Monday, February 24, 2014

All Things Ballet

I have long been drawn to all things ballet - afterall, I had my first lesson at age three.  I loved my black leather ballet slippers - the wrinkled toes tightened with thin grosgrain ties intrigued me.  I liked the stretchy short sleeved leotard too and the pink tights.  The ballet studio was in a little storefront and the mothers sat in a circle chatting in front of a floor-to-ceiling bay window.  I don't recall our pretty teacher's name but I do remember the day she interrupted our pliés to clap her hands at the window and shout, "Mothers!  Please be quiet.  My little dancers are trying to concentrate".  We giggled to hear our mothers being scolded. 

Half the fun of ballet class were the accoutrements:  the unique plastic "ballet box", a tote with a snap on compartment at the bottom, the perfect cubby-hole for slippers.  I loved the pretty ballerinas painted on the front too.  Recently, I saw a picture of "my" case on Pinterest and nearly squealed - I could almost smell the plastic.  My mother also gave me a tutu, frothy and hot pink.  But one night in a hurry, she perched it on top of my dresser lamp where it soon caught fire and smoked.  My bedroom had a strange burnt feathers smell for weeks.

I danced ballet for 18 years.  That translates into a lot of ballet slippers as well as tights, leotards, and costumes.   I eventually graduated to toe shoes and my first pair were found under the Christmas tree that year. What a thrill it was open that slender package, peel away the sparkle-dotted tissue paper to find silky shoes with tangled ribbon ties and the hard wooden toe boxes.  Mom tucked in some scraps of sheepskin too, knowing my tender feet would need it.  I adored the toes shoes and the magical pirouettes I could execute in them, however slow they were.

In high school, I attended Miss Sue's Dance Studio which was on the top floor of a decrepit old tenement with squeaky wooden floors.  Because we were older dance students, our class was held after dark and as we posed and stretched at the barre, the lights of the city showed through the grease streaked windows and reflected in the studio mirrors creating a bewitching backdrop.  Miss Sue was a young teacher, warm and vivacious, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette.  To give us a well-rounded dance education, she made us repeat the ballet moves after she recited them in her perfect French accent. Miss Sue had endless sylphlike legs and offered us beauty and health advice in between our grand jetés and battement frappés.   She warned us against too many soft drinks and snacks and urged us to concentrate on gracefulness of form and work hard even though it wasn't easy.  One night she asked if we would rather be the girl in a bikini on the beach next summer or the girl in her mother's swimsuit.  Her heady question inspired me.  I knew which girl I wanted to be.

Today, I love going to the ballet.  It thrills me with its intense beauty, swan-maidens, symphonic music, and artistry.  I am enchanted too, with poetic ballet-inspired clothing - surplice tops and ballet flats in traditional dance colors:  pink, black, iced blue.  And since I hurt my knee in yoga class a year ago, I work out to a ballet dvd now.  I'm amazed at how the French words make my feet respond before my head even knows what to do.  True, I won't be wearing a bikini again in this life, and ballet is still hard.  It is a truly fragile art form and yet at the same time, it is very resilient - having been kept alive for years and years through many triumphs and tragedies.  And that's what makes it so perfect for a sometimes fragile but always resilient woman like me.


1 comment:

  1. Just love this charming love letter to ballet. I tried to start ballet class and was told, in no uncertain terms, by the stern teacher that I was too tall for ballet. Perhaps, she sniffed, "tap"? I was crushed and channeled my young dancing energy into imitating Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and Ann Miller. But I do love that you love it, Donna...and I remember my shorter friends all importantly carrying that plastic ballet box to school on lesson days. Lovely post! Kay