Trendysomething in SoMo

Balls of fire: Surviving hacky sack with the Burn the Floor cast

Balls of fire: Surviving hacky sack with the Burn the Floor cast

Like hacky sacks, hacky sack players come in all shapes and sizes.
News_Nancy_Burn the Floor_Mark Ballas
Mark Ballas didn't join in on the party. Photo by Dimitry Loiseau
News_Nancy_Burn the Floor_Mark Ballas

I never was the athletic type. As a youngster, I could be found hanging out in outfield, blowing dandelions and weaving bits of grass, and to obtain my physical education requirements in high school, I opted for the position of "Swim Team Manager" for obvious reasons.

So when I was invited by the cast of Burn the Floor to partake in a pre-show tradition of playing hacky sack, I was admittedly dubious.

However, unlike such aggressive contact sports as football and ping pong, I always associated hacky sack with friendly stoners, whose most offensive quality might be an exuberant taste for Dave Matthews Band. After a solid week of pondering, weighing my options and reading a Wikipedia article, I decided to cash in on the offer.

I had a bit of time to kill between work and meeting up backstage at the Hobby Center, so I slipped into the downtown library to read up on hacky sack rules and regulations. I confirmed that, a) there are no books on hacky sack to be had, and b) homeless people are still scary. Disgruntled and increasingly nervous, I made the two-block schlep to the Theater District.

As I was escorted backstage, I passed a dressing room in which fabulous male and female dancers were applying layers of makeup while pop tart hits played from a boom box. But that piece of heaven was not to be my final destination.

Instead, I found myself in a room decorated with crumbling couches and a malodorous air akin to that of a seventh grader who's yet to be gifted his first deodorant stick. The room was filled with a dozen strapping dancers speaking in largely Australian accents. These were no dandy dancers; they were beasts of Broadway, and they were here to win. I soon understood that it wasn't the architecture that smelt oddly — it was the athletes.

There is much more to hacky sack than simply tossing around a ball with feet (I think that's called soccer). I had to quickly acquaint myself with a set of lingo referring to distinct hacky sack protocol, which was usually slang related to terms for genatalia. There were fun moments, but those were mostly overshadowed by the awkward slip-ups. I learned that if you pick up the ball after a round, don't switch it to the other hand unless you like to be booed (which I learned I don't like after a traumatic karaoke rendition of Vanessa Williams' "Save the Best for Last.")

To make matters worse, I was positioned in the circle directly across from a wall clock, making the time feel as if were creeping by all the more slowly. The half hour spent playing felt as miserably interminable as waiting for the results of an HIV test or a drink at Anvil on a Saturday night.

As my face became more flushed, I overheard Cheryl Lynn's "To Be Real" playing in that dressing room down the hallway. Obviously my mind turned to Episode 50 of Sex and the City, in which Carrie drunkenly falls on the runway while wearing gem-encrusted Dolce & Gabbana panties as "To Be Real" plays in the background. And while I wasn't on a runway, nor wearing couture underwear (on my Christmas list, don't worry), I knew I had two options: preemptively walk out on the cast of Burn the Floor and make it to the last five minutes of happy hour at t'afia — or I could man up, roll up my sleeves, and stick it out.

I looked around the room and realized that this wasn't a game about brute force and actually declaring each others' mothers "sluts," but an exercise to relieve tension before the dancers' big show. Like me, they were coping with a sense of nervousness that I would, personally, prefer to resolve with a small-batch microbrew or a clandestine visit to the Galleria 4.

And so I sucked it up, and even endured sticky hugs goodbye. I may even pursue hacky sack more thoroughly, but this time on my own terms, and after I accomplish my goals of mastering a reading-level of French and making a competitive vegan lasagna. Until then, I'm content with downgrading my role to hacky sack spectator.