Sunday, August 17, 2008

Memoir: The Ballet

Memoir: The Ballet

Ever since can remember, I wanted to be in the theater. Not just sitting in a theater, but performing on the stage. My first love was, like so many little girls, with ballet. After I experienced the magic of the ballet, I lived only to dance. The sound of the orchestra warming up was so thrilling in the anticipation of the moment when all the instruments would harmonize together and the rhythm and cadence would swell into melody. The curtain and lights would go up and my life would be transformed.

One day, I was taken to an open class for the families of students at the American School of Ballet. (This is the school for the New York City Ballet). My sister was old enough to take class but I was not. One had to be eight years old so that the bones of the feet could develop well enough to dance. I remember sitting there, absorbing everything until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I knew I could do all the steps that they were doing and better. I jumped up and joined the class. The amazing thing was, they let me.

There was some discussion after the class and the next thing I knew was that the school was inviting me to join. I was in heaven. I started taking ballet lessons after regular school and I loved the atmosphere and smells of the locker room and the studios. I don’t think I was prepared for how much work it was, but it was work I loved. My teachers were very strict and our positions had to be perfect. We never complained.

There was one Russian teacher who was very stern. She was tall and thin with high flaring nostrils that, to my imagination, would breathe fire. I was scared of her but she was a good teacher. I remember having an occasional class with Maria Tallchief. She was magnificent. She was married to George Balanchine, the director of the NYC Ballet. I was totally in awe of her.

I would collect all the photo cards that Capezio would give out with the ballet shoes we bought. I had my favorites, like Suki Schorer, Maria Tallchief, Tanaquille LeClerq, and Margot Fontaine. My best-loved coloring books were of the different ballets and my dolls were Mme. Alexander ballerinas. I would choreograph scenes in my head whenever I listened to music.

Somewhere around ten years old, I became more enthralled with the idea of becoming an actress. I hadn’t taken as many classes at the ballet school and I didn’t understand why. Many years later, when I was in my twenties, I asked my parents what had happened. They said that I had been asked to join the junior company of the NYC Ballet, but they didn’t want my life to be totally absorbed by ballet, so they made me stop. All I knew was that there was this big hole in my life.

Then, one day, I came down to the very fancy lobby in the girl’s school I was attending and my mother was waiting for me. This was most unusual and I knew something was up. My governess always picked me up from school. We got into a taxi and she, very seriously, asked me if I really wanted to become an actress. I said that I did and we went for an interview with the principals of the King-Coit School. This was a prestigious multifaceted arts school for children. We had art classes, acting classes, and, joy of joys, ballet. There, my teacher was the incomparable Tanaquille LeClerq, the next wife of George Balanchine, until she contracted polio on tour in Europe and could never dance again. I attended this school for several years and we did an off-Broadway play for a week each year. We got off from regular school for that week, so it was quite special.

This early discipline in the ballet has served me all my life in many arenas and situations. There is a part of me that craves that kind of dedication. It has played itself out in my careers as an actress, a midwife, and my Spiritual path. I am so grateful for the training I received in those years.

Prema Rose

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