Hartwell Hall

Hartwell Hall

The light wafted through the windows near the ceiling of Hartwell Hall. It was a chilly February morning, then again, typical for upstate New York. I knew the cold wouldn’t last, once we started rehearsing. I continued to stretch, the tightness familiar in my quads and abductors.

David arrived, long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Hey Ned, sorry I’m a little late. Where’s Marybeth?” He placed the boom box on front of the stage.

“I thought we’re working without her until 8.”

He turned on the music. “Oh yeah.” He smiled, a rarity, and I smiled back. “Keep stretching, warming up. I know it’s cold in here, but we’ll get moving in a minute.” The lush guitar strums of Alex DeGrassi stirred me out of stupor. I sank into my stretching routine: butterfly, hurdler’s, toe touches. Don’t bounce! Remember to breathe! There was so much to learn.

I’d auditioned for David on a whim. I’m a business major, have no clue what I‘m going to do with that. I took a dance class spring semester thinking it would be fun. The instructor, Santos, asked me to stay after one day.

“How’s it going?” he said.

I nodded. “Considering I feel way out of my league, fine.” Lame attempt at a joke.

He grinned. “You’re doing great. I was wondering if you want to take a look at this.” He handed me a flyer announcing the auditions for the Spring Student Dance Concert.

My heart started beating a little faster. There was a list of choreographers.

“But, I don’t know any of these students.”

“Might be good for you to work with David West? He’s patient, and like you, he didn’t come here for dance. Found his way to Hartwell, too.” Santos smiled.

I folded the flyer and stuffed it into my sweatpants pocket. “Thanks, Santos. “

The day we’d auditioned, I wasn’t feeling my best. I thought I would hurl when I found out that we’d be auditioning in tights. I wore them under my sweats, just in case. A friend, Marybeth, who I’d met in Santo’s class was also auditioning for David’s piece and she told me: wear tights. But my legs looked extra scrawny, and I was already self-conscious, like a fish out of water. About halfway to Hartwell, I nearly turned around, head back toward Main Street. I’d sit at Connor’s Corners and lament to Wally, the owner. But something made me plod on.

After a quick warm-up, David had us form odd shapes, again, then again. He’d stand back from the group (there were about twenty of us auditioning, and I was happy that only six of them were male, including me) assessing us.  Folded arms, his deep-set eyes scrutinizing every move . His piece, he told us, was for one man, one woman. I thought they called it a duet, but I wasn’t sure if the same rules applied for modern dance. Were there any rules? I marked my way through the movement, hoping that my feigned enthusiasm might score points. I tried to imitate Marybeth, who’d advised me well.

“During warm-up, choose the best dancer, and place yourself behind him or her. I heard that Jamie Bell is auditioning. He gets cast for everything, so watch him, follow his cues.”

I grunted, groaned, sweat like a mule. I gave it my best effort. I’d watched the Sarajevo Olympics the evening prior, and some athlete said, after winning gold, “I just wanted to leave it all out there, on the ice. No regrets.” That had inspired me, and I thought if I could, just give it everything I had, even if I wasn’t the “right dancer” for David’s work, I’d feel okay about myself afterwards.

Easier said than done. I was good, maybe even slightly better than good, when we were twenty strong. Then David pared us down, first to ten, then six. Three guys, three girls. So far, Marybeth and I made the cuts, we were still in. But so was Jamie Bell, the 5’11, sandy blond senior with his wavy hair tied high on his head, wearing a peacock blue unitard, a slim leather necklace tied elegantly around his neck. I wanted to get this now more than ever. David paired us in every combination possible, we worked singly and doubly. Dizzyingly, over, and over. Suddenly we were done.

“I’ll post the results in three days, with the rest of the choreographers. Thanks for a great audition,” David said. He didn’t look at me. Not once.

Marybeth moseyed over while I was pulling my sweats on. “You surprised me, Ned.” She wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. “You kicked some serious butt for a business major.”

I chuckled. “Thanks, you were fantastic. And I appreciate all your help before and during this. You’ll get cast.”

She shrugged. “It’s a crapshoot. Always is. I’m not gonna obsess about it, that’s for sure. Hey, what are you doing now? Want to get some coffee at the Union?”

I pulled on my boots, stood up.  “That sounds great,” I said.


About Robert Vaughan

Originally from NY, Robert leads week long National writing retreats at sites like Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Synergia Ranch, and EarthRise IONS. His poems and fiction are published in over 500 print and online magazines, such as Necessary Fiction, BlazeVOX, Los Angeles Weekly, Literary Orphans and Smokelong Quarterly. He is Editor-in-Chief at (b)OINK magazine and leads round- tables for Redoak Writing in Milwaukee. He is six times a Pushcart Prize Nominee and his fiction and poetry have won awards, including a Micro-Fiction runner-up (2012) and twice a finalist in the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award (2013-14). His books are: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements (Civil Coping Mechanisms); RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press), and FUNHOUSE (Unknown Press).
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11 Responses to Hartwell Hall

  1. theprayerlady says:

    Now I have to wonder who got picked? You’re a little shit for that ya’ know! Love, Mom

  2. Suzi says:

    I know everyone of these people – in fact, I have auditioned beside them, danced with them, smoked with them, drunk Tab with them, bitched about Pam Tripple with them. And Santos….dear, dear Santos (R.I.P). Hartwell Hall is such a beloved memory for me, without which, I wouldn’t have met you. Thank you for reminding me again and again how blessed I have been and continue to be. XOX.

  3. Andrea says:

    Great story. All the references are so visual and vivid. Who did get picked?

  4. Dez says:

    Oh those wonderful college days…miss them and yet I don’t. I’m not sure if I am just assuming but isn’t Ned already the selected dancer at the beginning, and then the rest is in flashback? So, I just assumed that he DOES get chosen. Maybe if there was a way to indicate that more strongly at the beginning, or just put the audition information up front, then ease into the rehearsal in “real time” so to speak. It would be fun to read that moment when Ned sees his name on the list, I assume with Marybeth’s. And do I sense that there might be some romance there? Or something with David? Hmm… you are so great at creating these complicated webs that we weave. Loved the details and your work.

  5. Beverly says:

    I liked this one, reminded me of acting auditions in high school and college. And Marybeth was there just when Ned needed her. Sweet how those relationships come about just at the right time. I have to chime in on the “end” here- was not sure who was chosen by David the choreographer. And since I didn’t know about Hartwell Hall, possibly some outstanding features about that particular building that makes it so different from others?

  6. Suzi says:

    The bells…..you forgot the Hartwell bells.

  7. christine says:

    A rush of memories. Thanks. The big doors, tall windows, trees towering over the sidewalks to the building . . .

  8. david says:

    always something comforting about the old hallowed walls of Hartwell Hall.. the “entrance” the “foundation” of higher learning in that once remote part of the American frontier.. if those walls could talk.. Oh wait.. they do! Thtugh each one of our thoughts and dreams and movements, so artfully crafted and inspired… now to share with the world.. and this blog continues the evolution of that seed planted in Hartwell Hall..

  9. david says:

    we dance and sing and speak for those like Santos and Henri. and the countless others

  10. Shari says:

    There’s something about being on a collage campus that makes me remember all of those classes I took and friends I made back then. Some of my very best friends to this day! I am so grateful for that, and for them. Thanks for making me remember those important connections we all have.

  11. G says:

    heart warming, engaging the spirit of youth

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