April 4, 2014

D Is for Dance

Dance, especially ballet, has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Most dancers have an "I can do that" moment. Mine was watching Margot Fonteyn in the U.S. broadcast of the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. After I got over the "Why is she not wearing a princess dress?" moment, I started twirling around the living room (hey, I was 5, okay). After I made myself super-dizzy, I sat down, looked at my mother, and announced, "I'm going to do that."

Margot Fonteyn in Sleeping Beauty
Well, we had no money for dance lessons so several years passed without formal classes, I made do with dancing along with the people on the television variety shows. The summer I was 10, I was allowed to take a Parks & Rec dance class. It was the usual tap, ballet, acrobat crap, and I was the only one in the class who liked the ballet part. It was hard convincing the teacher to concentrate on that section. And, unfortunately, there was still no money for real lessons. Unlike today, organized scholarships and school programs conducted by large ballet companies were not available.

But I was determined. One day at the library, I came upon a terrific book by Thalia Mara with descriptions of all the exercises and even line drawings. For three years, until I was able to cobble together some money, I practiced at home with the book. (I checked it out so often they should have just given it to me.) Of course, I developed every bad habit you could imagine, but at least I learned the basic barre work. During that time, too, my schools had modern dance sections as part of physical education, which I always signed up for. Not the preferred start, but needs must.

Also, I read everything on ballet and modern dance I could get my hands on  books on technique, ballet stories, biographies, and dance history. Every month I sat in the periodical section of the library and read Dance magazine cover to cover and any and all the various quarterlies on the topic. Obsessive-compulsive doesn't even begin to explain it.

Igor Stravinsky, Adolph Bolm & Nana Gollner 
Hollywood Bowl rehearsal (1940)
Formal classes had to wait until I was 14 or 15, which is far too late. I started with two classes a week; within two months, I was taking every day and helping out the studio owner in the office to help defray the costs. I was at that studio for two years, when I began to notice I was the "star" pupil. I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to improve unless I took classes with people who were better than me.

Paul Petroff as the
prince in Cendrillon
So I switched to the studio headed by Paul Petroff and Nana Gollner, two former Ballets Russes and American Ballet Theatre principals. Paul's classes were the most fun; the combinations always seemed sensible and organic. Years later, I saw a video of the Royal Danish Ballet in class and recognized the combinations. Seemed like Paul's classes were more Bournonville than anything else. 

Two years after that, the studio closed. As sad as the closure was, it encouraged me to make the move to Los Angeles where I really lucked out  I ended up at the Gene Marinaccio studio. I thought my other classes were difficult  boy, was I wrong. They were pieces of cake by comparison. But, dang, after a year there, I was not only dancing the steps, but had a clear picture of the how and why. Gene took dance students and turned them into dancers  and quickly.

Sadly, a couple of years later, I had to quit dancing at the elite level. Bounced on injuries. It sucked, but life moves on. Back to college for the kid. I still took dance class several times a week, but it definitely wasn't the same, and it wasn't enough to be more than a hobby.

Many years later, my dance background and an English degree all came together when I was tagged to write about dance for the Las Vegas Weekly and the California Literary Review, and my own dance blog DanceBlitz.com. But that's another story for another time.


A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

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  1. Love dance.
    Glad you were able to pursue your passion as far as you did!

    Deeply Shallow

  2. It all falls in place at the end, doesn't it? Nice to read this, good luck with the rest of the challenge!

    1. Aarthi -- Things do have a way of working themselves out.

  3. Interesting to read the history of your dance past!

    D.B. McNicol
    A to Z: Romance & Mystery...writing my life

  4. What an awesome story of determination and passion! I'm now following your dance blog as well! :-)