I'm in London. Have been here for a week, and I probably should be talking about the fantastic details of the trip (and the pains of travel) or of the event that brought me here - the wedding of one of my best friends, Demetri. The details of both the trip and the wedding are, by necessity, intimately woven.
But instead I want to spend some time thinking about one very small and specific aspect of the past two days...
When Jodie and I arrived last Monday - bleary eyed and jet-lagged - we spent some time visiting with the Bride and Groom and the Groom's mother while we waited for our hotel room to become available. Not to surprisingly the main subject of discussion was the wedding and extending from that who else was going to be here. Its a long and relatively expensive journey to make from Vancouver to London. I imagine it would be a select group who would both be invited and have the resources and time to make the journey.
Among the various names were Bill and Judy Russell. I honestly don't know how long it has been since I've seen the pair them. Years, but not a decade - maybe not even half a decade, but it would be a reasonable guess. I did see Judy a year and a half ago, very briefly, at Demetri's father's funeral - but it was not a time either of us had for in depth visiting.
As soon as Demetri's mom, Ruth, mentioned that Bill and Judy were coming I was immediately struck with delight. Though there were other people I was eager to see and in a few cases meet for the first time (like Demetri's groomsman, Mido - my London based counterpart) I was not more excited than to see Bill and Judy.
They didn't arrive until the morning before the wedding - that was two days ago. I didn't see them until that evening. It was the pre-wedding meet and greet at a pub near Piccadilly Circus. Jodie and I arrived and headed downstairs and said 'hi' to Demetri and Finoula (his then fiancee) and turned around and there was Bill, camera in hand snapping our picture. Judy was right on his heels, grabbing us and pulling us to the bar "let's get a drink!" And that was our night. We found a table and visited with Bill and Judy all night. Really neither of us spent much time with anyone else.
Yesterday, the day of the wedding, Jodie caught a cab with them to the church (I was off making sure Demetri was shaved, had his shirt ironed, and his tie on straight.), and then again after the ceremony (on a side note - Omigod! That church! It's the oldest extant catholic church in England, and now my name is part of the permanent record there as witness to the marriage. I'm not the least religious, but I still think that's pretty cool in a historical sense.) we caught a cab together, the four of us, to the reception.
As best man I had plenty of socializing to do, but still the balance went to Bill and Judy and when we left we all walked down the street together. Seeing them here was the best thing other than the wedding itself - even better than the play (Avenue Q - which was awesome) that Jodie and I saw earlier in the week.
Despite my excitement to see them, I wasn't really prepared for that reunion. I am guessing they are roughly ten years older than us, and though when I was younger, in my hometown of Prince George, I certainly considered them as friends they were at the time adults to me. Bill had been a Dj at one of the local radio-stations and in so being was for all practical purposes a local celebrity back when my perspective on celebrity was extremely telescoped compared to today. Judy was a dance instructor. They were both a part of the local am-dram - the Prince George Theatre Workshop. I had seen them in Finnian's Rainbow (I am amazed I can recall all this detail!) and a few years later, PGTW did a production of Anne of Green Gables and needed kids. Both Demetri and I were cast in it. Judy choreographed the show. It was a big step for her. She'd had her own studio, but (and I only just found this out this week) getting the opportunity to stretch and do a whole show was at that point a big opportunity.
Significantly there was a "big" number at the start of the second act. We all dove in and pushed our limits. We weren't dancers, but we tried our hardest and Judy did her utmost to find our strengths and capitalize on them.
After the run of the show Judy came to a small handful of the guys who had been in the show. She offered us free dance lessons on the condition that we also join her dance troupe - which performed at events and anchored her company's involvement in the regional dance festival. This, quite frankly, was a stroke of genius on Judy's part.
Three of us including Demetri and I agreed, and though I have never really been 'a dancer,' things I learned in the following two years have been among the most invaluable I've ever learned as a performer.
Only a few years ago I had a sequence of callbacks for a role that required a non-dancer to dance. I didn't get it, but I was on hold for the part. I don't think I would have made it through the first round had I not had some previous experience in picking up choreography.
Mostly those years were fun. I was just at the age where girls were really beginning to be an important part of my life, and though I never got involved with any of the girls in the troupe, that period really helped me get comfortable with the opposite sex.
I thanked Judy for that the other night, and she told me what I already knew - that those years were equally important for her. Though I didn't fully appreciate the extent to which they were until she filled in the blanks the other night.
It was obvious, back in 1987, when we attended our first dance competition that bringing us boys into her troupe had been a turning point.
I don't know what its like now, but back then in the central interior of British Columbia there weren't any boys in dance. None. Not in logging country. If you were straight you wouldn't be caught dead doing it for fear of being thought of as gay. If you were gay... it's logging country - there were no gays. No out of the closet gays. And if anything they would be even less likely to want to be seen doing something like dance that would be tagged as "gay."
So there we were, three hetero-guys in Judy's classes and troupe. Judy made it easy on us - didn't require that we wear anything that would challenge our boundaries - sweat pants were good enough... though I wouldn't be surprised if I tried to get away with jeans in my first class, but memory fades. Even so, we didn't run around letting our friends know we were in dance classes.
But there we were - at regionals (yep, set-up your Glee moment) the only three guys in the building except for a lighting technician and the adjudicator.
We won. Everything. A total sweep.
Every award and category that we were eligible for was ours - and the adjudicator could not hide his delight that the troupe had boys. But it went further than that. Judy's other students won an unprecedented number of awards. It wasn't merely us. There was something really going on here. Judy was a talent, and the inclusion of us merely drew attention to it.
The very next year there were dancers at other studios who jumped ship to Judy. Before long there were even more boys, and it wasn't much later before Judy's studio was expanding, taking over more of the building they leased and eventually buying a much bigger facility. Bill was soon going into business for himself in a related support busines that would become the city's most relied upon provider of production and staging equipment. I worked for him briefly at one Children's Festival. Their sons are all in the trade in some capacity.
Those early days of the troupe were big for Judy in other ways too - not just having made a good choice. I didn't see it at the time, but were were pushing her too. Keeping her at the edge of her abilites both as a choreographer and as a teacher - in both cases having to integrate performers who were doing their best, but were still behind the curve of everyone else on the stage.
Clearly they made a lot of other good, consistent and reliable decisions. The troupe eventually became a local theatre company in it's own right, having produced something like 21 different musicals. One of here students - a boy - made it to the top six of So You Think You Can Dance Canada?
I've never quit being fond of Judy and Bill, I just kind of let our acquaintance slip. It was so great to see them. It was great to be able to reconnect as adults - and perhaps if Jodie, who had no context of them in any kind of "superior" role, had not been there changing the context for me it would have been different. Not less friendly - it has always been friendly (even when they were the "adults" they were the cool young adults we knew) - but with more of the past relationship up front. I am not at all surprised that Jodie and Judy in particular hit it off, and I am really glad they did.
I really look forward to seeing them the next time they are visiting their boys in Vancouver... and that will be a paradigm shift in it's own right. Most of my memories of them feature the boys as kids - real kids, not the adolescent adults the rest of us were at the time - though I do also recall them as aloof teenagers as well.
In any case. I under estimated just how much my appreciation for what Bill and Judy meant in my past would translate into a happy reunion here on the other side of the planet, and how much I want that to continue.