Sunday, March 6, 2011
Even at a very young age I never let anyone else make up my own mind. So with very little encouragement from the outside world, early on, I decided I was pretty darned remarkable at – well, just about everything.
You might think a skinny six year old with a giant Biafran belly would have qualms about the lines of her arabesque. Think again. I apparently had no body image issues whatsoever, and have the leotard pictures to prove it.
“Hold in your stomach, for Pete’s sake,” my mother would say. And that was the first piece in a long list of motherly advice I chose to ignore.
My future as a dancer faced greater obstacles than an impressive midsection. For openers, there never existed a glass of milk I couldn’t spill or a dish I couldn’t break. In other words, there was the little matter of grace.
But what my ballet lacked in finesse, it made up for in joie de vivre -- enthusiastic grand-plies throughout the house that left a trail of ceramic wreckage in their wake.
Even this challenge seemed surmountable. Didn’t seem like a challenge at all, really. Nothing is a challenge if you don’t know it’s there.
My ballet teacher was 150 years old, with scraped back black hair. Her face was white, her eyes were dark, and her mouth was red. She too had a thing about leotards, though modestly wore a diaphanous skirt over hers. Sometimes she’d strap on her pink satin toe shoes to demonstrate an Attitude en Pointe for a second or two, until gravity called her back to earth.
Her name wasn’t Madame Odlfdkfjski; it was Madame Thompson. Betty Thompson had a ballet studio in the basement of her house, adjacent to the laundry room.
And the reason she figures in this story is that my ballet survived every possible obstacle except her death. One week my mom drove us to Madame Thompson’s house, and no one opened the door. Her VW, though, was parked in front of the house and had a car cover on. We drove to class the following week, and the VW was still parked by the side of the road, but now the cover had a layer of snow and leaves.
Anyway, my guess is that no Natasha in Seattle could match Betty’s prices, so that was the end of my ballet career. Next stop was gymnastics, as someone’s older daughter offered classes in their basement. And this time I was good. Because in gymnastics your hands and legs can’t wave about in space, following their own unforeseen and capricious destiny. Your mind can't stand idly by; everything has to work together or you’re a dead duck.