At the Age of Twelve, I Envisioned Myself the Next Anna Pavlova of the Ballet World!
All kids have dreams of what they want to be when they grow up--and I was no exception. I envisioned myself the next Anna Pavlova--a Russian dancer considered by many to be the greatest ballerina of all time.
Here is my recurring daydream: On a gargantuan stage with romantic setting, I dance to the most beautiful music the world has ever heard. Dressed in my delicate tutu and satin toe shoes, I appear otherworldly--my feet barely touching the floor, my arms as graceful as the wings of a bird. The audience, overjoyed by my performance, are unable to hold back the tears. Thunderous applause and Shouts of "Bravo! Bravo!" echo from every corner of the theater.
Ahh--such are the dreams of the very young. . . .
Ballet Opinion Poll
Ballerina Dreams by Clement Micarelli
Anna Pavlova as the Dying Swan
Anna Pavlova Performs the Dying Swan
A Day in the Life of a Ballerina
Studio Rehearsal by Christina Mavaracchio
My Very First Encounter with the Wonderful World of Ballet
Through the eyes of a seven-year-old:
It all started when I was about seven years old, and my mother enrolled me in the local Ballet school. We were living in Illinois then. The only memories I have (and they are very hazy) is learning what tights, leotard, and ballet shoes were. I thought they were fun to wear.
I don't think I did very well in class, though. I really couldn't comprehend what I was supposed to be doing, and I have a feeling I was little more than an annoyance to the teacher.
Believe it or not, I still own one of the black slippers I wore way back then. What happened to the other one is the million dollar question. Hard to believe this ballet slipper is close to sixty years old!
My First Ballet Slipper
Dance Recital--Five-Year-Olds--These Little Girls Are Much Better Than I Was!
My Second Encounter with the Wonderful World of Ballet
Fast forward to the age of eleven:
In 1968, I was living with my family in Stuttgart, Germany. It was the second year of my dad's three-year assignment to Deutschland (Germany) as an officer in the United States Army.
Mom decided to enroll my sister and me in a dance school on post. Because of our different ages, we attended separate classes. I enjoyed my ballet classes, but was a bit self-conscious of my skinny body, so I wore a bulky sweat shirt over my leotard. This didn't set too well with my ballet teacher, and neither did leaving my hair loose. I was ordered to lose the shirt and tie up the hair. Oh well--at least she did praise me for my elevation, which spurred me onward.
One day, while entering the classroom, I did a double take: conducting our exercises was a strange woman. Not strange in the usual sense, just strange to a kid who was used to the same teacher day in and day out. The substitute teacher was Russian, and had a thick accent. All of us students gave each other sideways glances, responding to what we perceived as "weird" teaching methods. In actuality, she was better than our regular teacher; we were just unaccustomed to her strict teaching methods.
My favorite part of dancing, I was to discover, was performing in dance recitals. Wearing a costume and showing off my ballet skills to an audience was a thrill I had never known before. My teacher put on a short and sweet recital featuring not one, but two ballets: the Nutcracker and Peter and the Wolf. In the Nutcracker, I played a girl at the party, and wore a pink satin dress with white eyelet lace on the sleeves and neckline.
I was a bit disappointed in my costume, as I was hoping for a feminine tutu with fluffy tulle skirt. My older sister, however, wore an elegant blue tutu in the Waltz of the Flowers dance (also from the Nutcracker) with a matching tiara. I was green with envy. I don't know how my mom felt about it, but she's the one who had to sew our costumes. I'm sure it wasn't easy, especially when it came to my sister's costume with the multi-layered gathered tulle skirt. Mom was a good sport about it, though. She sewed other clothes for us as well.
One thing I was happy to discover during this time was I could finally do something better than my sister, Melanie, who was two-and-a-half years my senior--ballet! Mel, who early on proved to be artistically gifted, was perpetually immersed in some project--whether it be drawing, writing, or composing music on her guitar. I was forever in awe of her talent and innovativenes, and was surprised to learn that ballet, which I took to like a duck to water, didn't come easy for her.
My Sister Mel and I on Our Way to Our First Ballet Recital in Germany in 1968--I Liked Mel's Costume Better!
Me (at 16) Wearing Sister Mel's Ice Blue Tutu
Another Photo of Me in Mel's Tutu, Which She Later Gave to Me
Mean Girls Attempt to Stop Me From Attending Ballet Class
One day (while still living in Germany) I was minding my own business, strolling along to my weekly ballet lesson, when all of a sudden two older girls jumped in front of me chanting, "You're not going anywhere!" blocking my path. When I tried to dodge them and find a way out, they became even more persistent. "What should I do?" I thought. On impulse, I quickly grabbed both their heads and butted them together. Determined to get to my ballet lesson on time, I hurried away. When I felt myself at a safe distance, I looked back and saw that the two "mean" girls were on the ground--clutching their heads, moaning, and writhing in pain. "Did I do that?" I thought to myself. I never saw those girls again.
Visions of Ballerinas Danced in My Head
When I wasn't dancing, I would flop down on my bed and read, read, read. I took a special delight in reading ballet books. If there were lots of pictures of girls in tutus, so much the better. I hate to admit it, but I liked the pictures of the ballerinas in one library book so much that when I returned the book back to the library, it was missing a few pictures. Oops! They're still around somewhere; I promise to add them to this page should I happen to stumble across them in the near future.
I learned about great ballerinas, famous choreographers of ballets, and famous composers of great ballet music; I read stories about girls like me who danced the ballet; I read educational books about ballet positions--I read everything about ballet I could get my greedy little hands on.
Whenever I read a story, I was whisked away to another dimension. I became the ballet heroine who overcame insurmountable odds to achieve her goal--that of becoming the world's most beloved ballerina.
Susie Ballet Books by Lee Wyndham
The Beginning of a Life-Long Love Affair
As a child, I absolutely adored Lee Wyndham ballet books, especially the "Susie" series. I bought my first Susie book when I was around nine or ten years old--that would be in 1966--'67. My mother took me, my younger brother, and older sister, to a Halloween carnival, held at the school my sister and I attended. I remember they had games for prizes, such as the cake walk and fishing game, where you threw your line in, and the person behind the wall (we weren't supposed to know that, though) attached a small paper bag to it filled with candy and small prizes.
There was one room there that really captured my attention: It was a thrift store of sorts. Apparently, people had donated their unwanted items so that they could find new homes with the Halloween carnival attendees. My eyes zeroed in on a book with an illustration of a young girl up on her tip toes in a ballet pose. It was appropriately titled, "On your Toes, Susie!" by author Lee Wyndham. Needless to say, I found my mom and asked her if she would buy it for me, along with a delightful satin-covered one-room dollhouse (that a doting mom had once fashioned for a dear daughter) with a vanity with mirror inside, both beautifully covered in the same white satin material. My brother found an item or two as well; I can't remember what he bought, but I'm willing to bet it had four wheels and rolled!
My second Susie book, "Susie and the Ballet Family," I was pleasantly surprised to find during a book fair at the school I attended in Germany. I didn't pay much for it--fifty cents tops! During this time, I was twelve years old and enrolled in a wonderful dance school on post.
"Susie and the Dancing Cat" and "A Dance For Susie" I purchased in recent years online. And yes, I have read them--at least two or three times! I adored the Susie books as a child, and still feel the same way today! Lee Wyndham had a way with words--she really knew how to inspire and captivate a young audience. She wrote many other books as well--stories about the ballet, candy stripers, traveling to other countries, growing up, and all sorts of adventures! I feel very fortunate to have grown up reading Lee Wyndham books and they have always been a special part of my life.
My Third Encounter with the Wonderful World of Ballet
The Slacker Ballet Teacher
My next encounter with the wonderful world of ballet took place after my family and I left Germany and moved back to the states. We were now living in the small town of Jacksonville, Alabama. Shortly afterward, my dad was sent to Vietnam; it was 1970, and the Vietnam War was still raging.
A new dance studio had just opened up in the neighborhood, and I was very excited! The teacher taught ballet and baton during her one hour lessons, and I would get to participate in dance class once again. On my first day in class, my teacher said that we would get to perform in the Jacksonville Christmas parade as baton twirlers. If we would provide the money, she would purchase the material for the costumes, and our mothers would sew them together. I had never been in a Christmas parade before, and I was ebullient.
On this first day of class, while we stood there eager to start our lesson, our teacher spent a minimum of thirty minutes sitting cross-legged on the desk while chattering away on the telephone, oblivious to her frustrated students. "This is just a one-time thing," I thought to myself. "It will get better." But it didn't. Just like the movie, "Groundhog Day," every class was a repeat of the last. As a matter of fact, the phone chattering got even worse.
When I told my mother what was going on, she was livid. Rather than pay good money to a teacher who had rather talk on the phone than conduct class, Mom took me out. Such was my short stint as a baton-twirling ballerina at the age of thirteen, and I never got to perform in a Christmas parade, either!
Don Quixote--Daniil Simkin
My First Ballet Concert
An Evening of Magic
In 1971, when I was just a few weeks shy of fourteen, My mother took me to see my very first live ballet performance at the Anniston High School auditorium.
It was a magical night, and I was bedazzled and starry-eyed by the spectacle unfolding before me. The National Ballet performed Swan Lake to perfection. Even though the dancers were handicapped by such a small stage, the performance was just beautiful, and it greatly inspired me.
Although I still had no ballet school to call my own, I continued to practice at home almost daily, to a wide selection of ballet music from my parents' musical library. Watching the National Ballet in concert pushed me to try even harder, and I kept my hopes up that I would attend ballet school again in the near future.
Later on, my mother talked a merchant into giving her the poster (which was in the shop window) advertising The National Ballet's concert. Mom of course, handed it over to me, and I tacked it up on my bedroom wall. There it kept company among all my other ballet-related ephemera for many years. About thirty years later, I had it framed; it has been on my wall ever since.
My Fourth Encounter with the Wonderful World of Ballet
Lola, Lola, Lola!
In 1971, after my dad returned from Vietnam, our family moved to Daleville, a small southern Alabama town adjacent to Fort Rucker. It was here that I discovered a shabby dance studio known as "Lola's Dance Studio". A quick hop-and-a-jump from Daleville High School (the school I would be attending), I could easily walk the short distance to my lessons, which would be held twice weekly during after school hours.
The ballet mistress was, of course, Lola, a chain-smoking, bleached blonde with bright red lips and bold eyeliner--wearing black ballet slippers and unashamedly flaunting her rotund belly in a form-fitting leotard.
Our dance routine consisted of fifteen minutes of barre strenghtening and stretching exercises, followed by fifteen minutes of floor exercises. During the last thirty minutes of class, we worked on our dance numbers for the annual dance recital. Lola also tested our knowledge of ballet terms, which are in French. While I wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed at picking up new dance routines, I took solice in the fact that I had a great memory for ballet terms, and I was able to answer almost any question Lola threw at me with accuracy. Funny, but I don't remember Lola calling anyone by name; It was always,"Hey--Dingbat!"
At the end of every year, Lola would hand out trophies to everyone--and I mean everyone. Even the kids who were pretty rotten got a small "participation" trophy. For my first year, I got a "Most Improved" trophy. Although the trophies were cheaply made from plastic and pot metal, I was pleased as punch to get one. During my last couple of years with Lola, I received a large "Best in Class" trophy.
The high point of my ballet career was receiving my long-awaited pair of white satin toe shoes at the age of fourteen. I couldn't wait to perform in them--just like my idol, Anna Pavlova. Unfortunately, dancing on pointe also meant dealing with corns, calluses, aching feet, and bleeding toes. I spent many hours soaking my tortured feet in Epsom salt.
During my last year at Lola's, I was an assistant ballet instructor, helping Lola with the beginner class. The majority of kids were so young they basically just hopped around like hyperactive toad frogs, but there were a couple of students that showed promise. I didn't make much money--only nine dollars a month, but it was something to occupy my time, and a good experience for me.
Tickets From My First Ballet Recital at Lola's
Learn to Dance on Pointe
This Learn to Dance on Pointe DVD is a great way to help your child or grandchild improve their technique at home and master the art of pointe dancing.
The Weird Kid in Tights
Eat, Drink and Sleep Ballet
Since my ballet lessons were right after school, I wore tights and leotard (the leotard was actually the body suit you see in the photo above) under my clothes so I could walk straight to Lola's without changing clothes.
I'm sure I must have been a peculiar sight to the other students, strolling down the halls in my strange attire (most noticeably when I wore dresses), but ballet took precedence in my life, and I pretty much wore blinders when it came to non-ballet things. I can only imagine what the other kids must have said about me behind my back! Lol!
At home, I spent countless hours stretching and practicing at my ballet barre (which my dad made for me for Christmas) as well as pirouetting and leaping to the music of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker Suite, to the chagrin of Melanie, who shared a room with me.
I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for ballet. It provided me with exercise, a purpose in life, excitement, and pretty costumes. Ballet also gave me an appreciation for classical music: I developed an acquired taste for Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Camille Saint-Saens, and Debussy. Most important of all, ballet kept me out of trouble during those turbulent and troubling teenage years.
Ballet on the Brain Syndrome
Ballet on the Brain Syndrome Results in a Fight!
During my ballet heyday, I pretty much thought of nothing but ballet--I had "ballet on the brain" syndrome. I had my mind made up that I was going to become a great ballerina, and nothing was going to stop me from attaining that goal. I was constantly dancing like a complete idiot around the house, whirling, spinning, and leaping. I figured the more I practiced, the faster I would get to those bright lights, huge stage, and audience who worshiped me! I'll tell you one thing--worshiping me was the furthest thing from my family's minds!
I not only danced in my costumes and leotards, I danced in whatever I happened to be wearing, whether I was in shorts, pants, or dresses. I have no doubt that my constant performing was a blight on our family unit, especially on my sister, Melanie, with whom I shared a room.
Since I resided at the front end of the room, and Melanie at the back, I would often be in her way (to the bathroom we shared, or in and out of the door) while practicing at the ballet barre. Needless to say, a few choice words would be hurled back and forth, and we even got into a few physical scuffles, one of which resulted in my mother bursting into the room to see what the commotion was about, only to find my sister sprawled out on her back in the floor! Years later, after all of us children had moved out on our own, my mom would bring up the incident from time to time, and it would always make us laugh. Oh, the joys of motherhood!
Me and Melanie in the Early 1970s
The Perpetual Dancer
Ballet Girl in Her Bedroom--Christmas, 1970s
I Was Peter Pan in My First Ballet Recital at Lola's Dance Studio
Dance Recitals and Poor, Poor Tommy G: A Comedy of Errors
In my first recital at Lola's, I was a character from Peter Pan. I hated the costume, which was green felt with jagged red collar and red belt that tied in a knot at the waist--very unfeminine and childish, in my eyes. "Oh well, better luck next time," I thought.
My mother, who was in the audience watching our "marathon" (it lasted approximately 180 minutes) recital, later told me that she couldn't contain her laughter upon seeing some of our girls primly performing their tap dance numbers in tattered black fishnet stockings, a sight which make them look as if they had been battling with an enraged grizzly bear.
At every recital was the only boy enrolled in Lola's Dance Studio--poor, poor Tommy G. Tommy was a skinny, bespectacled, non-demonstrative kid whose eyes were always looking down at his size twelve feet. He took tap lessons--unwillingly, as was apparent from his "I just want to crawl in a hole and die" demeanor. And, to add insult to injury, at every single recital, Tommy's mom was there--smack dab in front of the stage, 8 mm movie camera in hand, filming every stilted move that her blushing baby made. Poor, poor Tommy G. I wonder if his life was forever scarred by such a traumatic event.
The Daleville High School Talent Show, 1972--'73
A Not So Perfect Performance
In 1972, I enrolled as a contestant in the Daleville High School talent show.
When my number was called, I stood there in my little white satin tutu, adorned with blue daisies, with my long hair coiled on top of my head and one hand holding a bejeweled fan that Lola had lent me as a prop. When I saw a sea of eyes boring into me, I started shaking like Barney Fife, but began to relax as I performed my number. I managed to finish my dance without a hitch, and a few minutes later, I was surprised to hear the emcee announce a triple tie. Three of us, including me, would have to perform our numbers all over again. Eek! Did I have to?
So, out on stage I scooted (for the second time). All was going well until I began my hands-free split; when my foot suddenly slipped on the slick wood floor, it caused me to topple over. "Well, old girl, looks like you've lost this one," I thought. I got up and continued my dance, but in my heart, I knew it was a lost cause. The other two contestants subsequently performed their numbers (without mistakes). When the judges made their decision, I won third place, and was presented with a plaque. Even though I had hoped to win first, I was very proud of my award. One girl who didn't win an award, and was crying loudly, asked to borrow my plaque so she could see her teary face in it. I thought it a little strange, but complied with her request.
Someone from a local newspaper came to take photos of us (the winners). Out on stage we all went, along with our smiling mugs. Someone told me my picture was in the paper, but I never got to see it because my family didn't subscribe to the Enterprise Ledger.
When I got back home, the first thing I did was hang up my prized trophy on my bedroom wall. Surrounded by pictures of twirling, leaping, and gesticulating ballerinas, it was in very good company, indeed.
The Daisy Tutu I Wore in the 1972--'73 Daleville H.S. Talent Show
I Finally Get To Choose My Own Costume and Tiara!
My royal blue tutu is the first and only ballet costume I actually got to pick out myself; all the others were selected by my ballet teachers at the time. I was so excited to choose my own, yet it was a very hard decision to make, since there was such an amazing selection of costumes in the catalog I was ordering from. After what seemed like a lifetime, I finally decided upon the royal blue one--I was captivated by its vibrant color! After I chose the tutu, I then had to pick out a tiara to go with it--equally hard! After Lola submitted my catalog order, it took about six weeks for my costume to come in. I still have the tiara; I have kept it in an old dresser drawer all these years. I also have the royal blue tutu--it's hanging in a closet in the spare bedroom. Funny thing is, as big an event as this was in my life at the time, today, I can't even remember what ballet I wore them in!
My New Royal Blue Tutu and Rhinestone Tiara!
My First Rhinestone Tiara!
Performing an Arabesque in My Royal Blue Tutu in 1973
Swan Lake With Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev
Riding High Upon a Cloud
In 1972, Lola took some of the class to watch the tragic ballet, Swan Lake, in Atlanta, Georgia. Performing would be ballet greats, Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev.
While driving on the freeway, Lola, in her usual manner, puffed non-stop on cigarettes with the car windows tightly rolled up. We all struggled to breathe for the duration of the trip.
When we finally got there, I couldn't believe how humongous the stage was! And the scenery! The stage was dark with rippling water, weeping willow trees, and moonlight, lending an aura of mystery, drama and romance.
Nureyev dazzled everyone with his over-the-moon jumps and lightning-fast footwork. I couldn't believe it when Margot, balancing in a perfect arabesque en pointe, appeared to stay there for a good "thirty" minutes. What balance and beauty!
In the midst of all this magic, I was serenaded by a live orchestra--what joy! I hoped to never come down from the fluffy cloud I was riding high upon on this beautiful summer night.
After the performance, we returned to the hotel we were staying in. For the next two days, we attended dance classes and even entered a ballet competition. Unfortunately, when it came time for my performance, the judges' penetrating stares rendered my mind dysfunctional, and I forgot some of my dance steps, so I improvised. I did the best I could, but knew in my heart that I didn't win.
When the competition was over and the winners announced, a group of four eleven-year-old girls in matching dirndyls and braided hair won the group competition (I was very impressed by their perfect synchronization), and a beautiful teenage girl won the solo with her flawless performance. I learned a lot about professionalism that day from observing these talented winners.
Have You Ever Taken Ballet Lessons?
Ballerina by Edgar Degas
My Last Ballet Recital
It was 1974, the year of my last ballet recital at Lola's Dance Studio, and we were going to present the ballet, Sleeping Beauty. I was tickled pink when Lola said I would have the starring role of Princess Aurora.
I remember that Lola picked out the costume herself, and I wasn't too crazy about it. It looked like something that an Isadora Duncan-style dancer would wear to me; give me tutus with fluffy tulle skirts any day.
My mind draws a blank when I try to remember the day of the recital. I do remember performing in one recital at a school that had several huge dead rats lying belly-up on the floor of their "luxurious" basement "dressing room" that was provided for us to change into our costumes. This may well have been the scene of my last recital. Talk about a creepy experience!