Her text woke me up. “Not sure if any of these numbers work? It’s HiHat pls call me.”
I haven’t finished reading the last word and my fingers have already forwarded a screenshot to alert my team. We rearrange Saturday’s travel to Washington D.C., postpone all meetings, and clear my calendar for whatever is forthcoming.
I quizzically phone the woman who taught me the iconic eight counts to “Work It” during a cattle call audition in L.A. 17 years ago, a project that would bestow upon me the unexpected moniker “little white girl from the Missy Elliott video.” 17 years ago.
“Missy would like for you to join her on stage. You in?”
“Blocking is 12:30 tomorrow. Need sizes for stylist. Still verifying it can happen.”
The irrefutable, boundary-blasting visionary Missy Misdemeanor Elliott and her “Day One” team members are extending me the honor, and responsibility, to elicit tearful nostalgia in tens of millions of hearts. We’ll be reliving a timeless moment in music history — one that helped launch and shape my career — while celebrating her unmatchable legacy. Apparently, I needed to be ready yesterday.
I leap out of bed toward the narrow full-length mirror and assess my 26-year-old self. It’s with an adult frame and personhood that I will embody and relay the movements I first performed in 2002, and I look no further than Missy for guidance. I think of the joy and unifying power that characterize her artistry, and imagine this transcendent moment being shared equally among everybody.
I impulsively type out a message to my friends and family, but can’t tap send. Some surprises are worth saving. Besides, I’m not even sure it’s happening — even if it doesn’t, I get to see Missy and one of my earliest non-biological families tomorrow.
MAKE IT QUICK, MAKE IT COUNT
My rideshare pulls up to the Prudential Center, but the frenetic buzz hasn’t eclipsed my sleep-deprived bones. Production trailers and security blockades line the perimeter. I spot the loading ramp backstage and make a beeline to the front of house. I‘m instantly smitten by the diamond-shaped stage configuration and dazzling LED panels lit to futuristic perfection. And then I see Missy.
Hat low, custom denim jacket, smile illuminating the arena, walking unobtrusively alongside her 30-plus dancers. Adrenaline fills my veins. Awe and affection overcome me; it’s as though I’m meeting a lifelong hero, who just happens to be a relative.
We join at the stairs in a kismet reunion. Her hugs are the best: warm, genuine, complete, supportive. We ping pong a bunch of “thank you’s” and “good to see you’s” and “it’s been awhile’s” and then the stage manager urges us to set the piece.
HiHat, Missy’s Creative Director, and choreographers Troy Kirby and Sean Bankhead give me nearly complete creative freedom, save for making sure I insert the original choreography from my performance in the “Work It” video somewhere. HiHat playfully recounts my perfectionism from nine years old, accurately predicting that I‘m already silently stitching potential sequences together in my head.
“Where will the other dancers be?”
“It’s just you. Solo.”
Despite the enormous role and deadline, I am laser focused and completely tranquil. There is a noticeable, stunning clarity in the present. A blueprint appears effortlessly, and I visualize the looming space of four empty eight counts as a fresh diary entry to be filled with physical poetry. I anticipate fans responses and the intractable internet memes that will follow.
The whole cast runs the seven minute, career-spanning medley twice as I lightly contour my section. I receive minor notes regarding camera angles and staging, and set up for the third and final run-through.
I completely bomb the end.
Note to self: Don’t mess up Missy’s Vanguard performance tomorrow. I giggle out loud, because I know it won’t happen.
Today was destined to be a milestone even before I was dancing. I’m strolling the red carpet in promotion of my new YouTube series ALchemy, the upcoming launch of my podcast Simplexity with Alyson Stoner, and my mental health advocacy for touring musicians. I’m a recording artist now, standing among peers.
After dodging every question about whether I’d appear on stage, I run to the dressing room and change out of my shimmering champagne dress into the lemon yellow custom Adidas tracksuit with classic shell toes. I clip off my perfectly manicured nails (good thing they were only $8.99 press-ons from Duane Reade) so they don’t rip off during floorwork. I’m fully centered.
Our entire squad packs into the freight elevator to descend to stage level. A familiar electrical current zaps my chest, priming for performance.
The track begins, and the crowd instantly erupts. I sneak onto stage in conscious flow. Posed right in the center, I take a deep breath and realize the taste on my tongue: it’s perfection. My legs and arms twist. The audience loses it. My fingers grab the floor as I dive. I come up with a stank face. Here come the GIFs. I finish with an old school groove and my shoes catch the floor at the end. Who cares? I clear room for Bboy DayDay to take flight in a series of gravity-defying flips and power moves. I exit stage and high five the fans on my way backstage where we’ll wait to re-enter for Missy’s acceptance speech.
As only a divine queen can, she thanks everyone who’s supported her rise and then credits the dance community with special value, leaving everyone on stage feeling seen and validated. “Y’all are not just props. Y’all are the icing on the cake; y’all are the beat to the heart.” The new generation of kiddos take her side and there’s an unspoken communal passing of the torch. These are our next leaders. What an incredible, unsurpassable introduction to the scene.
Her speech comes to a close and we all head back. I give Missy a hug, one of those “best hugs,” and change into the after party look. We did it. And apparently the world noticed.