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.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Perfect little cherub mine! What was important about this year? Ooh, too much to really go into detail about completely. A thinking year, rather than a writing one. What am I thankful for? Me. I am thankful for me. I am sitting at my desk, really a makeshift bingo table, surrounded by a mound of paperwork and receipts that I have to pile through, and too soon the holiday will be over and I will have to get down to business. But right this minute as I look at the reflection of the Christmas-treeless house in my toaster (which is on my desk), I am thankful for the people in my life. I am thankful to be able to accept celebrating Christmas without the fru-fru which is associated with it, and instead of looking at the meaning, finding the meaning. I have three pine cones and just two of them are on the tree currently, but the other has not fallen far away from it as it turns out. Pine cones are usually near the pine tree, but sometimes I have found one well away from any pine tree, but I always notice a pine cone-I know what it is. It stands out. I never really understood what other parents went through when a child left home, even to go to a boarding school-same thing really. In fact I have never approved of boarding schools. Once they are gone, there is always another program, another school, another reason, until they are truly gone. Don’t want to think about that! My daughter is finally home on her winter break.
I am trying to get as much out of her as I can and it is not enough information, not enough cuddling, not enough of all that is her-like a lemon that you just cannot keep squeezing because it only has so much juice. I am waited to see if she had it in her to go back, on her own. What she would do. So many questions-NO answers, only action to keep on track, keep moving forward. Sometimes sadly, one can never go back. Only in our minds. That process of looking back is a dangerous one in a way, signalling no new action ahead.
Sometimes it would be hard for a teenager to ever think that one day, they might want to go back to those days when they were with their siblings, their parents, grandparents, pets, their friends, their first loves, their naivete and innocence, but I see it very clearly (almost) now, and rushing over the rocks and coals at 15 becomes sitting on them and looking around at 100. You want to hold everyone, every moment, every nuance, look around, enjoy the tapestry that has been your real-life, cherish those memories. Right now you are busy making those memories. Maybe it is not too wise to look back too soon, for we might get into the habit of it, slowing down, thinking before we act. BAH!!!
She came home for only about 10 days and was fully encased in a stage of adolescence which I remember well-the one where you think the worst of yourself, the best of yourself, you complain, you cheer, you whine, you laugh, you are sick with a cold and things could not seem to be good at all, now or ever, and the next minute is the best time of your life-and she left not even four months ago as my baby girl. She still is though and she wants to say so, she instead says, “Mom, stop babying me.” I do not know what to say to her. I have changed, too. Sort of. But in this particular stage of adolescence you might feel miserable and you feel as if everyone sees the changes too, but they don’t. Your body is changing, you have matured suddenly, as if you just came out of a cocoon, and you are not sure the world is trustworthy or going to let you be what you want to be more than anything no matter how hard you try. Some of the things you have banked on carrying you through, fail the test of time, and you realize you are judged on more grown-up, serious merits, like whether you can deliver, and then, later, with aplomb. Other facets of yourself you have not even discovered yet, let alone polished, and it is often difficult to see those even as they appear day by day. Sometimes you feel you have wings to fly, other days you a a grounded bird.
I remember her speech when she was little, and Barney, the cat, little tiny toys and dolls, the dress-up and dancing-there was a song she sang all the time with a little lisp-“butterfee, butterfee, fee fee aweeee!!!!” and it literally brings tears to my eyes. I am a softy and ridiculous! And now right before my very eyes, as it probably should be, she has to become a young woman-there, while I am here. I do not want to miss any of it, for my own reasons. Entitlement-need I say more? While she has been gone I have let myself go-hair tousled and put hurriedly into a clip, the same shirt for sometimes two days before I notice anything, the same old clothes, food, dinners, shoes, and sights and sounds. Sometimes I do not even look at my nails. Depression, but I have been here before, and occasionally when I do think about it, I am surprised at myself, it not being worse than it is (pat pat pat), and just feeling sorry for myself and enjoying it-and that is okay-to a point. But my job isn’t really done yet, is it? I did say I was an artist, and crazy, for lack of funds does not make me an “eccentric.” It is though I am in mourning or just want to be-now if I could put that to good use. I want to be happy for her, want to encourage her, but a selfish little part of me just stands there stubbornly wanting her to melt down, admit she was wrong and needs me by her side. Quit. I am kidding myself. I find I don’t really want her to do that after all, so it becomes selfish again, and I realize that to be there for her, I have to be there for myself. Like myself, if I truly want her to succeed. The truth is she didn’t even notice. Maybe I was too officious, too smothering, too coddling, too close. Maybe she just knows I love her and feels basically secure !!!! I am sure that is it actually.
I think her mind was on more practical matters. She didn’t even admit to herself she missed us until well into the Fall semester, and then, she said, one day she just realized that she did. She missed her teachers, and me and her brothers, and her father and her cat. Even great-grandma, but she is stable and confident. So we all just miss her, really. She has moved on a little bit. But we are all part of her fabric, intrinsically. But right now, and that is the important point, is that moments should be treasured. All of them, good and bad. They all count for something later and they are all important, I think. Don’t be a would of/could of person. Do it all, if at all possible. Do everything you want to, can dream of. Don’t be shy. Open the door of opportunity.
She wanted to be here, but she didn’t want lectured or prodded or poked and she didn’t want to take ballet class! Her foot was swollen, hurt, she had calluses on the bottom of her feet which she would not let me treat, so I had to sneak lotion on them in the middle of the night (which worked wonders). Every muscle of her body hurt and she was waiting for her achilles and her knee to stop hurting (they did). Sometimes you HAVE to show them that the medicine WORKS. Proof, or they just will not cooperate….She did not last a cup of coffee in the mornings with me, to pump her for information=would not be pumped, and refused to chit-chat about what I wanted to. She was seemingly up before the crack of dawn and busy well into her day by the time the rest of us awoke. She wrote, she watched tv, she cuddled. She needed to do a million of things-nothing at all to my eyes, but little rituals to ground her, so she knew where she stood. She took what she needed from us. She brought up subjects to talk about on her own and finally I got the rhythm and the drift of her a little better. She is light years ahead of me as usual, planning, thinking, doing, busy all the time, growing. I took her to see a few friends and she was different, more mature, more confident-still sweet and nice as usual, but more ladylike. She had a far off look in her eyes sometimes. What was that???
Nothing I said to her was correct once we got past the niceties of missing one another and not having a chance to see each other for almost four months. I could say nothing right. She waved her arms and flew back onto her perch if I mentioned the wrong thing, led the conversation away from where she was willing to go, and cut me off if I persisted by flying off thusly to her sanctuary. So, I was forced to entice the little birdie with something to make her stay, keep her close as possible, and I simply gave in-my life to hers, as always, life is too short to argue. It does not have to always be my way, my answers, my questions. I just handed her the lead and said, “ok, you drive.” She is ready. At fifteen. Now I can just watch and put in a word here and there, but I do have to try to be careful what I say. It went much better after that.It was just a matter of who was to be boss, that’s all. I was content to be the neck that turns the head. But, she does have the lead and she knows it.
I told her it was all a phase, which it is, and I somehow think she already knew, but this is for her to know I knew she knew and what little advice I can give on certain subjects-to mothers/fathers or daughters.
She has decided on things, like her height is only going to be 5′ 4″, whether it gets to be taller or not, and her weight is going to be less than 115 pounds. She did really want two leotards and I got them for her. Very pretty ones on her. She bought two pairs of point shoes (not Repettoes!), and she refused everything else-choosing dental floss over the Bun Heads stock sewing kit, which she pronounced a “waste of money.” She said she didn’t think she would do the Winter Workshop at her school because she got back late, wouldn’t be cast in any good roles with those teachers, and because she needed time to work on her schoolwork, money, and she wanted to do auditions for Summer programs. Sometimes she just likes to be accepted, she doesn’t really want to go. She likes the experience, too. She prefers a one-on-one relationship with a good teacher over the three weeks of variety-it’s like a tease sometimes she thinks. Variety. She has certainly had that this year! Oh, and she was very sick when she came home. Flu, fever, tired and stayed in bed (mostly) the first few days.
Christmas Day she got a text from her aunt, whom she has been staying with. It said,”Please call your cousin today and wish her Merry Christmas or something. She is expecting you to.” She slept. Then, about 5pm another text read,” Don’t bother now, she is in bed. I am extremely disappointed in you.” This missive put her into a nearly hysterical spin, and tears, and she said she thought it was entirely thoughtless, cruel even and typically inconsiderate of the fact that she was sick, at home with her family, and apparently she felt safe in her cubbyhole, resenting the interference, the fact that even here, they could get to her. Even now. It almost resulted in her not being asked back and all that implies, but she took control of the situation after vetting and it worked out quite well, thankfully. I think she even missed them a little bit and they her. But she needed a place to go, to be alone, be with those who she felt really loved her and just be alone. Of course she wants us all there. She wanted someone entirely on her side. Me. She said so. What choice did I have????That she wasn’t a full-time politician? Just to be left alone-pretend they didn’t exist for TEN DAYS!!!!. Well…. yes, and no, I thought. It would only take her 10 minutes to make her “political” phone calls and be done with it. But that wasn’t the point, was it? By watching I was learning. No where to go and be alone. Important. But they in turn, are doing her a HUGE favor, taking responsibility for her, and I am grateful, even if she is not (thoughtfully) so.
She is no saint, but she is my baby. She did not have time to win them over, make them a priority and she was realizing that she could not make everything okay, make everyone like her the way she wanted to be liked-she didn’t have time, and even if she did, there were probably one hundred things she would do first, and she doesn’t care if everyone likes her.
I realize they will all take those values with them everywhere they go, that I must have done something right because they really are all terrific people, not just kids anymore. They are not dullards. Some adults or will be soon, and I have to shift gears. But I am not a sports car and I do not hit 60 in under 3 seconds anymore-or maybe I can. Maybe I can hit 60 if I give myself a chance. Maybe I just thought I was a sports car all along-it’s all perspective. Maybe this is the time for me to think of me and I am getting a window of opportunity of my own.
My daughter was having these little fits all over the place and when I told her that she could just be herself, a brat, and do all the things she could not do at her aunt and uncle’s, she just seemed to relax. She didn’t want to talk about ballet, school, nothing that I wanted to hear about-she said she had told me already. She really had, I just wanted to hear it all again. She is 15. 15, and needed to come home and let down for a little bit. Now my mother would have known that-gotten that, much more quickly than I did, or maybe not. Maybe I just don’t think I am a sports car. I might even be more like a toyota-low maintenance, but just goes, even without the oil changes. I am not a car at all! But sometimes I feel like one.
We should all be able to let our hair down at home, be who we are. It is very hard living somewhere else, under a different set of house rules, and surely everyone else to us seems more crazy than we are-there is that. Our normalcy- and it goes to who we really are, where we come from and all that. If we can laugh at it, have some good times, make some friends, take a joke, tell a joke. It’s all part of a topical patois that infects everyone. You can’t help looking around at everyone else, comparing yourselves…. She has had no one to nurture her, kiss her booboos, stretch her, nag her, and encourage her. There is jealousy at home and there, everywhere and she is tough. Support her, even minimally, and she does very well. Quite well. She has been doing it all herself and she is proving quite capable. She can’t be different, but hopefully she won’t read this yet and by the time she does, she will be. That is just the way it is, a little bit of this, of that, all goes into the melting pot, and out comes: “VOILA!” an independent person.
She came home a little lost, messy, tomboyish, rough on the edges and very tired (and sick), but she left like the queen! New coif, shoes, new boots, health and beauty supplies, shmancy leos, new point shoes and a proper wool coat. We broke the suitcase! So she had to take two of mine-and a new bookbag, so that weight can be distributed more evenly (in the future). It seems the next step is to give her a little more control over her own schedule, life and priorities. Help her help herself even further. If only I had a volunteer-but no one takes the place of a mother, really.
She went back in good condition, feeling that the thorough rest to her muscles (completely) would put her in good stead once classes started back. People were truly disappointed she did not come to class. No doubt anxious to compare themselves to her. Yet, that is not a bad thing. She just would not be budged and then it was also the money. She needed things. Considering the abilities of all the other dancers she sees everyday, their experience with performance, the requirements of learning new technique, a new mode of thinking, new teachers, new expectations, especially of learning and performing contemporary ballet, partnering, new choreography, and a totally new environment all around, as well as the continued conditioning and strengthening to improve upon the particular attributes and physical qualities of a classical ballet dancer which she deeply aspires to have down pat, and which she does not see in herself (all of the time), she is doing pretty well, well enough to go back for another semester! I think that in itself is incredible! Back into the ring! It is my daughter I am speaking of and not someone else-I need to remember sometimes who she is after all and there is nothing to indicate she would be someone else even after four months. She is a trooper.She is a true fighter. Ahem.
So to round off the old year, I bring a new concept to my blog-the ballet haiku! More haiku should be written about ballet. I am going to get busy, but it is hard to write a meaningful haiku……
Once there was a baby
her arm was broken at birth
she has made progress!
Technically-this is correct haiku form, but prettier as
(Late Latinlimbus) a word of Teutonic derivation, meaning literally “hem” or “border,” as of a garment, or anything joined on (cf. Italianlembo or Englishlimb).
In theological usage the name is applied to (a) the temporary place or state of the souls of the just who, although purified from sin, were excluded from the beatific vision until Christ’s triumphant ascension into Heaven (the “limbus patrum“); or (b) to the permanent place or state of those unbaptized children and others who, dying without grievous personal sin, are excluded from the beatific vision on account of original sin alone (the “limbus infantium” or “puerorum”).
In literary usage the name is sometimes applied in a wider and more general sense to any place or state of restraint, confinement, or exclusion, and is practically equivalent to “prison” (see, e.g., Milton, “Paradise Lost,” III, 495; Butler, “Hudibras,” part II, canto i, and other English classics). The not unnatural transition from the theological to the literary usage is exemplified in Shakespeare, “Henry VIII,” act v, sc. 3.
Blake‘s epic poem tells the story of Sir Hudibras, a knight errant who is described dramatically and with laudatory praise that is so thickly applied as to be absurd, and the conceited and arrogant person is visible beneath. He is praised for his knowledge of logic despite appearing stupid throughout, but it is his religious fervor which is mainly attacked. Blake undoubtedly drew from Don Quixote for his witty satire about a man who thought he knew too much and gets repeatedly beaten for his views and interfering with the rest of the world’s vices. Unlike Don Quixote, who is humorous and draws our sympathy, Hudibras gets none. It was very popular in its time (1700’s), but was not a beloved story, for it spurred no ballets. However, many stories and art are descended from it. It’s main argument stems from political views and religious theorists at the time, sometimes combined into one group, and the public found this pairing amusing and ludicrous. Some writers and reviewers of the times felt Blake was too hard on certain puritan factions, so it did not please those everyone important.
My purpose in dredging up these hyperbolic entrails is that they serve to explain and accentuate my point the about idiocy of ballet politics, dance politics overall, and some characters of the world in general. It also underlines the fact that the attitude held by some teachers of ballet (certain people are destined for success and others aren’t) is fascist and not particularly conducive to the making of good dancers or art, at all. These people hold that they are the judge of the times. This self-appointed “hell” that parents pay for their children to be entombed in is called a competition studio, and not a ballet or (art) studio where expression and all great art is derived. Were it not for imperfection, there would be no art, as true art is not necessarily perfect. This is history repeated though, and nothing new occurs. It is part of the reason why it is impossible to achieve art in a school for young dancers and in many cases in a ballet theater, and probably some companies. Mothers and fathers, wooing administrators with money and work, fund raising efforts, and their own strings-attached beneficence result in the many studios I know of, which have some good elements, running a muck. At least in a ballet company these souls are excluded for the most part and the business of art may take place-and in most good ballet schools as well as in other types of other schools. At the studio my daughter was recently at, the operator had her own unique ideas about the dancers, their abilities and what sort she advanced into new levels. Each year she would change the levels around to accommodate her future plans without consideration for the families involved and especially the children whom she was hurting. If a parent was paying for more children, they got more attention, moved up, more and better roles, etc. If they contributed large sums of cash, those students could be expected to get privates and a lot of pushing even if they weren’t very good dancers, had poor technique, bad habits, arrogance, etc. A very few children, literally one or two out of each level, received her full attention and she would work with them for years, giving privates and coaching, lead roles, until she managed to get them something. She wouldn’t even give corrections (strike one) in class (especially my daughter) except to her very favorite few and she manipulated the entire class to evoke harder attempts from these few by using the others as comparisons. It was a very backward method, resulting in those few getting all the attention, etc., while the others continued to pay for the scraps leftover-even dancers who were quite good!
My daughter has spent the last several months in limbo, from an effort by this director to get her to leave. Her others students resented my daughter due to the attention she was getting from her Russian teacher, who no doubt was rewarding her hard work and effort. She also had privates with him, and in under a year was up to and in some cases better than her classmates. After six more months and more privates, she was better than her very best dancers-so she prevented her from doing YAGP- a punishment (strike 2)! Also, the other female teachers there would not giver her privates for fear she would compete with their prize students. They all held this attitude that each student belonged to a teacher-only one. It just happened that we had the best one and they ALL resented this. He also had the hardest working students and some of the younger ones and boys did competitions and they won. His won. But my daughter was not allowed by her. I did not realize it was the director controlling him, telling him to help other students who were willing to pay more money-who had more money, but it was. She would come out and not allow him to give my daughter privates when she was waiting, instead directing him to take someone else first/instead (Strike 3). Prison. Confinement, or so this mistress hoped, and by these actions she expected my daughter to be discouraged and repeatedly kept back and slowed down (2nd chance). Finally, I realized what was going on and we finished out the year-end performance and left. I did not pay her the last two of 12 equal payments for the year. Would you?
She may now yet again have a fair opportunity to enter the beatific vision of ballet Heaven. A school where she can dance hopefully unencumbered by these people who believe they hold the carrot and the key to her success. If the key is money and not art, not teaching, not learning, and performing is not possible without patronage at so early a level of training, then art sits in confinement, and talent is imprisoned, learning is sanctioned, and futures are undeveloped. There is no chance of my daughter growing into a beautiful dancer there, for the environment is evil and the hatred and jealousy running beneath the surface permeate the spirit of the dance. It was important to her to make these other students feel superior to my daughter and certain other students in an effort to keep the money coming in. My daughter was incredulous to find that she had been demoted (LAST STRAW) to a level with dancers who were ungainly (also ridiculed by her and humiliated in front of everyone else as an example-not to be overweight (seriously, in a little local ballet school????-yes, she actually calls herself a dance educator), did not even bother or try to learn (who could blame them?), and who showed zero interest in ballet (no wonder!), and whose families were not financially important (bingo). My daughter was age-level and training level appropriate for the higher level, but was being highly encouraged to leave, I would say…. I do not want to say much about the girls who were promoted, the previous takes into account their possible faults (false self-confidence, and their parents stupidity) being ignored in favor of monetary support, so I need not impune them further-wouldn’t be nice. Over time, we were able to see that each parent of each of these children held some advantage over the director, was useful, or was paying at least for two children. But my daughter was to be made miserable, to be cast down, by the director of the studio, whose arrogance rivaled Hudibras’, as if to say, “no matter how hard you try, you can never be better than my worst higher-paying student. it is a hard lesson for a teenager to learn-to see someone so cruel, and I can assure you, she was one of the best dancers in the class upon leaving. She was convinced it was a mistake, a cruel joke played by one of the parents who sent out the certificates and promotions, but when I realized it and called, I was told the director would “re-evaluate her” after the summer. The summer program there is usually pretty good, but for two years we have been unable to afford it. However, when we come back, my daughter is still more advanced than others, because she works very hard and continues her privates with her Russian teacher-who refused to teach anyone else who asked. I knew there was no evaluation or training issue, as some of the other girls in class are well behind my daughter in all areas, but I knew it had to do with money and politics. A child does not usually understand this, but my daughter readily saw the reasons for it, so it was not very hard to dispense with. She refused to go back.
This Summer that would have resulted in our being pretty much cut-off from her Russian teacher, but that dependence needed to be discouraged anyway for some other reasons. After about two weeks of this, she began to be led dancing into different directions. There were an inordinate amount of accessible master classes in the area-I wonder who was teaching at the intensives! Her vision must be pure as her luck was good! God never closes a door….
This kind of imposed limbo by the director was averted by the number of available classes to take. Quickly, she perked up, finding plenty of support from other teachers. The other aspect of this is that she is the kind of able, ready and polite student that everyone else wants to teach. Once they see her seriousness and rapid improvement and other good qualities they usually (not always) help her, encourage her and eventually become attached to her. Each school she went to and auditioned for this Summer she was accepted to, and she was placed in a suitably advanced level in. In each master class, the teachers praised her and helped her. She wanted to go to New York and audition for SAB, and I almost doubted her. I thought perhaps she was trying to overcome those bad qualities projected onto her by that director and frankly, I was worried that she would not be accepted. She needed to erase the self-doubt that this woman had placed in her mind deliberately. The baby in limbo infantium, innocent of real sin or error, but far away from the beatific vision sought by dancers everywhere, but I was wrong to doubt her and she has a lot more mettle than I had anticipated (as usual). You’d think I’d learn and have more faith. She did it everywhere she went. She got better seemingly without even trying-she stepped up a level, a notch in her professionalism and self-confidence. The nervous, shy young girl is mostly gone, but in her place is a beautiful, confident young lady of just 15 years old who knows all of her hard work has not been in vain, shaking the dust off of the bottom of her feet as she goes. She was happy to see the girls there and was truly pleased that most of them were happy to see her when she went back for a few classes at the end of the Summer with her Russian teacher. She is convinced once again that she is happiest while dancing, more competition is better, and she was able, while at these other studios to compare herself to their best dancers and to see where she was in comparison. She found herself close to or better than their best, different, better in ways they were not, learning more and new things, getting new corrections and insights, different stretches and work, new combinations, and working just as hard, and getting much better, being more relaxed and open, despite a shorter schedule and fewer classes. She is finally working smarter! It is as though she finally sees in herself-herself and not a victim, but a fighter (the best kind) and a catalyst. She is a dancer!
Perhaps I did not make her appear chastised enough and down-trodden, from the perspective that those mothers felt sorry for her-some of those students felt sorry for her too. It did seem as though a very few of them actually took solace from this, feeling that they were better, but some others sought me out and were very kind and understanding. None of them felt we would come back, and the director sought her out in one class to dwell upon her expression and to watch her to see whether she had improved or not over the Summer, and to witness her unhappiness. But broken spirit was not what they beheld. She was better and improved! One teacher literally glared at me when she drove up. But enough of that. The good that came from the experience, for one, outweighed the bad. In fact, she won, for she has been accepted into a very exclusive school in a large city! I would like to blame them, but I am having to be thankful for all of their actions and roles played in this would-be tragedy, except for the indomitable will, spirit and grace of my child, who is a far better person than I have ever been or probably will ever be. She met Jacques D’Amboise and then took a nearly three-hour class with him, a lifelong memory and inspiration from someone whose heart has always been in the right place-I think this inspired her to go do the Fall auditions. She decided she was interested in Balanchine and Cecchetti and she was inspired to read and research, herself, where these opportunities lay.
We were prepared to enroll her in classes with another Russian teacher who wanted to train her, and we had enrolled her into public high school, when the unavoidable happened to thwart those plans. We have had mold in our house due to some repairs from several leaks that the landlord has not made over the past several months. She was finding it difficult to breathe and I moved her into the living-room to sleep over the Summer. She complained of stomach pain, nausea and headaches as well which caused me to confront the landlord and seek to force the repairs. I have been sick, but no one else in the house has been and I did not think it was due to the mold until she was affected. So at the end of August, awaiting repairs, I sent her to a big city with family. She was already inspired to take classes and do auditions. I set them up, we took photos provided by a good friend for free and they were beautiful to see! She was accepted to a school of some prestige, but most importantly with a very good program including all of the things those here lack, and an environment and philosophy which might work out perfectly for her, AND she was placed in the advanced level, second from the top-the top being an actual company-of company-ready level performers, which she is not yet (at 15, seriously-who really is? But advanced! I just hope she can handle all of what she is about to undertake. There will be quite a learning curve considering the deficiencies at the school she has been attending. At this school, the students do get placed into companies and have numerous opportunities to dance! The faculty is really amazing and it is reportedly “not so cutthroat” as some others schools. She will have classes six days per week and one or two with the company-level dancers. She will have pilates, character, yoga, pointe everyday, partnering, technique everyday, and variations. She will learn choreography, the students have choreography done on them for performances and workshops regularly, and there are many master classes, guest teachers, workshops, rehearsals and performances. It was like God just said, there. How can I say no? She (hopefully) can practice there, study and do her schoolwork. She has family there who also will support her and encourage her, but she will have to be a little more independent of me. No more limbo. You must keep on dancing!
I started very late (15) and had a very successful and uneventful dance career for about seven years-that is, no injuries. I was fortunate to have excellent dance teachers in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Dayton had a pretty good regional ballet company with proprietors in the form of two elderly women (the Schwartz sisters). They were Josephine and Hermene Schwartz, and so enthusiastic they were about ballet, that at a very young age they began a dance school in their living room in order to afford their own classes which were taken once per week in Cincinnati. I quote from their manuscripts, housed at Wright State University:
Hannah Schwarz took her daughters to see Anna Pavlova dance at Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio, when they were very young. Miss Jo, as her friends, students, and colleagues have affectionately known her throughout her life, began her dance career in the Botts Dance Academy, a local school of dance. Her mother enrolled her in dance class to regain her strength after being bedridden with a severe case of the mumps. When her skill and desire outgrew her local teacher, she studied in Cincinnati, Ohio each Saturday. This proved to be expensive so Miss Jo opened a school of dance in her living room at the age of 14. Her sister Hermene played the piano. There were ten students and the lessons cost 10 cents each. This was how Jo earned the money for her own lessons. More at: http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/collection_guides/guide_files/ms218.pdf
They were somewhat of a local institution, the way ballet mistresses become, when a school is in existence for a long time and they had both danced professionally and so had a celebrity status as well. The sisters used this slight advantage to train dancers seriously from all walks, and I have seen no better school:
Hermene’s interest in learning how to dance grew and, after high school, she worked in a doctor’s office earning money for both Jo and her to go to Chicago. The sisters spent three summers in Chicago, studying and performing with Russian dancer Adolph Bolm, from the Russian Imperial Ballet, at the Bolm School of Dance. They became members of the Ravinia Opera Ballet Company.
Both Miss Jo and Hermene traveled to Europe in the 1930’s to study at the Hellerau-Laxenberg School in Vienna, Austria. The sisters also studied with modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman. Jo performed in the Burg Theater in Vienna and also toured with Bolm’s “Ballet Intime” while in Europe.
Josephine and Hermene founded the Schwarz School of Dance in Dayton in 1927.
I began taking with Miss Jo in the Fall of my fifteenth year. She had an adult beginner class (and I had only had a summer of ballet and modern-4 days per week), so was accordingly nervous about taking a class with Josephine Schwartz. Those who knew her loved her and sent their daughters to her (and their sons). Her classes were full and she had a junior company as well as a ballet company. Thanks to Miss Joe’s connections, worthy dance companies came to the Theater and tickets were always available to students at a discount. Workshops were usually given and we could watch rehearsals, too. In the summers, they always had dance luminaries from large ballet companies and sometimes VIPs. Hermene was around, but she didn’t teach often. They still made appearances together and attended ballet performances at the Victory Theater below the studios.
My mother had looked them up, read about them for years in the local papers, and told me where to go. There are no pictures online of Miss Jo or Hermene, that I can find, but I remember her long black dress (1978, not 1908), and her long silver streaked hair was pulled back into a bun and she said nice things to me occasionally. She complimented my bun and my balance! She made us work very hard and her studios were very warm in the Summer. Winter or Summer, you could look out of the window and see people hustled down main street, or into the Rike’s Department store across the street, buses surging past, horns honking, for this was one of the crosswords of the busting community of Dayton, Ohio. There was a bridge access to cross one of the four rivers of Dayton-the Great Miami River (Little Miami), the Mad River, Wolf Creek and the Stillwater river. Originally Dayton was built along this Riverfront despite local natives warnings about the recurring flooding. Subsequently dams and local reserves were created to ward off substantial recurrences, but this year was the 100th anniversary of the Dayton Flood (March, 1913) in which 20 feet of water covered the central business district. It is said that the amount of water running through the rivers was equal to one month’s worth of water cascading off Niagara Falls.
The large building would have been the Biltmore Hotel, and in front and below, the Victory Theatre. In 1978, the major differences included bridges and dams to which this roadway led, dividing the many sides of Dayton. Today, Dayton is named one of the top 10 places for college graduates to find a job, the Dayton Ballet Company and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company are flourishing and a new Five Rivers Entertainment Complex boasts live events, concerts, sports teams-there is even an ice skating rink! Not much has changed otherwise. The Dayton Ballet Company continues to be a major regional ballet company and sometimes stepping stone for aspiring dancers.
There was really nothing in my life that compared to that 7pm ballet class on Friday nights. It started in September, and the odor of the sweat permeating the wood floors, the smell of the iron bars, the lights rising up through the sounds of the streetlife as you stood along the sides of the studio with the over-ten-foot high glazed windows, the streetlights reflecting on the mirrors, the exhilaration felt after class, swinging down the bannister and stairwell to the street below, covered in a fine mist of sweat to head for the bus home. dayton was a city with mass transit, long before similar larger towns had figured out less efficiently how to move people from one place to another, directing their attention to certain areas. Having a large German population, people actually argue about public engineering there, and it is no wonder that the University of Dayton is reknowned for that department. I guess if I had to compare it to any other city, I couldn’t, but Dublin would remind me of it for some reason. Perhaps the Irish put their mark on it as well.
Miss Jo stood in front of the class and talked to you. She did not show you how to do anything-she communicated to you. You watched her foot slide along the floor, explanations with gestures, and you learned. Her incessant corrections and walking from student to student during class, making nearly inaudible corrections, touching, pointing, only demonstrating occasionally what she meant, and yet she produced more dancers, calmly, in a genteel almost retiring way-by elegance and suggestion. She might start or step in a direction, or show a foot position, but she gave corrections orally, and there were no impulsive movements or strident tones. She was a forerunner of modern dance in this country, too, because she had a modern troupe and taught experimental dance. She was also teacher to Jeraldyne Blunden, founder of The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, an all-black (at that time) professional (and touring) company of modern dancers which she kept in existence for over 30 years. She died at only 58. I think these were two of the really great women of ballet/dance in the midwest and their dancers and students dot the country and the world today.
Mrs. Blunden developed a number of leading American modern dance performers, among them the former Alvin Ailey star Donna Wood. The November 24, 1999 issue of Dance Magazine announced-“The 1998 Dance Magazine Awards for lifetime service to the field of dance were given yesterday at the Asia Society (in New York). The winners are Jeraldyne Blunden, the founder and artistic director of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company; Julio Bocca, an international ballet star and a guest artist with American Ballet Theater; Dame Ninette de Valois, the founder of Britain’s Royal Ballet, and Suki Schorer, both a longtime faculty member at the School of American Ballet.” I am sure the Miss Schwartzes’ were very proud of their legacy of dancers and movement we learn from and watch today. For more about Ms. Blunden visit the PBS Timeline of Dance at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/freetodance/timeline/timeline7.html. You will see Ms. Blunden’s entry in 1968 at the advent of opening her school which taught Horton technique and the styles of Truitte, et al. I mention Ms. Blunden with awe and great respect as a few of the teachers who inspired and taught me. She taught classes herself also. I remember taking her classes. They were HARD.
The Victory Theater was a lovely place to watch ballet. It was even more exciting to take classes above it every week, climbing up the stairs, walking into the old dressing rooms and walking out into that grand empty studio whose very floors evoked feelings of grandeur and majesty of dancers who sweat upon them (and they did!), point classes and rehearsals, for so many years. The floors showed these scars. The sisters practically lived there and there was almost never a time when some dancer was not practicing in these large studios, only the light from the large windows illuminating their path, as they slowly refined their artistry in shadows. The light was an amazing dramatic enhancement to these movements and served to emphasize the concentration going on. No wonder I have such a passion for theater and dance!
Of course they claim it’s haunted!
But this is where it all really all began with Pat fox, Director of the Dance Department at Sinclair Community College, where I took my classes that first summer. She had graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Dance and was an excellent teacher. Her background was modern dance and she had us buy books! She felt that you had to read about dance, know its history and approached her teaching methodically, from the ground up. Basics first. There was no cheating and no escaping her watchful and cautious eyes, where from behind large glasses they seemed to stare right through you and she did not miss anything! I bought all of the books she recommended for my daughter also. She was amazing. All of my natural instincts about dance, I attribute to her abilities as a teacher in the precise cultivation of the body as an instrument, to developing, waking up, building, and taught to use. Even now I can remember her classes and regimen, so methodically did she go through the movements and so perfect was her example. She was so particular about it that you did it in your sleep. She was tough! She stopped a bad action immediately before you went on reinforcing it. She literally kicked out sicklers and other offenders who would repeatedly perform exercises incorrectly, then she would go after them and make them fix it-sometimes running down the hall and dragging them back. Some were daunted and she never caught them, but generally, they came back. You had to listen. You had to watch. You had to do. You wanted to know everything she did, and you had to read!
Patricia Burke came on after that summer to teach ballet, and had it not been for her, I might have not learned ballet the way that I did. It is hard to explain my relationship with her. I was certainly the youngest student in the college class, having gotten permission from my high school to take classes there (to overcome the obstacle of “no previous dance training”) in order to be able to study at the Dayton Ballet School, but I was still considered too old for serious training. Pat must not have thought so and we had a good relationship. She worked me harder than anyone ever did again. It was Pat Burke who gave me my definition of a hard work ethic in ballet, and reinforced the natural ability to focus I had. I have not seen any teachers here in the US who come close to her indoctrination methods (with respect to my daughter) although there are a lot of good teachers. She was trained in Pennsylvania and then went on to dance with the Royal Ballet. A perfect technician and teacher, who explained the meaning, then definition (in French and English) and used mnemonics to help you remember. She taught with a Montessori-type drill replete with correct emotion and such clarity of movement that you could never question the right way to do something. She never made a mistake-ever! The class for her was a class, she always appeared dressed-out in leotard, tights, short hair in a tight little bun-she taught by demonstrations, example and you had to do what she did, have her stamina, and she never chided me for getting lost or doing it wrong-you just caught up. It was like following Margot Fonteyn around for an hour and a half-a dynamo and virtually indefatigable. She was about strength and she started with the feet working up. She did jumps, adagio and port de bras. She put a lot of emphasis on beats, grande batteries, petite batteries, jumps. I was very very lucky. You always had a marker and a guide with her example, rapidity and brilliant execution. Sweat was pouring off me after two or three exercises in the center and we did 8-16-32-64, whatever she felt you could conceivably handle, working up. I began taking her private class on Saturdays when she opened a little school in Kettering, Ohio. She eventually closed it and I believe married. But she used to explain her devotion to her craft at a young age-doing dishes while stretching her leg on the sink, picking up things with her feet. She told me after a while, maybe one year, that she felt I was too old to start at first, but then after getting to know me, she thought I could do anything I set my mind to. She even came to NY to see me when I went off to college and visited me in new York with her new boyfriend. I loved her like a sister.
I was blessed to have these people teach me, notice me, correct me, and to have feel the way I do about dance is really because of all of them. They were truly inspiring. Literally, by doing what they said, and by hearkening to their advice, I was brought to viewing dance from a new perspective and joy, a feeling hitherto not experienced in my young life and really never surpassed by anything else. There are so many techniques and things to learn about ballet!
I remember the first book my mother gave me about ballet. It was already a very old book. The illustrations were of a little girl in a leotard with ballet shoes. She wanted to learn to dance. Her parents took her to a ballet class. After the lesson her new teacher asked her if she would like to come back. Her parents put a mirror her room and a barre to support her first efforts. She practiced what she had learned that day-so did I. I read and re-read this book and committed to memory the first positions explained there long before I was ever able to take a dance class. I didn’t start dancing until much later. My mother was not able to afford ballet-even in those days-but I wanted to learn. It was not until much later that I was able to afford dance classes, but that little book, and those days, came to mind.
I was working in high school and I decided that if I wanted my body to be a temple I should start treating it like one. I needed a plan, an outlet, and a safe place, and suddenly the idea of taking dance classes (probably put into my head by my mother) was born. I went to the local ballet studio in Dayton, Ohio, where they had a company, a junior company and classes and I tried to register for the adult class on Friday evenings. They asked me about any experience I had and I had to admit I had none. They recommended that I take some ballet lessons from the local community college before enrolling in their class, which required some knowledge of ballet, so I did. I registered for modern dance and beginning ballet classes. These were held 4 evenings per week.
It didn’t start with a book with my daughter, although maybe it did, and I don’t remember. I bought a lot of books-books represent about half of me. She started dressing up in costumes with her brother when she was very little and they danced! I would have to thank Daffy’s for that, because I could not have afforded tutus and things like that if it were not for Daffy’s in New York. But, it was much later, when I moved from New York to California, that I actually registered her in ballet classes-just three years ago this month. As she remembers it, she wanted to take tap , then jazz, classes with her friends at the local dance studio in Laguna Beach. She was there for the year, but when she wanted to register for more in the Spring, I informed her that I took dance very seriously and I wanted her to learn ballet as a basis for every other kind of dance she was to learn (and modern). If only I had had this opportunity with my sons, who assiduously avoid anything I formerly did! Her friends were treating dance very cavalierly, as a hobby, something anyone could do, and their expectations were not realistic, but it was fun. She liked it. I thought dance was hard work and required formal training to understand and to be good at, not something you did down at the little local studio, putting on recitals and getting on your pointes too early. I told her that if she wanted to take these classes, I would also insist that she take ballet classes from a good ballet studio three days or four days per week. That was the deal. She agreed to try it, reluctantly.
If I had waited another year, or not had my convictions about ballet and dance, perhaps she would have fought me on it-and won-as my sons did. But she didn’t, so I (hurriedly-I have two older children-you have to strike while the iron is HOT) called the local studios and researched them on the Internet to find a class appropriate for her from a reputable school. I think it is very important to look very hard for a child’s first ballet studio. Their philosophy is crucial for your child’s positive outlook about dance and especially themselves. I did find one studio on the Internet which advertised and upon calling I found that they had a level class that was appropriate for her age. That’s about all that I can say positively about it. The good side was that we possessed this impulse to register, we had some money-my grandmother had given me-and she was willing to try. Beyond that, this world was very foreign to me, and this was a pre-professional school. Admittedly, she (and the other students there) had a lot of flaws, but they had been working on theirs, were approaching it from a level of professional preparation, and whether all of them had the design or facility to become professional dancers, the opportunity was there to try. This was more than a bit intimidating for us. For me. In all fairness my daughter did not have this perspective. She was naive.
When, over the telephone, the co-director from this school said to me, “You don’t expect your daughter to have a professional dance career, do you? She is starting very late”- I should have left it, left perhaps, but she must have gone on to say something else, sometimes words just popped out of her mouth, and I think she was saying that, if I did, and she knew I was, that we would have to work harder than everyone else, and we would have to see. She would have to take more classes, and this became an issue later. This person was very knowledgeable about what it takes (now) to become a ballet dancer, and a professional dancer, but their school typically did not force movement or extra classes on students because they burnt out. This came up in a later discussion, but at this point, I cannot lie, I took her meaning perhaps in the wrong way, or perhaps she stated it somewhat differently than she meant it. But we went anyway.
She enrolled her anyway, and the tuition was much higher than the little dance school in town, but not unimaginable to pay for quality ballet education. I waited to see what the teacher was like, and my daughter went to class. I will say that an unlikely pair, these two directors were actually very professional and delivered a really good dance program for students. Their productions were beautiful, and they provided many opportunities for advancement. There is the studio politics, which they try to keep at a minimum, I suppose. It is probably much more of an issue with families who have more serious intentions for their daughters, where the children may or may not have what is required to become professionals. Parents like that want a guarantee that their children are going to have the best chance, first pick of the roles and plenty of opportunity, before they make an investment or while they are doing it. It did not result in my daughter, at her level being denied prime parts, of course she was not ready. She had parts, she took class, she learned about the ballet studio from the ground up. She had a phenomenally nice and caring first teacher, Ms. _________.
We were definitely not in that market, either, and through sheer differences, are likely never to be. By hook and by crook, we have managed to avoid a lot of those arguments, and pitfalls. We have not become (as so many have wished us) carrion of ballet on the roadside. But, I did have a very difficult time making friends there. It was very cliquey. But the directors were not the ones controlling that, and after a while, the parents (sort of) lightened up and were a tiny bit nicer or at least took the attitude of, “Well, I do not want you here, but if you are staying, then help.” But it is not until much later that you even begin to understand this and can develop a sort of callous against it, or toward it. In many cases, they mean to make you leave, want you to leave, and the children (and parents) will sometimes actually say it. It is a very emotional environment. But still, you can talk, and make friends, watch your children grow, become involved, stay busy, if you can handle the heat. Some parents there were really nice from the start, and some were in a position, or trying very hard to get into a position, to help control their children’s careers and opportunities even further, and some were never around. Even though I like that type best, it is not conducive to running a ballet studio where so much is expected it would take a King’s ransom to afford and most ballet tuition just does not cover it, so putting up with parents, inviting them to volunteer and dealing with them is usually necessary. There is the argument as well, that you need to be there for your child.
I thought, who was she to say at that point what potential my child had, or what path she would take in dance? I literally kept this in my mind, did not tell my daughter until fairly recently, and it went on the list, rightly or wrongly, of reasons to find somewhere else to study, eventually. It was a decision-making factor, however she meant it or well-intentioned she was. In fairness to her, she never brought it up again and does not remember having said it now, so after all this time, I am forced to let it go, as she probably was just having a case of verbal diarrhea, thinking out-loud, and let’s face it, being truthful. We had no idea what we were coming into and she did start very late nowadays. Much has changed since I was a little girl, or even a big one. We were literally NEW. Some people say they are NEW when they come from another studio, switch forms of dance, some even lie about their age or training. Determination is a major factor for learning dance and any limitations taught or observed, in my opinion, are a harbinger for disaster of art and teaching dance education, once in the classroom. And you will find, left alone in the classroom, most of these political issues fall away, so you have to back off. Anyway, that was not the reason for our leaving almost 2 years later.
Perhaps if my daughter did not have the negative experiences that she did she would not have been challenged enough to keep dancing. At least that is how I see it now. She was a natural in many aspects and she loved it! She loved to dance. It was a new world to her. She really wants to be successful in dance, and has her own unfiltered vision of how that is going to be. Even then, she eventually developed her own critique of the school and the teachers-saw whatever they did and judged them. This had somewhat of an influence on me because of course, I was very naive about it, and yet, wanted her to be happy where she was, felt she could be taking more classes, and needed to have more performing experience or attention. If there were things that went wrong, or unfairness (in her mind) towards other people, she judged immediately those in the position to act as adults, keep their silences, and treat children decently and fairly. She made her own decisions about that. I was the driver of the car, but at a certain point you become just that and you guide your children, approve or disapprove, but they fill the sails!
She had just turned eleven at this point and the way I was taught-my mother had been a dancer and her mother before her, going en pointe much before 12 would mishape the feet, damage the bones and muscles, shortening the life of the dancer’s primary tools and career. There is much to learn before going onto pointe, however, and my daughter has had her share of problems. We bought the regulation white demi-skirt, ballet slippers and white leotard. I will always be glad we started there if only for Ms. ______ and the white outfit, but also because when I look back, it wasn’t as bad as all that. Maybe that was the moment of truth. A lot of the inspiration for parents to spend a good part of their lives driving their children to ballet, washing leotards and tights, attaching elastics and ribbons to shoes, buying shoes and the other accoutrement that attend ballet MUST be borne from the vision of our children actually in the dance class on the stage performing. I missed that class. I admittedly was more concerned with what could take place mentally in dance, as it had for me, forgetting that my own daughter was an entirely different animal and I did not have the perspective of say a grandparent, or mature dance practitioner. This is very important in ballet actually, and I believe has a tremendous amount to do with children quitting or not continuing ballet, not putting enough into it to succeed and parents being involved with certain aspects of ballet training that they shouldn’t thus slowing the development process. It took me a long while to adjust-I am still adjusting.
Learning is taking place, and even though it is not traditional learning, it should be traditional ballet discipline and movements. For me, I was in rapture at her in her first class. She could have been Pavlova, Margot Fonteyn or Cynthia Gregory standing there in her first class. She seemed to have their natural deportment and grace. Compare it to when you first lay eyes on your child and that wet baby is the most beautiful treasure you have ever seen in your life. This was right up there, as an experience, for me, and I had not seen or felt that, to that degree, before. I never thought about it much at all. I have a feeling this happens to a lot of mothers-maybe all the hopes of what they can become lie in ballet, discipline and it is though we say, “there,” is where she will be safe, where young ladies belong, the best environment for her growth, development, comportment-as a women-where she will find her strength. It is OUR imagination that sees ballet as their calling and possibly, their savior. We want all the attributes that we fantasize about projected onto our children: the grace, beauty, sylph-like litheness, slender bodies, costumes, roles….it is how we are sucked in, moved. But in the end, although no one else really ever understands us, it is just about the best thing you can do for your child-in my opinion. Whether I am in that league, and there is of course, a lot more to it, it dawned on me, that competition and jealousy are your enemies in ballet, and now I realize they may be your only friends. That is not what I foresaw for my daughter, and I did not see her flaws at first, how much hard work she would need to put in, and how that hard work would have to be held up continually with no breaks, how expensive it would become, or that it was exclusive. In may ways, the co-director should have said more, a lot more, but that only proves that either she wanted my money, or she had hope. Hope, in the end, is all you may be left with.
Although there is nothing at all wrong with this, we often have to ask ourselves if they have it in them to succeed and their pains are our pains, making it, I am finding out very difficult for us to watch as they learn, and yet making us prouder than we have ever been if they do just one thing right. This becomes each and everything as they follow a syllabus, graded or not, for each achievement mirrors the other obstacles in life they have to take down, and day by day, we grow ever more confident of their abilities to be successful in life, if they continue to do so. Ms. ________ was the primary ballet mistress and how kind and wonderfully encouraging she was! We also project onto the teachers the values we espouse, imagining we have a clue as to what makes the dancer tick, binds us with the studio or its directors, the teaching process, or our child for that matter, and I often see parents butting in, trying to tell the teachers what to do, “helping” out, and how often these efforts by the parents anger other parents, and how petty jealousies ebb and flow, how much drama the parents bring into the studio, themselves. This must be very frustrating for the teachers as teaching ballet is no less an art than dancing it, and it requires much more patience, concentration, communication and a special, unbreakable bond between the teacher and the child-one that I warn should not be undermined by the helpful or protective parent. If there is something you cannot tolerate, tell the teacher about it privately and NEVER communicate this with your child unless it is to assist them-and think this over very thoroughly before doing so. Sometimes we pass on to our children our own fears and protectiveness and this can hurt them understandably as they need to form their own opinions and experiences. This, however, in ballet, is pretty much impossible as we are so selfish.
Putting up my daughter’s very long, thick hair was an exercise in itself, but like all the disciplines of dance, this becomes easier and then the dancer takes over, adding this skill to her ballet accomplishments. A good bun is remarked upon even by teachers (I remember mine was pronounced “beautiful” by Ms. Schwartz and I was very proud). A sloppy bun-sloppy dancer! It sounds priggish and judgmental, but this basic discipline serves the dancer well, and to support the teacher in their role as leader does your child no disservice. Command attention and respect for the teacher! Focus. Straighten your seams. Sew your own ribbons. One by one, these “exercises” add to the installation of discipline and direction, taking the young girl and leading her into womanhood, responsibility and grace. They also learn dance etiquette from all of the other students, so I am really for a firm hand by teachers in fraternity and humanity. I really do not like slovenly teachers for beginners, professionals or no. They seem to have no self respect. How can you teach that without it? No matter the parents, the children are what is important. Respect for the teacher, timeliness, cleanliness and a host of other things that you could not teach them at home easily. So why come into the dance studio at all? You have to trust them, right? In all, a dance studio is a very nice home away from home. It becomes like another family for them, and as they grow, they realize, it is a small world, which the outside world has hidden from them, and which if you are not careful, your child feels more comfortable in than the real world. This can be a good place to be these days, though, and it does protect them from some of the experiences associated with youth today, but not all. It is important that they have outside friends and social activities and experiences. They should be encouraged to continue school, no matter how ‘serious’ they become.
There was much made of the brand BunHeads in the stores, so I bought a lot of other little things like pins and sewing kits, etc..that were not available when I was young. I may have spoiled her just a little bit by buying things I wish I had when I was a child-this is probably a mistake, but I enjoyed it much more than she did. She only loved dancing, and accessories decorate her person, but she is just as happy sweating away in her favorite torn leotard, failing to be able to locate a new one like it. I only had two or three leotards the whole time I studied dance and although I recommend a stoic dance ritual, focusing on the technique and not the costumery, there does come a time when “dressing up” is part of the social environment, and preparation as a dancer, a sort of “coming out” which the dancer learns from her peers. Humorously, this might result in periods of awkward hairdoes, too much make-up, and bizarre colors and styles of leotard, but it is a phase and a sign, that the dancer wants to be an individual, a sort of rite of passage for female dancers and get pictures because chances are this elementary phase disappears eventually and there burgeons a young woman, replete in her formality and seriousness, bound for eventual maturity and grownup qualities and the little girl is put far behind her. You will want to remember these days.
I could not resist-but this did result in my daughter asking for many things she did not need. Black is the true color of your beginning dancer’s wardrobe, and until it is deemed that he/she has reached a level to merit some other color (or the studio has designated levels by color), they must get used to it. Usually, some studios relent and give the dancer’s one day a week to wear a colored leotard. You must think of this as you would of uniforms in private school-the emphasis is on the learning, not the wardrobe. As you must also remember it is easier and less distracting for teachers to view the girls in identical wardrobe and clothes for correction of mistakes and proper use and development of muscles. For me, now, important in considering a school, would be the deportment of the other students, the professional attitude of its directors, and knowledge, but perhaps most importantly, that the children are not injured and that there are proper corrections going on constantly.
There is much more flexibility in balletwear than when I or her teachers studied, you can imagine and we cannot help but to compare our own experiences with what is going on around us. I have even had the professional dancer, and even those with children, who are also dancers, expressly tell me that things have changed drastically in formalism, training and the world of dance since they were in school. It has become much more competitive. There is certainly an emphasis on gymnastic training and innate flexibility. Even of different parts of the body, not just splits, but say, back, and or feet, curvy and not straight. These aspects are hugely controversial, too, and despite these judging points, dancers continue to be successful who do not possess all of these traits, and injuries continue which cause some dancers, who would never have a chance, to be the replacement for one who had all of them. Just life and chance, persistence and dedication, and teachers. Not Descartes, but I dance, therefore I am a dancer even before I began to study the art form known as dance, I was a dancer. Dance to me is the study of ones self, the limits and abilities of the body and the mind. This I reinforce with my daughter daily, so believe me she doesn’t ask for much anymore! Sad in a way. I feel this is very important….really. As she gets older, I realize that perhaps it will come, and perhaps she is a bit of a different kind of dancer, and I am glad, either way, that she takes joy in ballet, whatever her reasons.
Likewise, practicing what they learn in ballet is very important. It is a fact that the more you dance, the better you get. You cannot expect to become something if you take a class and leave. Dancers think about dancing 24 hours per day. Some people work very hard in class and then do nothing in between. Some work more outside class. Some take privates, study other forms of dance, gymnastics and a myriad of other disciplines, too. Some are not sure about ballet. Everything changes all the time and it is common for the parent to be in one mind and the student to be typically of another with respect to their training and wishes. Who knows more is very difficult to say, but you can rarely separate the two ideologies until the dancer matures, comes into her own, progresses. I believe ballet is its own discipline and a strict and jealous master. She believes that, too, perhaps more than I do. Once asked how she prepared for surfing, what exercises she did to strengthen for surfing, a champion surfer said, “surf.”We have discussed what made me dance, why my daughter took a ballet class, but what kept her there? She did, and I did by taking her. But her happiness and zeal for learning drove me to it, forced me to endure it, and then, only begrudgingly, did I take a sort of pride or happiness in it, when I happened to catch an improvement in a step, a jump, an expression or a force-then I was truly pleased.
These two elements are key-and I know a few mothers who take their daughters to dance and the daughters do not apply themselves. They do want to be there, but they do not want to work and they do not want to become professional dancers! You cannot make someone a prima ballerina. They have to do that, they have to have it all, not you, so stop kidding yourself that when they are 14-15 they will not quit, get a boyfriend, do something else, and it can happen anytime, maybe unwittingly. All that work and labor and emotion down the toilet so you say, but it becomes part of them forever, and no matter your broken heart, they may find another career more realistic, or they may just decide that they are not really interested in working against their flaws anymore, or they are moved to do something else. Whatever the case, I think you will find they are improved as a person by the experience of ballet school. You might be best advised to find another pastime and let them do their thing, see what comes of it and not take it so seriously, for you will not matter in their or the world’s final assessment and decision. Letting go is hard, but I recommend it, eventually. I think that my friends are right in bringing their daughters regardless of the outcome, because children test you in so many ways, even threatening to hurt themselves with actions that they are aware will hurt you, too. But, if you hang in there, you send your child more positive messages than negative ones by your example and different kinds of positive reinforcement.
What makes people dance? I mean study dance, be drawn to it everyday, choose it as a way of life, a vocation, an avocation? What is it that calls to so many people on so many levels from so many walks of life and backgrounds, to know more, learn the language of dance? It is the only art I have ever known that encompassed all of me. It is usually because they are good at it. I have never known anyone to like anything that they were doing poorly in: math, sports, music, even socializing-you name it. Students who are good at it always find someone who is better. This is important because we learn, from those better than us, by watching. Also, if we are good at something, we feel rewarded by our efforts in it. If something is continually disappointing, then we lose interest. This is very self-evident in ballet. Perhaps parents getting involved in it and pushing their children into it, keep the rest of us, and our children from finding out that it is , not for them, as we are forced to wait to see if our own children have what it takes, aside from the politics, the same children getting the roles, and we would or they would realize more quickly how hard they need to work and exactly what they DO need to succeed. If you hang around enough though, your child does gets better, those children will sometimes drop out, body types change, interests do, too. So much can happen, just like real life, that you have to see it through,persevere. Much of this is up to teachers who interact with us in class and do not criticize too much, but rather give us things to work on regularly and pay attention to us as in, “You can do better!” and not, “You are hopeless.” But do not expect this to work-sometimes the tough tact is required for certain children to succeed and they like it. Other children do not like to be told they are wrong, cannot bear failure, and must be cajoled into liking it. No child is hopeless, in my opinion, but I am sure a lot of good dance teachers would disagree with me. There are many snobs, but be thankful, in a way, for the schools who take only certain students, protecting you from a too-submerged technique, because they could also be saving you a lot of money, and if your child still continues to dance, one day, they will be in the same classes with many of those students, and finally, they may exceed those students in some abilities or in their career. It’s all about the dancing and Keeping on Dancing! It’s funny, but there is definitely something to not quitting and continually working toward your goal. More about that in another post.
What definition of dance do you want for your children? Do you have a past affinity for dance, or rue lost opportunities or dreams? Do you want them to dance to be the best or to most enjoy the experience of dancing and learning and discipline? Do you want them to compete? Do YOU feel competition is the key to being noticed and being successful in dance or does your CHILD? Or do you feel the expression of dance is most important, the vitality and slow transformation of the body into an instrument capable of responding to directions to express beauty, emotion and strength or are you of the opinion that your child can do anything you MAKE them do? Children aim to please, but to demand too much of them, even if successful can mar them for other things in life, as in “parenting.” It is one thing to believe in your child’s best abilities, but it is another to hound them about things you perhaps want for yourself, as a justification of yourself as a parent, as in having the BEST children, better than anyone else. I believe a lot of people think like this and they send their children to dance, trying to find the perfect place for their children to succeed, but I have also seen the work of ballet take over and transform those parents into believers of ballet in general, and to sort it out. And if you kept the parents completely OUT of the studio, politics and business it would be a possibly better place-usually, but dance and ballet would not rise to level of importance in your community or the world, this way, in the ways that it has. Dance needs communicators and instigators, and activists or advocates. Agitators. There is a useful place for everyone in the art, I believe. Sometimes it comes down to finding your own best use. When we realize that we are all doing the same things it is laughable, really, but some people don’t like to be laughed at either. After all, the children aren’t bothered, why should we be?
This is how I found the dance studio environment, thirty years after giving up dancing, with my then eleven-year-old daughter and the answer is I was (completely) out of it, on the wrong foot, so to speak, and she was in it, trying to get on the right foot. Shame on anyone hindering her. But, what to do is puzzling, how to help them the best you can, parent etiquette, how many classes to take, what path, what supporting classes, what schools or teachers, what physical issues are there, what injuries, and a lot of other coverable topics that would clearly help parents to refocus some of that energy in a positive way. A no hands policy is just as bad as one of driving the car of your child’s life completely. A balance is sometimes hard to find and maintain. Her experience seems to be very very different than mine as I remember it. Can you separate the two parts of your own effectually? She has come farther than I did in a fewer number of years. She is solely dedicated to dance. I was not. Is this what I want for her, really? Is that, or should that be, my choice? The answer to that might be the key to everything. What about the rest of the family, financial circumstances, time? Could I have been mistaken? Was I in denial about what I needed to do and what is required of me as a parent? Am I still useful? How can you help and not be a hindrance to your child and to everyone else?
In many places ballet has become a competition-based pursuit, like gymnastics and ice skating were and continue to be. Sometimes the competition has become the basis for everything a studio does and that goes to the training as well. But you will be very hard put, in an advanced arena of teaching, to find one that does not do some competitions or tolerate students who have that desire. It has been a way for good teachers with good students to get noticed in the competitive selection process of higher education institutions like the Bolshoi or the Royal Ballet School, and helped to provide their students the consideration of companies and the world at large. A way to help students of ballet. A resort, or last resort. Also a response to parents who have demanded those guarantees, how will my child succeed if no opportunities exist for them in the field of dance without training at one of the elite schools, or from those who do not wish their children to have to leave home, give up education, etc. Jazz dance competitions have always been this way, but what about ballet? Are there two kinds and if so, is one better than the other? Has dancing changed or are dance classes at a lower level school always so political and performance selection focused? Competitions provide a student with an opportunity to show off their particular performance skills.
My mother always warned me against “performance” studios. Why? Are there some bastions left of excellence in the art of dance? Yes, many, in fact, now is probably the best it has ever been in this country, or the world, to find a reputable and caring place to study ballet, to have the best training, and the best possibility of achieving your goals in dance. Whatever may be said about the studios we have been involved with, they took my daughter and began or continued her in her path of excellence in dance, so there I did not err in my judgment or choices. They have all been exemplary in their way. They did care about her, but I may not have handled the situation correctly, or they may have left off communication misinterpreting our departure, etc. It takes work on both sides. Some studios may not be willing to go that far to keep your child, so my motivation, and hers, is to find someone who is willing to work with you. Some parents do not have that problem for many different reasons. You do have to guess and factor and plot and try, for your child.
In this environment, how do I communicate to my daughter the art of dance over scholarships, competition and “winning?” It is possible that this has been futile, because in the end, if she continues, this will inevitably be a required part of her training and to dissuade her entirely would be to her great disadvantage and she might even be missing an important part to her components as a dancer. The point is, I do not believe there is just one way. Successful studios continue to both promote competition and others to deny certain forms of it. These attributes are widely variable, not mutually exclusive and complex-each studio is different, and may change. I think to take a position one way or the other, without regard to waiting until your child’s future in dance is commenced, would be a mistake. Some considerations will not apply to you then and more questions will arise to ponder, make no mistakes! Keep your eyes wide open and your ears. Judge less, do more. Wait and see. Be proactive.
There are many other issues to discuss about ballet and I hope that this first post of our continuing saga in ballet will be helpful to those starting out. I mean to set the environment for an open communication for individuals to comment with their opinions, advice, and to share their own experiences and insight at length. I will not condone and do not mean to expiate against the virtues of one studio over another, for each has their place and merits consideration. While I might say things about the studios my daughter has been involved with, I intend to give no names, and to protect them from unverified slander, even from mysylph. While each of us may have our own experiences, they are personal, highly emotional and there are two sides (at least) to every story. They have helped my daughter on her path in ballet. Hers is not an easy one, for them, for me, or most importantly, for her and our situation is very particular-so is yours. So, let us rest in giving them the benefit of the doubt and let our own experiences and goals be the guide. They are all hard-working and provide good training.