I haven’t posted in quite a while, call this being extremely busy! So much has happened this year in terms of personal responsibilities: moving back to New York, working for several months as Director of The New York Ballet Institute, re-starting ballet programs, commuting, working, personal goals, college preparation for all of my children, and just generally running, that I haven’t really had time to post at all, or the inclination. I didn’t forget about you, but at times I was just too exhausted to post and other times the well seemed dry.
I had hoped to start a school (really continue one this year) and a lot of work went into that project which was not recompensed, but that was a gamble, really, and though the signatures for the grant program were obtained through over three thousand hours of promotion, we did not get the grant in the end. The proprietors moved further upstate due to necessity and comfort, and my daughter sought training elsewhere. There will always be good training available, and I believe I brought a lot of attention to their expertise and historical importance, but after everything was said and done, they did not have the drive to pursue a full-time education program without substantial injections of cash into their school. I suppose it will go unused, and though they promised me the use of it, I really did not have the desire to proceed without them-what would be the point?
I do have a ballet and dance background, undergraduate degree, and teaching experience, but compared to theirs, my knowledge and abilities pale drastically; I would not wish to take over in areas where I have no such expert knowledge and acumen. I still believe they are two of the finest teachers I have ever met, and despite age and encumbrances are quite able to teach. They are quite dear to me, despite our having to basically call it quits. Oddly, I received an email this year that we were in the running again and had enough votes to qualify again-I ignored the email recently.
Quite a lot of schools have popped up over the past year and many of them are doing quite well: French, American, and Russian, in the city. Some are taking grand steps forward based on my promotion scheme and I am happy to see that this is working for them. It is important to speak up and self-promote; a lot of fine teachers go unrecognized because they do not have the foresight or gumption to do blatant self-promotion, but this is sometimes what is needed to get students.
After NYBI, I went right into another possible project with Ken Ludden of The Fonteyn Institute, and Ken is a very fine person and good friend. He really did not need assistance which I could provide, but he is developing the institute in his own design which has worked very well for him in the past. Sometimes, there is just not a resolve to achieve an end by two people, with both in charge in varying degrees, so I do not think there was a place for me there, as he had originally thought. We did attempt a couple of things together and now he is commencing new and exciting projects.
My daughter had her last year of high school this year and this took some very arduous work to overcome all the obstacles and to achieve her graduation and continue ballet, which she has done, but not without a feeling that the year was not as progressive as she had hoped. But, she did do some remarkable work, and has made some friends, and met some teachers, whom she will probably retain as lifelong friends. She learned alot, and a new passion is the French style of ballet, a yearning for international travel, and the desire to obtain a four-year degree as well, so I cannot fault her verve or gradual maturity. I am sure she is going to make a great lady one day, and no one could ave a fairer view of the word, I think. I am extremely proud of her and hope that she will be able to continue dancing for as long as it moves her. She has a current campaign for study abroad here Education Campaign: Dance in France I hope you will check it out and consider contributing to her dreams!
After a long year of working, my sons have returned to college, determined to succeed, so in all, I couldn’t be happier at the outcome, even though the going was, at times, pretty rough this year. We survived and have plans for the future all around. I hope your ballet and dance studies have continued, that you have made contributions of relevance to you, and that your work is motivating and inspirational. Above all, I hope you Keep on Dancing!
There is, among us, a retinue of dancers moving forward in the battalion of dancing life that is ballet. I have been reading blogs, posts, books, and seeing firsthand what it takes to pursue a professional career of dancing. There are many stories of dancers and their personal challenges, sacrifices and this all becomes a part of their artistic achievements. When you read a book, you hold that life in your head. Dancers and their audience are connected by a thread, too, sometimes a tapestry in convolution. They will always say, the ballet world is small, but it is not-it is intimate, a world of the language of ballet or the other dance they share in a convivial spirit of dance. This is true. There seem to be good people all over who have committed their lives to practicing this altruism, passing down what they know and love, and mostly lovingly fostering the development of their students in the dance world. My view and perspective are very limited, and by force, practical. Each step that my own daughter has made has been with focus and direction toward attaining her goal of becoming a professional ballet dancer. This has not been easy for her, unlike Sylvie Guillem, who quips that her dedication and love of the art did not come because she was nurtured in a “ballet environment” from an early age, but because she made the conscious decision that this was something she could do, something that for her there was a place, and that she came to love it- was not the only perspective, but an important one, that I thought about this year.
My daughter, Aingeal, is seventeen, and she has been dancing since she was about eleven. It has certainly not been easy for her and a place has not always been offered, encouraged, or extended. She has consistently pursued a path, that while extremely challenging physically, has been fraught with many difficulties of other sorts, too. It has been a great learning experience that cannot be summed up by me, in a short or simple way. But, she has shown fortitude, and an unflinching spirit to continually learn and improve despite having to take and get what she needed in a not-so-consistent manner, she felt. At the bottom (or the top) of this is that little moon over the coast in Moldova, a giant moon to her, of bright light, shining from possibly a million miles away, and sometimes large enough to warm you in its iridescence. I can tell what guides her and keeps her focused on that wide beam of light which encompasses many contenders and rivals. It is sheer willpower and determination, not because she was a “natural” in the typical regards. Those kinds of descriptors have come to mean less and less to me as I see wide gaps in ability and effort, and motivation, with those who apparently have the sought after assets, but when push comes to shove, can’t really engage the viewer unpredictably, and are far less than “capable” of producing art. That giant moon can warm and also burn you, and ultimately, you have to be able to step very far back from the landscape it offers and reduce it’s magnitude and awesomeness in order to seemingly squeeze it between your fingers, and control it; this is what you must do to achieve anything, and you must be able to do it your own way. This ability enables you to keep on dancing-and that is another part of the journey, and without judgement by others of your path, this might be a lot easier. There might be valid reasons for taking a different, less traveled path, and my experience has been that the person on that path is the object and not some other voice of reason or logic, however insistent it’s dogmatism.
I have never blatantly exposed her to the public, and I am not going to now, not in this little piece or snatch of writing. She is too wonderful and too full of possibilities to post pictures of, although everybody does it. I believe, for one thing, that if you do something right, correctly, perfectly, you ought to be seen doing that thing while performing, and that you should not be an exhibitionist. I think photos are a bad way to experience dance and dancers. It reduces dancers to pin-up girls and boys, and doesn’t connect you with the art. Ballet is about movement and what is achieved in a moment of time, something wonderful and it needs to be done doing it, in a theater, on a stage, in a studio, and it is always a work in progress-all the time- forever changing, growing, never the same, not static, frozen, posed, for that is the antithesis of movement and ballet, really. The opposite. One difference is the dancer is not merely a tool, or a body, but is also an artist, all rolled up into one and this can best be experienced by watching a dancer dance, live, moving, improving, growing, changing, expressing, not just stopping in a pose, but moving through the pose-evolving. Dancers transition constantly, they become artists.
I am not saying that ballet photos are not beautiful to look at (and tutus), pointe shoes are shiny, muscles and contortions imply strength, but not necessarily good dancing; they just do not speak volumes to me, as they might to parents or fans of children or certain dancers, about that singular person-not a dancer, and only in a stark and cold way about that imagery, like the little doll on the music box that goes around and around and around, they are commercial. They only represent or remind one of of ballet, or gymnastics, or pole-dancing, or the circus-which also is changing and moving all the time, just not identifiable as “ballet”. They are like a totem pole, trussed up in the colors of a tribe with the stock faces or photos of what a tree looks like, or a pose, much like those art programs where an artist closed inside a room is drawing a landscape or a body and it is sort of by the book-they suggest that this is HOW you do it. It is not. It begins with seeing. Hearing. Feeling. Learning. Moving. Practicing and performing. So many things, thousands and thousands of variables, skills, and this is what makes it an art, all of the assimilation and expression, eventually, of this. It is not liked seeing an individual tree, or a particular body, moving and swaying in the breeze, to the music, or in any kind of “live” action, which you are a part of, when you draw a tree-you are “in drawing.” It is like this when your are dancing-you are removed and yet, in it, and the viewer is up-close and involved in that moment, too.
So, photos are without any real expression or feeling, it is not unique, or individual, though the “art”of photography may be. I do not think “ballet” is a series of flat photos depicting a pose. I think this is why people have come to work on their calisthenics more than their dancing and other aspects important in theater, like a text is less rich than a face-to-face discussion. These are more like reminders of what it is like “to talk”, such as those little twirling dolls, and even more limited. I think ballet is art, and the components of the ballet, starting with a dancer, a musical note, costume, light, libretto, choreography, scenery, and audience, all together create an individual moment in time, or a series of moments, and cannot be distilled into one flat moment, though some beautiful imagery using body parts, lighting and color are created; it is NOT ballet. So, I have waited for her to dance, and have watched her in class and in performances and am surprised when that feeling hits me but not why I did not capture it in a picture. In art 99 percent of what you do gets thrown out, or becomes meaningless extracted from it’s whole. When I watch ballet, I am looking for something else, something a picture cannot ever convey-that is why I go to the ballet.
I am looking for an artist, a masterpiece, and sometimes I can catch this through her, so I know she is an artist, that’s all. If I could convey my own meaning simply, and effortlessly, maybe, then I would be a writer, and I am not a great writer. I am not trying to be, though. But, I do know about the pursuit of art, and I have pursued it in one way or another all of my life, mine, and that of others, by which I am more frequently satisfied, though less often than I hope to be. Great art rises to the top, and really great art remains there forever, or for as long as it is relevant to people. All I could say for many years is how hard she worked, whether she was on the music, how she looked in a costume, that she was pretty, whether she was able to dance, and various other things like that-topical things-the ones on the surface. Now I see a few more of the deeper things, such as certain muscles, a precision, an air, attitude, a glance, a pose, and much movement, precision, and she is engaging, but some of the more important basic elements were there when she just danced or moved with the music, for that is what the eye and mind do, they look to relate. They find line, symmetry, patterns, fluidity, and other things, and they note when they are missing or not there. These things would not be apparent at all in a photo, and only a little more is visible in a video. The theater is the arena for dance.
While I was watching, and when I wasn’t, she grew into a young lady, and the dancer in her grew also, so that they became one being together, and while I love her very much, I cannot fawn on pictures, but it is her spiritual self which has changed into a dancer, and she has this beautiful way about her when she is dancing, and that is what I am so so happy and thankful for; that she is able to enjoy dancing and explore herself through the medium of dance. I would not want to capture this in a photo or a video because I do not need to. She has grown stronger and more appealing to others everyday because of her ability, but more because of something else which I do not think anyone can put their finger on exactly, and photos are not the best conduit for this. It is her, and this is her own intimate form of expression and course, and not mine to post on social media or to exploit. Hopefully, it is in part, what people would pay to see, or not, one day; and that may be the one harmful aspect of posting too much about oneself, or anyone on social media, as it results in oversaturation of one aspect of her abilities. Ballet is in her imagination and you can only see that while she is dancing.
In her opinion, it is for the stage only, in class, to practice, and for a lifetime of dancing, and those many thousands of moments cannot be encapsulated into one photo. But there is a feeling of memory which a photo can relate, but it is not plastic or alive, so I am not going to post accompanying photos to this post, or any other, as long as I can help it. Her journey began to be difficult at birth, and during delivery she had her arm broken in several places, and her shoulder, due to a poor medical plan on the part of my doctors. She should have been a cesarean delivery, and had she been, I might not be here, and she might not be there. But, for several months after birth, she wore a little sling and the arm healed, with no manipulation or encouragement of the bones except naturally. She was able to see no doctor about it after it occurred, such is the medical practice, as long as she gave her real name, and even now, until those doctors were convinced it was too late for us to sue, so there has been no further x-ray of it, or investigation or cures proposed. Only ballet and normal childhood activity.
When you have a child, and you worry about possible disfigurement at birth, crippling effects, and their health and happiness, the last thing, I think, that a normal parent worries about is suing anyone-you think, “I hope she is able to do all the things she normally would; pole vault, etc” and not, “How much can I get?” Or maybe that is just me. I watched her grow and remarked, when the sling was off for daily changings of her undershirt, which held it in position, pinned to her lapel, how the arm didn’t move very much, and how she tried to move it, and how freely the other one moved and worked normally. It was just that, that perceptible difference which marked her path, maybe, and what was required each day in order to do the things she desired to do, reach, play, and grab, but also hug, use fine motor skills and it was that added effort she applied which made it better each day, and not the talking about it or recording each daily change for posterity’s sake. She was perfect otherwise, beautiful, and would stand on the bench, inside and looking out into the yard, and I swear the little birds and animals would come right up to the window when she did, and had no fear of her. She sang, and rolled and lolled and when she could finally hold a pen, she wrote, and she wrote reams and reams and reams, just in one year, of scribbles across the pages, approximating something she was compelled to say, or do, or achieve, and daily the patterns became more clear, more intricate, and finally words emerged, then speech, and description and communication, which then became more and more perfect, organized and immaculately contained in stapled pages, then in journals, then notebooks, and diaries, and larger notebooks and she has continued writing, and progressing to a purpose of greater communication or ability, fluency, or possibly for many other purposes unfathomable to me.
This is what happened in dance, too. She endured a lot of pain then, at birth, and for her, pain was not something which daunted her or repelled her in dance, and she moved toward it, rather than away from it, to achieve literacy, what was on the other side. Perhaps from memory, too, she was not going to let a little pain stop her. I remember when she first went to ballet class, and I really had no plan, no design, none at all. I took her because my grandmother wanted to pay for her to take lessons, and because she was attending a little school with her friends in our town of Laguna Beach, CA. I had danced, and had a proper respect for the pedagogy and was going to instill it in her, too, because that is what some parents do. I had to find her a good teacher, I knew, of ballet only, and that was all. But, her perspective was likely much different. For one thing, she was skeptical, and did not know if she would like “ballet”-had never even seen ballet really, and though she always liked dressing up and dancing around the house with her brother, beyond that satisfactory experience, and her obsession with carry-alls and passports, as opposed to dolls and toys, I did not think she understood it at all, but she moved and liked to move, most. But we went to a class and they were at a more or less primary level, each in their little white leotards and white demi-skirts and she joined in, rather late in the year, looking perfectly suited, graceful and beautiful. I thought it more of a beginning to becoming a young lady, a rite of feminine passage, what people DO naturally, a way to develop poise, confidence, agility, but she immediately saw it as a means to an end of something she was in pursuit of and which I clearly knew nothing about.
I knew for me what it meant, had meant, and my own perspective was all I saw, but I did reason that others had different motivation, so I accepted hers as hers, that’s all, but even then, I did not recognize hers as greater than mine, more impassioned, more necessary possibly, and that would have been hard to imagine even if I had been more sensitive or smart. That was it, first class, hooked. A new language, something she had not mastered, like the fine motor skills with her hand, and use of her arm, and she began a journey that took her each day, week, month, and year, toward her own very personal goal. She approached it pretty much the same way she had everything else and it was a suitable endeavor for a lifetime it seems. But now I only see this looking back.
I will cut out the many (now) years in between and note that she led me where she wanted to or needed to go and I followed, not always the perfect accompaniment (myself): driver, mouthpiece, personal factotum, sounding board, bank, beggar, and loving mother, but she surpassed my knowledge in some regards very quickly and is now far beyond me. I no longer even service her needs really, because she is strong in her path and my advice, contrary to her own best instinct, perhaps, might lead her astray. It must be what she wants it to be, and so to blame no one else, I am not there to pressure or help her, except as I can, because this is never the path to greatness in art. Art is an individual path. Only great teachers or artists, may contribute to another hopeful; only they understand one another. I did not think to make my daughter an alien to me, far from it-my children are my only and greatest friends, and only they truly love me, know me, forgive me. But there is also a remoteness in the serious study of ballet which eludes me-I am not an artist of it. They have their own levels of personal achievement and placement, a pecking order, support and encouragement, things that we rarely learned about and she now occasionally experiences; they each have a place that is known to only that dancer, and is shared only by dancers with each other. It is truly passed down. That is her world- this is mine.
She has remained sweet, honest and nice to others, as she was on the bench in the window, but she has grown to fill that space inside completely and has a depth that I cannot fathom. She is stronger than I give her credit for, stronger than anyone will probably ever know and only the best will appreciate her fully, give her what she needs. She is an artist. She is a dancer. She has sought to express with her body, and to communicate in a language, though basic enough to all of us, is for her a special language to express, with that body of hers, feelings and emotions, patterns, and paragraphs, sentences and pictures, which to the artist and audience, have mutual conveyance and understanding, but it is an art-not a pose. There is more in a gesture, truly felt, and understood by all, seemingly simple and yet so complex, that we immediately understand. There is so much to it though, and it is continually challenging and demanding, that I cannot begin to be a part of it, nor do I understand from a distance that other side of it,which cannot be expressed in words, just how and why it is so completely different a place for dancers, an inner sanctum, but it is. So, in some sense, she is very quiet about it, and the more quiet she is, the more I know she is content, and happily working toward a proficiency in another language, which only little bubbles of excitement escape to share it’s life and depth, or apparent deep thought, open disappointment or frustration, even depression is all communicated physically, and anger might be the cause of other action. Elated, joyful, cat-like behavior and physical snuggles, resembling purring, but not a lot of talk. I hope it is a phase-it is so difficult, because I cannot share her spectrum of feelings, cannot communicate back-ward in this way to her, and only know it by a sort of recognition now, and begin to know that it is communication by its repeated appearance as such. In my house, people speak English, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, French, art, and ballet. It is great and you learn wondrous things from them about their culture, but that does not mean you become proficient in the language by watching (as critics and parents think)it yourself. But we try to understand, see another point of view. It means you are exposed to it, just like any other language, but you are not necessarily fluent, capable, or necessary. Being able to order in Chinese is a long, long way from writing a classic in it, or reading a classic with the deep understanding of a proficient. She and I have a long way to go, I much further and may never really fully understand. I am not fluent. I am really blind, deaf and dumb. She is becoming fluent in ballet and to some extent I am mute. I think this is wonderful for her and increasingly difficult for me to understand even. But when I watch her dance, then I am convinced once again, that this is her place, where she belongs, some place she can do something. What makes dancers dance?
When she is a great artist, if she reaches a point where she is competent, powerful, profound, famous, markedly different and you can’t take your eyes off her, ever (and I am sure even great artists are boring sometimes), then will that be truly something special for me to witness? Assuredly, it will be the same experience of art, and fame or validity of a public kind will not take that away or change it for me, or make less artistic or moving, that which I have always been privileged to see and have already witnessed, all those many thousands of moments, I remember. It begins to make more and more sense and I re-accept her commitment and dedication, and unswerving devotion and sacrifice to achieve and continue doing something she really loves and must do. A picture might trigger a certain memory, or stage of here continuum, but I would not be able to gain that from a photo, posed, poised to dance, but not dancing what I have in my head. That is where the picture, as her mother, comes to life. I could only see this from watching her dance, seeing her move, experiencing all of her, and seeing her voice, feeling it while she is performing on a stage. Then she is another person, a dancer, an artist, and I am moved the same way I am moved by any other great artist-this is how I know and how I have always known that it is not about competition, or praise, or photographs or fame. It is about art and the pursuit of it and a level of true artistry, performance, and imagination, but most importantly, it is about being able to communicate and being driven by the passion to do so.
It is a long journey to be a great artist, if that is what you want to be. It is as fleeting for a writer to find the perfect phrase, or for an artist to know in his own heart that indeed this work is a masterpiece, as it is for a ballet dancer to have that moment when there is catharsis, and the moment is perfection; like those few bars of music playing when we recognize perfection, and that tune has it’s lasting reverie and effect upon us once again. This is the singular power of art. It is like water to life-just that very instant, when life is summed up by something created and communicated by art, and even some people agree, that this hits the magical spot, even for a brief moment, a split second, but long enough to want to isolate that part and play it over and over again, until we tire of it, have our fill, and to feel that moment, or to see that vision, to feel that pathos, or to repeat that expression, and in ballet, too, or in dancing, that begins in the artist and they must have control over it to some extent to be able to perpetuate it, without set music, pat variations, recognizable scenery, for that is, in a way copying another moment of art, or just decoration, superfluous to the art of ballet itself-but it is not possible in a picture to capture, or a film any of that moment at all. But it is in that moment, for a dancer when it feels perfectly expressed and like fire, it catches everyone’s attention, and for the dancer, the journey to that split second, maybe, it was all simply worth it. They might wonder if anyone saw it, if anyone else shared that moment with them, but it does not decrease that moment if they did not. This is an artist.
But in some smaller ways, they must feel this all the time, or maybe more often and finally, very often, to continue. This is not to be confused with a student in class, who appears to be teachable, or who can afford to pay for privates, or does performance after performance by rote, dresses up, wears a costume, does a competition, photographs themselves, etc. It is how that artist alone floats in the water, survives, learns to paddle, and then weathers the elements and the storms to continue to dance originally, before they become recognizable, and how they can move you, communicate with you personally, and this requires you, as the audience, and the artist, as expressor to complete the circle. It isn’t static. Sure, you can say, viewing it again, it is right THERE, at 2:21 when you felt chills run down your spine and you practically leap out of your seat, moved to dance, but it is not the same as the actual moment when someone’s dancing really struck you, as different and unique on a live stage or the impact in context of the entire ballet or performance. There is no real magic otherwise, only perceived. It can never be the same for you, not the same as dancing, as it is for the person doing it, either, but it seems possible, and moves the paraplegic, the autistic, and others to do the same and to express themselves by using the language of ballet and movement. So, we all think we know about it, but the perspective for the dancer, what truly motivates them, aside from obsession, is not necessarily apparent. It is not meant to be. But in all great dancers, and those who continue to dance, it is there.
In class, people will say her upper body is beautiful, without realizing just how much work it takes to keep that shoulder down, or how much pain it causes one to dance, to hold one’s arms, and how when you are dancing, you forget that pain, and that in some way this is God’s blessing to you, that he enabled you to feel no pain in your feet, not wear even a toe pad, and how you have your teachers to thank for saying “all right, remove the wool-here we go!” and how you never looked back and just kept moving forward despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles and when you thought no one was interested-they were. It’s ironic that she should have such beautiful expression to me, that I can see her mastery and control of this instrument growing daily, and how long it has taken to perfect something more difficult than what she already has had to achieve, for her, and how much eternal joy can be gotten from moving at all, and being able to dance, and how that alone can be enough to propel you, and that you are unstoppable really, because nothing could hurt or be more difficult to overcome than those initial obstacles, and you achieved those. How those ballet muscles must literally be holding that little body together and without it, though I had never even contemplated it, how she might have suffered and been deformed, or had limitations, when now she has so few. How it has molded and shaped her, and helped her to overcome some things that might have seemed impossible had she stopped to actually think about it, or took cures, or dwelled on it, listened to any other voice than her own and the music, and how incredibly strong she is and has become, and how this strength suits her, and yet how she is also capable of expressing such vulnerability and how this, too, looks good on her.
If I took her to class and this was the result, only, I could find no fault with it, or our journey, only gratitude in it, from a mother’s perspective-ever. What could have been was far worse? So, she has always had to work hard, but not for the same reasons other people have, or the same ways, and maybe that is why I will never be able to fully speak her language, why it will always be a little alien to me, hers alone, really, because I took those things for granted, and I was not born with that same stick-to-it-tiveness, or determination, and I did not get up in the morning and say, “I have to dance!” But she does. I look at her, and I am so proud and happy for her, but I do not want to see pictures. They just do not communicate well enough the infinitesimal detail which she strives for, the expression which she ultimately seeks, or any of what I see or feel. So, I owe it to her to keep that journey private in a way, and to not interfere with her perception of herself, and to let her try to become what she wants, evidently, more than anything else, to do. I do not want her to look back too often and say,” that is what I was,” but instead, “this is what I am and will be.”
It isn’t what people think of your pictures, it is what they think of you in class, that you catch their imagination and hold onto it, hear your voice in your dancing, and are riveted by your performance, are inspired by your effort, see your very soul shining forth, your strength, your differences, and not your similarities-what you do differently from other people, and how that is unique. This is important, that you say something in a way that is distinctly you. People all communicate differently, and she is developing a way of speaking of her own, that comes with hard work and practice. Maybe something more, too, and maybe that is in all of us to some degree, but that is what makes ballet art, and never sport.
It is how you do something wonderful with the same pair of old shoes you draw, and how you make each performance and each step meaningful and vitally necessary. Art has an epitome, a reachable point of perfection. It is in our perception of it, not only others. There is a way to grab it between your fingers and control it, roll it around and ponder it, and then let go, stand back, and let it’s wide light engulf you. When she is comfortable in her ability to communicate, she soars, and I think that is what is important, and that journey is different for everyone, uniquely so. I do not believe that anyone who wants to do something, no matter their age, their ability, background, or their income level should matter-if they have a strong enough will, and an opportunity, I have found, they will find a way to accomplish it-despite all the advice, opinions, naysayers, competitors, dream-killers, and sad-sacks. It is the joy you seek, and some intangible reward, and that I know, which is the momentum for continuing. She is living proof of that many times over, and she literally needs to continue, no matter what. To continue is always a fight financially, and costly to keep moving ahead and progressing in level, it requires deftness and intelligence, too, but it has to be done somehow, and we have continued on, despite deadly setbacks, ridiculous politics, and other reasons which really have no place in ballet education, the arts, therapy, or communication. It shouldn’t be so difficult to pay for when someone really needs it, or wants it, to get the right education for you to continually get the extra help, encouragement, or opportunities that you need to go on and try, and each day is happier and happier still the closer you get to all of your goals, and to that place when you are better, and it’s reaching all of those little muscles, deployable now, and in your control, so you can speak ballet fluently, but it is very difficult and expensive just the same-part of the challenge. But, you have never shrunk from a challenge. I pray you get more!
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Sessions are July 1-31, 2015 and August 1-31, 2015. Check out the Pinterest photos of this fabulous International Vaganova Summer Intensive.
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She has raised a whole $20 and she is very excited it is underway! I know it does not sound like much but any donation is inspiring and considerate and appreciated!
She started her classes this weekend, although we have met with her teachers very often. She and they are very thrilled to begin work. She is a very hard worker and has already obtained a part-time job in the evenings.
Already she is learning that there are very strong difference in the technique and artistic styles and her teachers are very old school. I will leave those wide differences and contrasts to her to explain in her updates to her Appeal. If you should choose to subscribe or to donate, she will keep you posted!
On the other hand, of you donate to this blog (or both), I will put your investment to good use as as well. Currently, I’m planning to begin a ballet school in New York for underprivileged children. They will only pay what they can afford, if anything, for correct ballet training. If anyone is interested in assisting with this, please contact me directly.
As usual, if you want to read up on the Differences of Movement, check out my book on my blog under differencesofmovement.wordpress.com
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I think useful information on ballet schools is a bit hard to find on the Internet. Information about the process, what to do, expect, avoid. It’s not truthful when you do find it. You just jump in. But there is a process if your child wants a career in dance. There are many factors, but if you are starting out as we did, there are some things you should know, and if you ever need someone to talk to, you can always ask me what to do. I’ll try to help. That may not be the best recommendation, as I am certainly no expert-no one can be-but at least I am not politicking for anyone. Yes, my daughter is in ballet. I think this is her sixth year, maybe going on seven, I may have lost track.
According to my teachers eleven was a fine age to start then (9 or 10 being the youngest to begin seriously), but you are always hearing professional dancers (and non) stating they started nearer their birth. In my opinion, it is wrong for dancers to tell other dancers that, because they should know better. I think the Russian methodology is the best, for one thing, most of their dancers can concede to the age of around 10, because that is the earliest those schools take them and they begin, seriously, to study ballet. You have to wonder about the truth of other statements when the serious study of anything cannot begin much earlier, and certainly not ballet. They do say, and correctly, too, that they studied or took other dancing, gymnastics, etc., and this is probably true, but even they know it is not like ballet and is different. It might have helped them, but they do not feel the need to relate that usually because the training at those schools is so formidable as to put into the shadows any previous lesser instruction. There is really no comparison. Why? This will become apparent in a later section of the article.
I think there is a truly correct and comprehensive method to the study of ballet. I am always searching for that in schools, teachers, pictures, videos, performances. It is what you have to learn to look at first. I do not think my daughter would have known, starting out, what was good for her, and I am aggressive about what I desire and look for in any educational situation which affects my children. I have 3, and I went to my first audition, with my son, at SAB, about twenty-one years ago. He was not accepted, but continued to dance in Russian schools in NY until he was about 12 years old. He lost interest in it and the outside pressures of being a boy in ballet just became too much for him. He did learn some things about ballet, and sitting down to watch a ballet performance now, brings all of that back to him. He has always been a dancer, though, and never shies from performing. He is a ham. I have followed ballet for about 40 years.
I know how to go about looking, though I was not a professional dancer, I danced, and the choices were easier when I was growing up, and I was lucky to get good instruction. I had opportunities to dance professionally, but I finally realized in college that I did not want to become a dancer exclusively. In all ways, that decision is very personal to the dancer. Proper instruction, correct instruction is probably the most important piece of the ballet, or dancing, puzzle. I do not know how I was so lucky to have had the teachers I did, when I did, and where I did. Part of the reason this occurred, because although my mother did not accompany me at all, she had schooled me in the basics of ballet and dance knowledge, cautioning me extensively, prior to my going out and signing up for classes and because she bought me books, or gave them to me, and I read them. I was not averse to reading or listening. She also researched and made suggestions where I could go, and I went there and she turned out, and they turned out, to be right for me. After that, I found things on my own. It is cyclical. Things change in ballet schools sometimes as often as they do in public schools, and programs-one year it is good, the next, not so. It depends on who is teaching there at the time, the program, mission or philosophy, and some other factors. More variables affect parent and student over time, but initially, it should not be too difficult to find good training, despite the vast differences between schools. I think this constant “polishing” of the process, program, and elevator effect does not benefit every generation or level of dancers at the same school, for usually, in this country, in most cities and towns, there is nowhere to go for top ballet training you find. The problem is continuity, but it is also cost, change, greed, and outside influences. But when it gets to a point, you have to take it into your own hands and find what you are looking for-what your child needs.
You can go to the horse’s mouth in New York City, but what if you are not accepted at ABT or SAB? Well, because it is New York City, there are other good teachers and schools to go to. It is an international and cosmopolitan city and there is no dearth of dancers there.You can also find good ballet teachers in other places, but it is a crapshoot sometimes. You do not necessarily know. They can be in the strangest and most unlikely places, or they can be right around the corner-for the time being, anyway. That is why I look for Russian now. It is just so much easier. I do not have to look at French, American, or British systems, because my daughter now makes the decision on where she wants to study and what. As a parent, Russian just makes more sense, because Russia has a system of ballet training- the Vaganova method. It focuses on correct placement, the correct technique and levels, but most importantly, probably, to me, as a parent, it also is designed to reduce the possibility of injury in what is a very difficult art. I said art. Not sport. It is not athletic. It is discipline. It is part science of movement, part muscle training and part art, then mostly art.
Some parents do not always care about injury enough. Some parents do not realize the risk of injury. Some parents will not accept that their child might not have the facility required for the correct and plausible performance of ballet, or have children who have not had good training or training in time. Some parents were dancers and know exactly what to do! I think a lot of Russians have come to the U.S. and other places to teach ballet in the Vaganova style and for whatever reasons, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn ballet with them as they truly know more about it, are passionate about training, and knowledgeable. They have to start somewhere, and sometimes their options are not always the options extended to those teachers at the actual Vaganova schools where the children are handpicked, out of hundreds or thousands, for the opportunity to study ballet at a state funded school. Here, we bring our (often) faulty children, without any gymnastics, bad feet, poor attitude, inflexible backs or legs, poor posture, and even more frequently, our money, to ballet schools, without having had even a physical, or x-rays, to determine their capability for such a regimen, and demand them to make stars out of them. This is NOT how it is in Europe, and worse we bring our sense of entitlement.
In America, it is about the students you get whose parents can afford (or not) ballet training, the mentality is different, and until recently, due to so much promotion, and competitions, such as YAGP, ballet was not in the headlines. Only by promoting it, has it become more popular, for boys and for girls, or considered a career option. Respectable. A sport (to make it acceptable to some Americans). And a sense of it being far less demanding, complicated and fickle, than it really is. In America, until people become more aware of its difficult requirements, many people will continue to frown upon it, as they are basically uncultured and working-class people, who have considered for several decades, ballet as a starving art form, or dance as being “gay,” or not an intellectual pursuit, nor as having the prospect of wealth. In some cases, it is a middle class parent who aspires to have their child succeed as a team dancer, or competition dancer, who enrolls their child in ballet, gymnastics, and theatre, modelling, etc., and for ballet, this focus is not correct. It is not a good formula, not one based on knowledge of the art of ballet, what is required, the prospects, but only the early physical success and a trophy as proof. A ballet dancer’s career spans a lot longer time than most professional athletes, actually, and unlike sports, but as in theatre, maturity is required, and artistry. Artistry is not acquired in early stages of youth, such as the understanding of the emotions and stories involved in some mature ballets, or the sense of freedom required, by many years of practice, to express oneself uniquely in performance of mature subject matter, and to do so fluidly. It is this part of ballet, I believe, where most dancers with physical potential actually fail in ballet. They are not artists and perhaps never will be.
Ballet is competitive, but first it is discipline. As it was designed, it was discipline for the longest time and then possibly, much later, some success might be possible. Maybe. It is easy to forget, in the little ballet studio, that there are a world of other dancers out there, and that they might have several distinct advantages over Americans, in general. Training is number one. Ballet, of course, had its starting point, too, like all dancers, but then a Golden Age (occurring almost 200 years later), and more structure (another 100 years), then becoming almost scientific (50 years), and again a resurgence (50 years), again (20 years) and again now (20 years). There is a phenomenal (and interesting) history to the art of ballet, but it was never Shun Yen, or gymnastics, or jazz, or a sport- at anytime in its development. It never should be or will be really viewed as an art and a sport, or it will truly cease to be ballet. The movement to even discuss this is one to capitalize on the financial opportunities and promotion of it as a commodity and everyone seems to getting into that game, but the step to make it an Olympic sport, like discus throwing is absurd. This might improve everyone’s physical health, increase advertising demand, create paycaps for “artists” or make it acceptable overall to men, and others, but it will do absolutely nothing for the art of ballet. Ballet like that is without art. It is without stories, music, entrepreneurs, shows,E and in that arena, no true art is possible. Just gladiators and lions.
Everybody dances (if you go to New York), but in many places in between the coastal cities, the only dancing done is at weddings or a folk ensemble at school, or not at all, depending on your sex, religion, persuasion and coolness factor. It was not until I went to New York, in college, that I had occasion to go to clubs in the city where all the men (almost) got up and danced. Where I grew up, all of the above applied. The only professional or aspiring dancers you saw were in local companies or at weddings. It was a physical impairment of men, that they “could not dance,” would claim they “had no rhythm,” and no one made an effort to persuade them. NO one challenged any of these false hoods. Even now, it is extreme to label a child as “trans” when it is normal to go through questions of individual sexuality. Dancing has nothing to do with that, except it is still seen, in the US, and other places, to be largely “feminine” to express oneself, and there is still a morbid (private) fear, in this country at least, to be considered feminine, or unmanly, in any regard, with young men. So ballet will probably always suffer due to the few boys who manage to find their way into it. It is no less athletic for girls, but in ballet, boys can excel more obviously in many areas where other boys, outside of ballet, just do not and cannot ever hope to reap the benefits from. So in one sense, I see a practicality of noting that ballet is the most athletic, and totally physically demanding of any physical activity they can do, in a sense. Only to encourage boys to try it because there are a lot of really bad male dancers out there, and people are always saying they are “really good” and they are not, and I think this leads to resentment by some females, who are, much better, really, and have to work much harder to get noticed. They have to be perfect, but a boy can definitely “have a career” if he is mediocre. A girl has to be beyond perfect.
In my time, or slightly before it, one dancer, Jaques D’Amboise, made the attempt, and temporarily succeeded, in making ballet a course option in New York City public schools, but that was not successful, unfortunately. He started a foundation, however, to educate inner-city (and all) children and their parents, the public, and everyone else, about how positively dance had helped him off the streets, gave him options to pursue a career in ballet, and the theatre, and how he learned to dance. He has tried, chiefly, all of his life, to share that information and knowledge about dance, and he has been somewhat successful in spreading the word, but mostly he has been successful at providing an afterschool environment that gives children the chance to try dance and to see if they like it. That’s all you can do. If they are successful, he helps them pursue it further. Lost momentum. NO. It was the beginning of change, which takes time. He is correct in all that he says about dance, and for this reason, if no other, dance should be available to study to anyone who wants to pursue it, free of charge, just like sports in most schools, but it is not.
In most countries, there is the respect for ballet that there is in Russia, and not just ballet, but arts. There is great funding to the arts in other countries, but as in so many other ways, we are behind in many of these areas. They are just more cultured and differently structured. Most foreign countries at were once aristocratic political systems. As such, the monarchies investiture in the arts, or their countries people, was to educate and make available to them entertainment, education and culture that otherwise they would not have the ability to underwrite-in fact his was one of the very large platforms of government, besides, security. It is a matter now of patriotism and history, especially as it relates to countries which had a formidable part in the creation or perpetuation of ballet. it is part of their iconoclasty-they cannot give it up, or be seen to, as people then say, “Why do we continue to have a monarchy?” And there is also a gradual uncovering of that, or change, such as in Russia, where the ballet has increasingly, or at least more purposefully, taken the backing of the highest bidder. But as a result of it having being made available to everyone, at least in the past, or the effort to continue its conference, everyone there at least understands its importance, artistic significance, or has some underlying understanding of it and accepts it, etc…and many more people pursue culture, are actually cultured, attend shows and are involved in the making of art on many different levels, not for the money, but for the art. It is seen as part of a good education, education at all and is underwritten or subsidized. It is getting increasingly harder for those countries to even afford to keep ballet companies together in this economy.
In this country, frequently, it is the private contributions which make the performance of it or viewing of it possible to people without a lot of money, and it is nearly always a political nightmare to get funding or to make new art. The states do not support artists, art or the training up of artists. I think one of the reasons we have government is to decide what is good for everyone and necessary and if art is not, then very little else matters. Art is like the hyacinth for the soul. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and philistines. How can the parents of these people know where to take their child for ballet, when in today’s culture, what they want is a cheap afterschool program for its babysitting possibilities. It does not mean that if the child is exposed to dance, somehow, that they will not become enamored with it. Most likely they would respond to some form of art, and along with humanities, reading, other forms of culture, such as the making of other kinds of art, this exposure cause us to search within ourselves for deeper feelings and emotions, answers and humanity. These are requirements for people, and in art, all of the shared commonalities of people exist. It is a higher plane of functioning, not on an intellectual level, but on an emotional and expressive one. That is why, in our country, these independently run ballet schools are so very important. All together, whether they act accordingly, they are responsible for the education of our children, edifying them about the importance of art in society and life. They do a big part of the job with no subsidies, no review boards, networks, administration, doctors, child psychologists, theatres, funding or even newspapers or promotion. With no one willing to champion them. Some of them are frauds, some of them provide healthful physical activity and a needed outlet in a community, and some of them provide a basis from which to pursue art, but we cannot make those schools Sports Authorities in an effort to create a funding tunnel, because in the history of ballet, when the technique and art suffers, the ballet loses historical importance, great artists, and attendees. People come to expect more in viewing ballet-more acrobatics, more violence, more intensity, more stimuli, and this is not art.
But most of all, you take your daughters or sons to ballet to learn character, discipline, and whether you know it or not, etiquette, respect, music, following directions, beauty, grace, strength, work ethic, survival, and working as a group. Many of the same things you learn in karate or sports, school or church, theatre or art, you learn in ballet. It is important to know why you take them, to know what they need to learn, and when, and most importantly, it is important to know whom is doing the teaching, and if you do not know that you do not really know anything at all. I have heard of more than one famous dancer who was taken to ballet to use muscles after a debilitating illness or injury, and who became devotee. A brother who accompanied sisters, a YMCA after school programmer who got the bug, the late starter, the street dancer or troubled youth, and most times the student of the little local school whom has been accepted to a top program (frequently in another country) which ought to , in itself, exhibit the problem in a nutshell. It offers something you do not find in any other place. I do not mean teamwork or competitions, or glamour. In fact, ballet is not glamorous at all, particularly, unless you consider a sweaty, calloused, haggard, starving, and beat-up artist, glamorous. I feel it is mostly a discipline, first, and an art second, and possibly a profession, and somewhat glamorous, third. In the end, no one will probably remember you and most likely you will not ever be a household name, unless you are on Instagram, or model, are self-promoting, and then you are not really a dancer, are you?
Not all dancers become artists, but all dancers become more disciplined, somewhat. I think this depends largely on the training because part of it is ballet etiquette and philosophy, part of it is physiology, and another part is perseverance, determination, hunger, hard work, reaching the sublime art of ballet and mastering that, and it continually learning, working and training. It just never stops. It is frought with injury, if you start out wrong, and just gets worse as you try to correct those things that should have been nipped in the bud, all the time with the studio turning a blind eye and just continuing to take money, pushing and over training at a very early age. It starts out as non-competitive, though in many countries, I could not say that, because there, they expect it to lead to greatness, or not. But again, they have a system and if you are accepted into it, there are reasons that you were, and according to them you have the facility for ballet, and then they provide the training. As you get older, it is much harder to get a consensus, and in some ways, to professionals, more obvious to see who is possibly talented and who is not. Competitions, in a way, make this worse.
But no matter when you come away from ballet, as an aspiring professional or not, you keep what you learned for the rest of your life, whether you continue to dance or not. You will always be a dancer. If you have been dancing for at least a few years, you are already a dancer, no matter whether you are famous or not, and more and more people pursue dance, or parts of it, for exercise, and movement, as adults and as non-dancers, than before and in some ways this is good, some ways not so good, or misleading. Perhaps this is okay if you understand what it is not, but it also takes away from the whole purpose of ballet training, if only part of the form of it is followed, or part of the technique, such as in Barre classes is done (badly), but it is not proper ballet training, is bound to cause injury through repetition, so it is ballet, but without any or all of the safeguards involved, without experienced or knowledgeable teachers, taught en masse, like gym class. That is not ballet. NOT ballet. NOT BALLET. Why not go to one of the MANY adult ballet classes offered at studios for that purpose. There is nothing wrong with barre exercises, but it is a component of other parts which are important. It is dangerous to give it credence, even a foothold in the world of a fitness craze mentality. These people will have children and will say, “I know something”-a little knowledge is sometimes very dangerous.
I do not believe that doing barre makes you a dancer and to an actual ballet dancer it is hard to separate it, explain it, impossible to rationalize, or to even acknowledge it at all because it should go against everything they have ever learned or will learn. Ballet dancers are snobs, sometimes. This is good and part of ballet, but it is also a discredit to the world of people who could be supportive of ballet and whom for that very reason sometimes, are not. Ballet should be for everyone, to a point. These types of activities also send the false message to average people, “You, too, can look like a ballet dancer, have a “ballet” body, be a part of that, do pointe, etc.,” and they are selling an image, a club, as false a claim as any claim could be, marketed as a sport, unintentionally or not, and untruthfully, that barre makes you as good as a dancer, and worse that anyone can dance, any part of dance, and that they will be accepted (eventually) into a dance class and be able to do all of the movements required. I do not have a problem with saying “they can obtain a good body,” but I do have a problem with them saying “a ballet body.” They are just exploiting the word “ballet.”
In that sense, dance training needs to be begun properly, with the correct outlook and perspective. This is really true no matter the age it is started. Often students who have “danced” for many years find they are not right for ballet or not accepted into a serious ballet training environment or company. This happens for a few reasons. 1) The training for ballet has not been correct or prolonged 2) Other training has taken place which you cannot easily get rid of the effects or muscle memory of, without great effort, and 3) great effort is required for serious study of ballet, focus, observations and correction, over time, 4) Enough money is not available, and 5) Companies have many dancers applying and they can only take one, or a few. But, with that goal in mind, if that is the plan, private or not, it cannot be accomplished any other way than as above stated, for only then will you even be in the running, and very few people will succeed among the very best. Only a literal few have come from other backgrounds entirely and been successful in ballet. In that sense, alone, it is viewed as an art. If you cannot get past the guardians-you cannot get past them. So, what, at a local school, or primary school do you need to look for so as not to further reduce your chances? Good teachers and guardians, or choreographers.
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Someone once said, “Sometimes it’s not the quality of the voice that makes the song good, sometimes it’s the road it has traveled to get there.” Well, she almost made it to 100. Had she had a little easier life, she might have lived longer. But 94 is plenty long, unless it is someone you love. I guess its okay to be selfish. Sometimes. i saw this great movie the other day, about these old people and it was called A Song for Marion. Vanessa Redgrave, Terrance Stamp. Jemma Arterton. Just and amazing experience. Tears just poured down my face most of the time and I was ready to be cynical, but it just happened. The chief theme, for me, was this woman’s immovable and great love, which caused he, with her last breath, to help her husband find a way to be happy, give a gift, teach him how to love and live, after she was gone. She wanted to give him this great thing, happiness and a creative outlet, a path to joy. It made me think of what my grandma had done for me and for my daughter, and my mother, and how she got better at giving and helping and supporting as her life went on, and how she became totally unselfish at a time in her life when she could, and how I misunderstood her for so long. About healing old wounds and forgiveness. About love and remembrance.
It has been a long road in my family. Not the road only traveled by me, but the road the women who brought me up and influenced me, have traveled on. That’s where I am to some degree-where they have left me to continue. I think I have a clearer direction of what that is meant to be and how it is important to pass that down, somehow to my children. Now I have children, and they will travel on. That’s family and perpetuity. Crazy, but true. My grandmother was a far better person than I am in many ways. Sometimes, she seemed perfect. I remember her when I was about three or 4, visiting us in Florida. She stepped off the plane, and I saw her approach as we waited in our car, in a black knit suit dress, single strand of pearls, dark red hair swept up off to the side, arched eyebrows, simple and elegant, slim and graceful. I remember her soft tanned skin and her beautiful eyes, and I remember how she smelled. I thought, is this my grandma? A grandma? Not what you’d picture. Loretta. My mother’s mother.
My grandmother passed away August 21, 2014. She was 94 years old. She had a very full life and liked nothing better than music, singing and dancing, the outdoors. She was born in 1920 to a mother of Bohemian descent and a father of German and Austrian descent. They had twelve children. One died then. My grandmother has outlived nearly all the rest. I think she was like the best kitten in the litter. Everyone wanted that one and they all resented her. As a payroll master of the mines in Coal City, IL they had to scrimp and save. She was quite a woman and he was a very much loved character. I think he loved none of his children better than the resourceful and beautiful Loretta and he loved my mother. He loved me, too. Otto Meischner and Lara Eleanor Sistek, and Loretta Mae Meischner. I never knew her by that name, and there aren’t too many pictures of her from that early on. It is hard to imagine her wild and skinny, a poor child running the hills and hollows of Illinois, by the river. But that is where she grew up and where she always lived. The furthest she went was California, with me. She liked her home and she loved her mother and father.
My grandmother was an extremely beautiful woman all of her life. At 94, she still had the body of an eighteen year-old-hard to believe, but true. Hers was not a life (always) of abstinence, but she would say things like, “I haven’t eaten ALL day, so now I can have a sundae. Do you want a sundae, too?” She was not brought up with very much, so she learned to sew so well, she could look at you, size you up, and whip out a copy of the latest suit or fashion. She had long fingers and they flew! Of course this lent itself to other artistic/creative endeavors, such as playing musical instruments and hairdressing. She could turn your curls onto her fingers and make them just so long and pretty. She was very difficult to deal with at the hairdresser’s. I remember looking at pictures of my mother, when she was little, dressed up in costumes, to the nines, twirling and dancing on the roof like a dervish-a product of her mother’s designs. I thought she was so pretty and professional looking, but my mother hated being made up, sitting still, and being dressed like a doll, but my grandmother would have the prettiest doll. She bragged about my mother’s dancing, was a real stage mother, and took her to classes, as she as a little girl had been unable to afford them, so of course she wanted her own daughter to do the things she wished she could have.My mother wouldn’t cooperate, but she did love to dance and she, also, was good at it.
But that didn’t mean she didn’t learn to dance! She danced incredibly well, was naturally limber and at 89 could still kick the back of her head with her pointed toe. As a little girl, she and her friend would wait outside the dance studio and when the other little girls came out, she would sidle up to them, get them to teach her what they did and how to do many things. Not surprisingly, they were a little peeved when she could do them better! She had an aunt (her mother’s sister) that danced in the theater, and traveled as a dancer with a company. When she was little, that aunt (Mary) invited she and her mother to Chicago to see her perform and it made an impression on my grandmother, who was always active physically and athletically gifted. She taught herself everything, but she knew how to dance properly-I do not really know where she learned it, but she did. Maybe she learned a bit of it from the movies. She would sing, and play guitar and she and her brother would put on little shows with dancing. They ice skated together and swam. She was also a champion swimmer. I guess her father felt she took after him-he spoke twelve languages fluently, did calligraphy and was an unbeaten bicycle racer as well as being very intelligent he had an irascible wit. She was my grandmother. She was a big fan of the movies, so my mother saw just about all of them, and when my grandmother got it into her head that my mother would dance a Spanish variation, she sewed a dress entirely of crepe paper with layers and layers of red skirt which outshone the brightest costume of the event. My mother must have enjoyed it, and was very supportive of me in dance, in a different way. I think she felt she could not be the kind of mother her mother was, and she must have always been living in that shadow. My mother was the best mother for me. I was shocked when my grandmother mailed me, as a teenager, her harem costume, that she had sewn, from the movies, like the ones in La Bayadere and the Nutcracker. It was so authentic, probably from her imagination, but she wore it!
She used her gifts to the best advantage she could. Around her a light shone, and she was happy. Her lack of wealth never stopped her. but she did increase it by careful planning and saving. When my mother passed away in 2009, and after her husband died, my grandmother made a very big move and decided to become a part of our very different family over a thousand miles away. I admit, I had not known my grandma as well as I thought I did. I did not know she had such gumption, was such a lady or was so intelligent. I always though of her as a pretty grandma, but not being mature, did not recognize her sharp intellectual capacities. I did not see her for the person she really was, nor my mother, and my grandmother has helped me to see that. It took this long. A different kind of smart and sharp. Always ready for the new and the pretty, fiercely competitive, and a real survivor. So, for the last five years, she has lived with my family. She seemingly took the place of a much loved grandma, and for me this was helpful in what would have been a very depressing time for me, but it was not always easy for my children, though I think in the end, a good experience. I began to know, really know, and understand my mother’s mother, and my mother in a way I had not been receptive to while growing up. Together, it made getting through my mother’s passing easier for both of us, and we shared our similar grief. We forged ahead, and I learned there is much more to life each decade, and it does not have to stop at fifty or sixty. The picture above is of my grandmother in about 1979. She would have been about 60 years old. That was now almost as long ago. Not quite, but it seems like a long time. That light was never dull-not for a moment! She brought into our home, as much as she could, what she could, spread her love around and was there for us, and I hope we, too were there for her in a way that she needed. She stayed with us and filled to capacity (almost) that void, so intense was she. It was a coincidence, really. She was ornery and mischievous, and she has filled my life with her presence, making things possible that never would have been otherwise, for all of us, but especially my daughter, whom she gave money to start taking ballet lessons. She wanted her to. My mother would have loved that she did that, but she never knew. Each time my daughter had a performance, a costume, or a new step, my grandma would want to see it, share in the excitement and moment of it, and even went to her early classes, gave her corrections.
So, besides bringing my mother into this world, and all of the other things that she has done and accomplished, without her, I would not have been here and developed the appreciation for dance that I have. My mother would not have been the compendium of ballet knowledge that she was and taught me the things she did, a way of looking for things, that she did, and encouraging my own creativity. My daughter would not have probably ever started ballet because we just simply could not afford it. My sons would never have been supportive of it. It’s hard to find the thread, but when following it, it always comes back to her. I hope one day my grandmother’s creative legacy continues and we create a long continuum of dancers, and they will all be there in some small part because of my grandmother’s great gifts and legacy to each of us.
My grandmother was a perfectionist. She did nothing and finished nothing, that was wrong, always right. Every morning every hair was in place, she was always the best person she could be, inside and out. She always wanted my mother to be like her, and my daughter to do things correctly, and she always wanted me to have a better life. It seemed to be her especial gift to always look serene and graceful. She always took great pains to perfect things, to learn things every day, and to make everything around her more beautiful, and those around her, and their productions-whatever it was- paled in comparison. Her haters attributes and hearts were sometimes less, and they resented her- often they were jealous and mean-spirited, even into death, but my grandmother said, “Hooey!” and “That’s a shame!”, but never stopped for a moment to allow their negativity steal her precious moments of happiness. She was always kind and gracious and never said a bad word about anyone. She thought that a waste of time and she went right on, improving herself and making the area around her even more beautiful. She led by example. I truly learned a lot from her actions and her consistency of behavior, but I had no idea she was so tough on the inside. She had real mettle.
Knowing her better has made me understand my mother and myself just a little bit more, and I do not feel so removed from the chain as I once did, now I see how my mother was like my grandmother and how I am a little like them both, and I would not change it for the world. Once upon a time I did not feel that way. I thought myself different, removed, even above it. My grandmother told me right before she passed away that I was beautiful, as though she had always known I had thought I wasn’t. Maybe she wanted me to (finally) know she thought I was or maybe it was the nicest thing she could think of to say besides “I love you!” She said it repeatedly over and over a night or two before she passed. Right up until the end she would not relent. She really lived fully to her last breath. There is a lesson in that for me, and if I can keep up with her, even a bit, then I am going to be fine. But I had better try. She had a true lust for life and loved all of it, and everyone, not just the good. She always learned from the bad, she said, so whenever something did not go well, she changed it, made it better next time, improved it, was nicer-whatever it took. Behind what some people might have thought was an average ability and intelligence was someone who was the most composed fighter-a real champion-that I have ever seen. I hope she has gone to a place where she is free and her spirit is released from the chains of the earth, knowing no bounds. I will always remember her dancing. They say none of us is perfect, but she was living proof that you could try.
I saw a little dragonfly today, buzzing around me and I thought, perhaps her spirit inhabited it. I do not know what made me think of that, but I would like to know she was watching over us all, and doing what she loved and making us remember to do keep trying to do better at it all.