With a firm resolve, June stepped down from the stool, set it aside and picked up a handful of small, torn white papers that appeared to have scribbling on them. These turned out to be notes and drawings, discernible to her alone, that she made during televised football games. June would develop many of our dance combination patterns from football plays that she had watched with keen attention enhancing the formations with her own unique tools of the trade: dancers, music, lights, cameras, costumes, and vision. She glanced and nodded to Peter, her assistant choreographer, who had the weathered face of a cowboy that had spent many years outdoors and the lean, muscular body of a world-class athlete. Peter and June turned simultaneously to face the floor-to-ceiling mirrored walls.
She placed one of the torn white papers on her stool, studied it, and then in an intimate, soft voice said something that only Peter could hear. She began demonstrating small, subtle moves to him as though we weren’t there. June extended her right arm in a vague arc, barely lunged to the side on her right leg while slightly turning her left leg inward, did an indistinguishable low-to-the-ground tap combination, and concluded with a half-hearted pivot and kick as Peter nodded in complete understanding. She turned to face him as he began ‘walking through’ the dance combination using only small, limited movements and then June asked him to demonstrate it in full tempo and at performance level. I came to understand that June would begin our rehearsals at the start of each week with the core combination of the new dance routine. It followed that once the first combination’s unknown approval code was established, then other dance combinations were developed, discarded, and reincarnated, it seemed, at the speed of light.
Our rehearsal hall for the first season of the show was in the garishly lit basement of the Henry Hudson Hotel where our three-day marathon audition took place. The basement presented two physical challenges: we were without natural light for most of our waking hours and the floor upon which we danced was cement. Any dancer and athlete knows that when one jumps and lands on cement it creates whiplash to the spine for there is no ‘give.’ We repeatedly rolled and stretched on the cement floor with extended arms and legs to create the geometric designs for the overhead camera used on videotaping day. Our vertebra protruded from our skeleton-thin bodies covered only by a slim layer of skin and a leotard. What this produced by week’s end when we were to videotape the show was a succession of bruised and bleeding bones down our spinal columns that were bandaged for our performance. Fortunately, the cameras were never close enough to capture the little flesh colored Band-Aids that were neatly applied by our wardrobe mistress to each sore and tender backbone.
The scents that permeated our rehearsal hall were Jean Naté mixed with a heavy dose of Ben-Gay. Our muscles were sore from the strenuous demands made on our bodies and we stank from the sweat that poured out of us for eight hours a day, six days a week. I was almost incapable of walking up and down the subway steps in the first weeks and my plié at the ballet barre was so painful that I wondered if I would ever be able to reverse it and straighten my legs again.
During the long, rigorous days of our rehearsals, we had a one-hour reprieve set aside each week to visit the costume designer for our fittings. I soon learned that part of the mystique of The June Taylor Dancers was the costume extravaganzas, created anew each week to resonate with the themes of our dance routines such as that, which became our Spring classic, “Pennies From Heaven.”
The primary visuals of our stage set were large painted paper raindrops hung on long strings from the rafters, fake brick walls, and imitation birds perched on top of tall black, plastic posts. Our costumes were a ‘tease’ for they were strapless. We used umbrellas with swirl designs to cover our bodies throughout the dance routine where we turned and twisted and manipulated the umbrellas and their design for a dizzying effect. And, not unlike Gypsy Rose Lee, we only exposed glimpses of our bodies and costumes.