FORTY-FIVE YEARS AND COUNTING

14 Jun

There were ten years of my life that didn’t include ballet – birth to five years old, and 12 to 17 years old, the latter being the years that allow you to meld a career.  So, I’ve danced for 45 years and am not a dancer. But ballet has fashioned me, formed me (and by all means not supported me). It’s my passion, my guiding force, my delight.

As a little girl in Brooklyn, New York (before Brooklyn was cool), I went to “Miss Lorraine’s Dancing School” where I was often singled out to be the star of the “recital.”  In those days the recital was often presented at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (before it was “BAM,” and before it was cool). My parents early on realized my “potential” and following the advice of Miss Lorraine  had me try out for and enroll in The Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, located in The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City at 1411 Broadway.

The building, which was overwhelming to me, occupied the whole block between West 39th Street and West 40th street in midtown Manhattan. And there I was, graduating from one to two, and then three to four to five ballet classes a week! My mother would take me there on the subway, or sometimes we’d drive – she’d wait in the lobby with the other moms or in the cafeteria across the street, waiting, waiting, while I took class upon class.

The school was under the direction of Antony Tudor (and later Dame Alicia Markova) and Margaret Craske – ballet luminaries – something I didn’t understand. Who knew Antony Tudor was one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, along with Balanchine, Robbins and Ashton? And who knew “Miss Trask,” as I called her, was a pupil of Enrico Cecchetti, the great Italian ballet pedagogue, and was teacher to ballet greats Melissa Hayden, Hugh Laing, Nora Kaye, Paul Taylor and Sallie Wilson? Oh my!

So there I was, wearing regulation black leotard with little short sleeves and my name embroidered on the front and back as requested. (My mother wasn’t much of a sewer – my name was stitched on in an embarrassingly crooked way and looked positively awful). In addition to my uniform of black leotard and pink tights, I had to wear a wide white headband – the ugliest thing– stretchy and quilted, like a bandana over the front of your head, tied with string at the nape of the neck. The year was 1962.

I remember smiling once at “Miss Trask” and she yelled at me, that I shouldn’t smile at her, what, am I trying to get on her good side? She was frightening, and always seemed angry. I remember in the middle of class she made us walk, walk, walk in a circle, toe to foot, just walk to the music, parading in a circle. So odd, thinking back.

People came to observe class, more than once. I heard they were selecting children to be “supernumeraries” in operas – Verdi’s Falstaff  for one. Many of my fellow students were selected to be “supers” in that opera – and I wasn’t picked. My mother took me home one day after class and said not to be sad, to understand that “I probably wasn’t the right type.” But not long after that I was selected – to be a little girl in Act One of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore  – a “bigger part.” Only two girls were selected for that opera, and instead of being one of many children in a crowded scene in Falstaff, I was on stage for most Act I in L’Elisir as one of the only children. I guess I was the right type.

Being on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House as a little girl – do you ever recover from something like that? After L’Elisir there were roles in La Giaconda, Parsifal, Faust and even Falstaff… I was like a rat pressing the bar for food – more class, more shows, more loving every minute. So, what happened to my career? My parents didn’t want to bring me to NYC five days a week, didn’t want me to have “the life of a dancer.” During those formative years between 12 and 17 I was pulled out of ballet school, no longer financed, no longer transported to 43rd street and Broadway and the “new” Met at Lincoln Center. Can you believe I auditioned for School of American Ballet – Balanchine’s school – and got in? But no, they’d had it. It was over!

It was over, but life went on. This Brooklyn girl returned to dance while studying English at New York University, taking class at The Joffrey Ballet School in Greenwich Village purely because I liked it – it was FUN. And then I continued on, taking class whenever possible, still doing so after all these years. Ballet is my comfort zone, my passion, that thing I do – it puts order in my life.  Lincoln Center will always be my home away from home.

And so I begin this blog – not as a professional dancer, but as a passionate unprofessional who in recent years had the good fortune to work with American Ballet Theatre as event coordinator for their Dancer Reunion (how about meeting ever dancer you’ve ever adored in your life?) and blessed with continuing on as an archivist and social media diva for The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust (a gig that evolved after coordinating their Tudor Centennial at The Juilliard School).

So I’m here to share my thoughts on ballet and give an inside peek behind the wings – past and present. Stay tuned… lots to come… merde!


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3 Responses to “FORTY-FIVE YEARS AND COUNTING”

  1. Tami Janoff Horowitz July 8, 2011 at 9:56 AM #

    So great to read these entries. I was a student of Madame Craske’s at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School and then when she moved to the Manhattan School of Dance at 78 5th Avenue. I danced as an extra in the operas at the Met, as well. I remember Spyri very well…loved her! I performed in Luisa Miller and was in rehearsals for Magic Flute when I auditioned and got a solo part in Franco Zeffirelli’s re-staging of Pagliacci. I did that for about 5 years and it was a highlight of my life. I recently reconnected with Teresa Stratas who performed the part of Nedda for most of the performances. She is still as beautiful and gracious as ever. Thanks for sharing and bringing back great memories.

    • AdriaBalletBeat July 22, 2011 at 5:52 PM #

      Thank you for your lovely comment.. seems like we have some shared history! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! A.

  2. 4dancers August 13, 2011 at 1:02 PM #

    I think that many of the the “non-professional” dancers who have had their lives steeped in ballet are more passionate than some of the dancers I’ve known. 🙂 I’m glad you have found a way to weave it into your life in a way that continues to make you happy.

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