never said if she got it or not. I never asked her.

It's funny when you have a special class like that, and you can’t recall how it ended. Did I just go off to college? Did Rocco leave? I don't know. But I remember the steps, the kick-ball changes, and traveling across the floor, adding arms to a movement, inviting your shoulders to join in. I wish I could speak to Rocco now. I would tell her how important she was to me, how she gave me space and some really great tools that showed me how I could move in the world