Growing up in the NY suburbs during the 80s, jazz & tap lessons were my passion. I didn’t care so much about the moves as I did about my dance costume. It was a satiny, yellow leotard filled with blue sequins. A lightly colored tutu (a short, fluffy skirt made from several layers of tulle) sat around my waist. I loved dressing up in that outfit and complementing it with a face full of blue eye shadow, rouge (yes, I really said rouge!) and bright red lipstick. Nothing could’ve made me happier!
Since my mom knew how much I loved putting on that costume, she let me wear it whenever I wanted to, which was basically every other day. Whenever guests would come to the house, the first thing I would ask them was, “Do you want to see my dance costume with my tutu?” My humongous, bright smile made it obvious that I wanted nothing more than to show off that ensemble.
When Purim came around, my mom dressed me up in my dance costume with a face full of 1980s makeup. I looked like a Radio City Hall Rockette!! My older brother dressed up as a pirate with a flannel shirt, a black eye patch and a thick goatee that my mom drew around his mouth using black eyeliner. My younger brother was sick that Erev Purim, so my mom stayed home with him as she ushered me, my dad and my older brother out of the house to hear the Megillah. I couldn’t wait to show everyone in Shul my dance costume!
But as we entered the shul, my brother and I noticed that something was off …
We were we the only ones in costume!!! Everyone else was wearing their typical holiday wardrobe such as skirts, dress shirts, etc. What a lame shul my parents joined!
Why were my brother and I the only kids dressed up for Purim?
After a few prayers, the rabbi called all of the children up to the bimah. As I joined the other kids around the podium, one of the thirteen year old girls pointed to me and shouted, “Look at that girl!”
“That’s right! Look at me and my costume!” I thought, as I struck a pose by placing my right hand behind my head and my left hand on my hip in typical 80’s fashion.
Soon after, I made eye-contact with my neighbor and fellow dance class partner, who said,“Eilleen, you’re wearing your dance costume here?” to which I replied, “Uh huh!”
A few minutes later, the children were told to step down and join the congregation for dancing, which was when I found out the truth about that evening …
It wasn’t Erev Purim. It wasn’t even Purim. It was Simchas Torah!!!
It turned out that my mother somehow confused the holidays that day … Or did she?!?!?!?! Hmmmmmm … Well, regardless, one thing was clear: On that particular Simchas Torah, a traditional synagogue’s congregants consisted of a diverse group of people, which included a pirate and a Rockette.
Once my older brother and I caught wind that we were dressed up for the wrong holiday, one of the older kids said to me, “Well, at least your brother can remove his eye patch and wash his moustache off at the water fountain, but you can’t do anything about that dance costume.”
Even though I was very young at the time and didn’t fully “get” that I shouldn’t have been dressed up, I didn’t care one bit because I was so happy to be in my dance costume!
So, what did I do when I was all dressed up with no Purim party to go to? I did exactly what one does on Simchas Torah; I danced the night away! I couldn’t have been more than a few feet tall at the time, but I stood out more than anyone with my blue sequins, little tutu and red lipstick. Even though I was wearing a costume, I couldn’t have been more comfortable in my own skin that evening.
Here’s the crazy thing: At 5 years old, my mother’s confusion combined with the innocence of childhood taught me the most important thing: To be true to oneself, even if it means standing out in a crowd.
At 5 years old, Purim taught me to be real, even though I was in costume.