Friday, December 02, 2005
a love story
I started dancing at the age of 4. Well, let’s be real here. At age 4, I’m not sure how much “dancing” I was actually doing; it probably looked more like running, skipping, jumping, and when called upon, putting my arms up awkwardly to make a halo around my little toehead.
At the age of 5 or 6, Mom switched me to a more “dignified” dance studio, where I stayed for many years. Severance School of Dance was a second home, in many respects. I don’t remember this, but my mother tells me that on my first day of class at my new studio, while all my other classmates were running around laughing and enjoying this big open space with mirrors, I solemnly walked directly to the barre, laid both my hands on it, and began my plies. Like a duck to water. Age 6.
At that age, the dance studio mandates you take both tap and ballet classes. I hated tap. I never wanted to go to tap. Tap was loud and unsophisticated, and it just wasn’t very pretty like ballet was. Ballet makes you pretty. Of course, I’ve taken a few tap classes as an adult and totally love it now. At age 7, however, I had had my fill of the tap. All I wanted to do was ballet. And I think at age 8, I got my wish.
The years went on, and I slowly began adding more and more classes. By sixth grade I was at the studio nearly every day. I remember taking two classes in a row some days. Semi-private lessons (lessons with only one or two more girls enrolled), I even remember arranging something with my school to let me out a little early to make an early afternoon ballet class. And I can't even put into words the feeling of buying your first pair of toe shoes at age 10. I. Loved. It. I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
Age 9 I think was when I auditioned for Fresno Ballet Rep and made it into the junior company. First year of Nutcracker, I was one of the little people who jumps out of the big skirt (as depicted in photo above). When I was 12, I danced the role of Clara, which is by far the highlight of my entire childhood. These years were great as a child. Christmas was Nutcracker. Nutcracker was Christmas. Sleeping in pink rollers for those perfect ringlets, stage makeup, the smell that dressing rooms have (hair spray, sweat, mold from the costumes).
My father, who played in the symphony, was always in the pit for the performances. It kind of made it a family thing. I’m not sure if Dad ever got to see me dance. But I love the image in my mind of him playing that beautiful, soaring, Waltz of the Flowers, while I danced to it. I remember Dad was always in my thoughts during performances. I can honestly say that being a young ballerina gave me a great sense of beauty, focus, and the virtue of self-discipline. Only when I was dancing did I ever feel beautiful. At such a young age, I felt I already had a true purpose, and that God was watching my little feet with a smile on His face.
It is here where the story becomes less magical. Starting at the age of 13, my body…well more than that, really…began to change. Suddenly, I was this completely different shape I had to re-train to make turn or jump or kick. It was difficult, to say the least…and as my body changed more and more…I became more and more devastated. My legs were not as long as the other girls, my feet were not as good, and my turnout was pretty average compared to all my friends. I couldn’t get the long lines that the others had. My allegro, and my fouette turns were pretty solid, but my adagio work, my extension and heighth, left a lot to be desired. Everything became harder to execute. I’d leave the studio on a regular basis totally in tears. My heart was breaking.
I’d go with my friends to San Franciso and L.A. to audition for their summer dance companies. They’d get accepted…I would not. I’d be home all summer getting letters from Erin or Mar’Kel or Kelly telling me about their teachers and what they were learning. It was hard, especially for the 14 year-old awkward thing that I was. I wanted to do what they were doing.
By age 15 I was burned out. I’d been working hard for so long, and I wasn’t advancing very much. I’ll never forget watching Erin work a combination out with our teacher in a corner of the studio lobby once, just after she’d returned from Houston Ballet for the summer, and I watched the sharpness in her footwork, her line and her form, in total amazement. She looked like a real professional. I thought to myself…I can’t do that. And she’s two years younger than I.
It was time to tell Mom.
Mom suggested we give it one more year. “Let’s give it one more year, we’ll put you in whatever private lessons you need, and we’ll do the round of auditions again in the winter, and…let’s give it one more year.”
Couldn’t do it. I’d lost every single thing I loved about it. It was drudgery now, and a year felt like a prison sentence. Mom saw it in my eyes, and she didn’t fight me on it. She’d been privy to all the tears as well, and she knew I wasn’t happy. So, I hung up my pointe shoes. I got involved in drama, and the Scottish dance troupe at school, concert choir. There was still plenty of stuff out there to do.
Well, what had laid rather dormant for many years suddenly awoke last night. Why? Last night I saw Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker. I hadn't seen it since I danced it. I was overwhelmed with how much memory I had stored inside the music. The overture began, and I was suddenly 9 years old, backstage and waiting to enter for the party scene. Watching Clara dance made me smile so big, to remember the triumph that I felt when I got to dance that role. I remembered being a snowflake, and hating the itchy head piece with tinsel, but having so much fun with the other "flakes." I remembered dancing the Chinese dance and always sweating the pirouettes at the end. The Sugar Plum/Cavalier pas de deux, which I always dreamed of doing someday, was magnificent in its familiarity. So lovely, so breathtaking. I was so happy to sit in my seat and live it again. At the end of the evening I remember thinking…I love to sing, I love theater. But ballet was and is my first passion. I’m an enchanted little girl again for watching it.
Will there be dance studios in heaven for people like me?
Jeez, I sound like a grandma.
Thanks for commenting, Lanie. It meant so much to me.
I am sure there will be dance studios in heaven for you. Ones where you dance, and ones where you get to teach super adorable children to dance:)
I remember watching the nutcracker as a little girl and completely falling in love and begging for ballet lessons. Which I got, but I did/do not have that talent:)
To this day, I love the name Clara best:)
I started ballet when I was 4 or 5, and was SOOOO excited for it (which, as Cat can tell you, is kinda funny for me). But the teacher was awful and I never went back. But on occasion I wonder how different my life would be if I had a good teacher.
Although i can't agree on the name Clara. That's my dad's sisters name, and she's totally weird.
Also, I'd love to see any pictures:) Alternatively, perhaps a tutu will make an appearance at the Christams party this year. Heh.
Mar, have you ever thought of teaching dance?
I just LOVE dancing. But my body, especially in the last few years, doesn't like to cooperate--I've been asthmatic since I was 11 or 12, and in the last year or so it's been worse than ever, as have my knees, which have a degenerative condition called Patella-Femoral syndrome, which makes the kneecap run in the wrong place. I have physical therapy exercises to do for it, but I have to stick with low-impact, and have been ordered by the doctor to avoid all plies. :(
So yes, I agree. There must be dance studios in heaven. And then we'll all be able to look like my old friend: http://norroway.thelemur.net/view_photo.php?set_albumName=portfolio&id=leap_lr.
This is so random... I'm a grownup, was searching for a dignified studio where I might be able to take a grownup ballet class and not feel like all the "good" young dancers are laughing at me... the way I remember laughing at the grownups who came to take class when I was in advanced ballet at Severance. My mom owned that studio. I lived there. Literally and figuratively. I danced at Severance from age 3 until I left for college at 18...and never danced again after that. I know who the Erin and Kelly you're talking about are, and had similar feelings...and was probably 4 years older than they were. We must have known each other. I was in the Fresno Ballet, too... God, it was my whole life! I did a random search for Severance (thinking that maybe they'd have a site by now -- but of course not...) and your blog came up. Just thought I'd say hello.
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