Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dance Lessons (True Story Time)

Christmas morning! After all the presents had been opened and the candy eaten, Mom told Leslie and me that we had one more gift. "You are going to begin dance lessons," she said.
“Dance lessons!” squealed Leslie. “Ballet?”
“Ballet if you want, or you can take tap,” Mom answered.
“Whoopee!” I yelled, jumping up and down. “When can we start?”
Very soon the day came. After school we went to Studio Bochette. Through a large picture window, we could see girls in leotards and tights practicing in a sunny room. Some stood at a barre, watching themselves stretch in a mirror. Those girls had toe shoes and were learning ballet. Another group of girls, in tap shoes, waited their turn.
“Okay, girls, what’ll it be?” a cheerful lady asked us.
“We haven’t decided yet,” answered Leslie with dignity. “But we think we want ballet.”
“Well, while you think about it, come look through these toe shoes,” she offered, leading us to a small room with a large box of ballet shoes. We dug in eagerly, but all of the shoes were so big! After trying on every pair, and feeling like Cinderella trying on her step-sister’s big shoes, we gave up. The lady looked at mom and said, “Well, I know we have tap shoes to fit them.”
That’s how we decided to take tap dancing. We went in to a small dressing room and changed into our leotards and tights. They were both black, and so were the tap shoes. These shoes weren’t soft like the ballet slippers. They were like dressy church shoes, only they had heavy metal taps affixed to the bottom front. After we got them buckled on, we went into the studio with our class. The wood floor shone softly, polished by generations of dancing feet. We all stood in a line, wiggling with anticipation. Our teacher began our lesson.
“Watch and then do,” she instructed and she moved her leg quickly, flicking her foot and producing a tapping sound like a shod horse on cobbles. We all moved our legs quickly and all our shoes made sounds too - like a herd of elephants on steroids.
Laughing, the teacher showed us again, slower, and this time we sounded better. We learned to point our toes down slightly and “scuff” our feet quickly, almost floppily, against the wood floor. Every movement of our foot produced certain sounds, some heavy, some light and soft. Sometimes we moved quickly, sometimes slowly, toe, heel, toe, turn! This was fun!
All too soon the first lesson was over. And then we got a serendipity! We took our shoes off, but then our teacher said, “Come in here!” and led us all into a new room, one with mats on the floor. We got to do tumbling, too! Now we had two new teachers. They showed us how to tuck up like a cat and roll forward down the mat. I felt like a bowling ball as one teacher held me together and rolled me gently toward the other. I thought I could do it by myself. First I rolled off to the side and then I came undone, but they patiently tucked me back together and I rolled along straighter this time. After a bit of practice, our lesson really was over. We changed to our regular clothes and rode home with Mom, bubbling over with excitement and eager to return.
The next couple of lessons improved our technique. At the end of the third lesson, the teacher began talking about a recital. We learned we would wear costumes, like little Hawaiian girls, with flower leis and grass skirts. We began learning the steps, tap, cross the feet, turn. “Good, now your hands,” the teacher exclaimed. “As you cross one foot over the other, reach up, as if you are picking flowers off of a tree, and then gently put them in your imaginary baskets. Gracefully, girls!” Very gracefully she demonstrated, her hands moving gently. We practiced over and over, adding the hand motions as we tapped our way across the floor.
In tumbling we were learning to do back rolls. Leslie was much better at tumbling than I was. She could tuck up tighter and roll straighter. I wobbled more. I resolved to do better the next week.
But when the next week came, the phone was ringing as we rushed in from school. It was Mama saying she couldn’t leave work. “Oh, no!” we moaned.
“Listen,” she soothed, “it will be fine! I’m calling a taxi to take you to your dance lesson. When the taxi comes, go out and get in. The taxi driver will know what to do. Then I’ll be there to pick you up after your lesson.”
Wow. We were impressed. Neither of us had ever been in a taxi before. We heard a “beep-beep-beep” and looked out to see that the taxi had arrived. The driver was a very big man. If I’d been by myself I know I couldn’t have gotten in to that taxi, even if I had to miss dance lessons. I don’t know, but I think Leslie felt the same way. She looked at me and I looked at her and we looked scared. The taxi driver was in a hurry. “Come on, you girls, your mom said to take you to the dance studio.”
Well, he knew where we were going. That was reassuring. We got in the back seat and that helped some. We sat very close together. The taxi driver ignored us and that helped too. Then we were stepping out at the familiar small, white building and we were happy again. “We rode in a taxi cab!” we bragged to our new friends.
“Hurry, girls,” our teacher admonished, “you’re late!” The other girls were already going into the studio. We hurried to change and hurried out to practice. I looked at Leslie and she looked fine. But the teacher looked at me, and she laughed! Then everyone looked at me and they all laughed. I was bewildered. I tried to decide whether or not to cry.
“You hurried so fast you came out backwards!” the teacher explained, showing me the inside seams on the outside of my leotard. In the mirror I could see the tag sticking straight out on the back. The teacher took me back in the dressing room. She very kindly helped me to get my clothes on right side out. When we came back no one laughed at me anymore. Our music started and we worked on our routine. We knew what we were supposed to do, now. We had to tap, tap, toe, heel, reach slowly, turning all the way from one side to the other, all together.
I began to feel like a small Island girl. I could feel the sea breezes on my skin as I moved. The fragrance of the exotic flowers wafted to my nose as I gracefully picked them, placing them gently in the basket I’d woven from palm leaves. I couldn’t wait to wear a grass skirt.
Tumbling was still a challenge. We were learning to do a backbend. Leslie could do it by herself. She would stand with her legs slightly apart, arms up above her head, and lean her head back. Slowly she bent back until she could see the ground beneath and behind her. Gently she lowered herself backward toward it, palms stretched out. Over, over she’d lean until her hands were flat on the floor and her body made a bridge. She could walk slowly on her hands and feet, then bring her head and hands back up until she was standing! It looked fascinating - until it was my turn. At first the teacher helped me by holding me, her hand on the small of my back. But sometimes, when I leaned back, my feet would come up off the floor! I kept working until I learned to do a back bend too.
As the weeks passed, the recital moved closer. Now we practiced at home too. Our costumes were being made! Tumbling continued as well. We were learning cartwheels. I never quite mastered cartwheels, but Leslie could do them if she held her mouth just right! I could do about 3/4ths of a cartwheel. But you should have seen me do forward rolls! Even backward rolls. And I never put my leotard on wrong-side out again.
Finally the day came when our costumes were ready. We had to put them on and do our entire routine in them. This was called a dress rehearsal. Now we were as ready as we’d ever be. The night of the recital arrived! We didn’t go to the familiar studio. We went to the local High School. That’s where all the big productions were held. We had gone to rehearsals there for community plays in which Mom and Dad acted. Then we were waiting around, getting into mischief, learning “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater” on the piano, watching Mom and Dad in plays like “Fireman, Save My Child!” and “Charlie’s Aunt.” But this time Mom and Dad would be in the audience and we would be performing on stage! We had our costumes on, our flowers and our tap shoes. Giggling, we waited for our turn.
Teacher came and lined us up, reminding us that it was time to get serious. We were all in a line, smiles pasted on, when the curtain rose. It was a big, heavy, red, velvet curtain. As a man pulled a long cord, slowly the curtain went up. We could see rows of people looking expectantly at us. Where was Mama? Before we could find her and wave, our teacher was making “Phtt, phtt” noises to get our attention. We all looked at her and our music started playing - the same music we had practiced to over and over at our lessons. We began to tap out the rhythm of our routine. Tap, tap, toe, heel, reach high, turn. We smiled, danced, picked the imaginary flowers and placed them deep in our imaginary baskets. We were concentrating so hard, trying not to make mistakes. We danced our very best, trying to make our audience feel the ocean breezes of our island home. As we took our final positions, our music ended. Everyone clapped and cheered. We took our bows. We were dance recital stars!


steviewren said...

Great story! You've really captured all the emotions of young girls in dancing shoes. I've never been able to dance...and I also took tap when I was 4. I'm just not blessed with coordination. *Sigh*

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This was fun. I never took dance lessons.

And I never could learn to do a cartwheel either.

Technonana said...

Beautiful Story... I was never a dancer, but I had a cousin who did ballet, she walked around on her toes all the time!!
My granddaughter, Emilee, took gymnasics and she loves to do a bridge. Her brother, Jacob tries, but it never works for him!!

Sparky ♥ ∞ said...

That was a wonderful story!
Gosh, thinking about dancing brings back happy memories! I used to dance ... and sing. Mom started me in ballet before she died, then I moved up to Jazz dancing as I grew older. It taught me how to be more graceful, have good posture, a positive outlook and helped keep the weight off all those years. Regrettably I can't dance anymore (yeah, because of my neck) but I have wonderful memories of the freedom I once felt on the dance floor. ((Hugs)) ♥ ∞

Connie said...

Shuffle, ball change? This took me back in time to my children's dance classes (I never took dance) I could feel myself at your recital and wanting to clap!!!

Cherdecor said...

I loved your story. What a great life you have had!

Rosezilla said...

It's funny you would say that, Cheryl. That's a question I can never decide. I really hate talking about the bad things in my life, so I like to pick out the one good thing going on and write about that. This event took place during my parent's divorce. It was a bright spot, to be sure. These few weeks and the recital were the only dance lessons I ever had, but I treasure them.I guess that's why I like the verse at the top of my blog. I have learned it is possible to choose your focus, count your blessings and be content in whatever situation you find yourself.

GrandmaKathleen said...

You are a beautiful writer. You make me feel that I am right there too.
I never took dance, in fact growing up I was heavy and never could pass gymnastics in gym class. Climb the ropes, forget it, tumblesaults, no way.
I love to see children who are so well-balanced and coordinated. It always looked as so much fun even though I know you had to practice.

I also want to thank you for stopping by my blog,

Rachelle said...

Dance!!!! How fun!

Charli and me said...

Great story1 I never had dance lessons when I was little but I always wanted to go. When I got older I was able to take some and loved it.

Merle said...

Dear Rosezilla ~~ Great story about your achievments when young, which I hope helped you through your parent's divorce. So much better to dwell on good things and not sad times.
I am glad you enjoyed the ice cream story and the jokes. Take care, my friend, Love, Merle.

Ballet said...

Just like any other item of clothing, there are many leotards to choose from and depending on your individual needs, you may wish to buy leotards for a specific sporting activity. Or you may be buying one for your child who needs one for gymnastics class at school.

Susan said...

I think we all must be thinking back through memories around now! I love this story, and I, too, envy you getting to take dance. I wanted to, but to my very-strictly-religiously-raised parents, it was just a bit too "sinful". I remember watching recitals at Oktoberfest and just drooling over the girls on stage. I can relate also to your pain at the time with your parents' divorce. I think it's neat that you can remember the good times and hopefully focus on them! Thanks for sharing such a neat story (and photo!).

Shimmy Mom said...

Oh, I just relived so many dance memories. Thanks for the lovely story. I remember many a recital and it was a fun memory to relive today.

thedailydish said...

One word: FABULOUS.

Tracie, your stories are so absorbing, so descriptive, they're almost palpable. I just love them.

Anonymous said...

Me and my sisters like to put on ballets in the living room.I love to dance,and I love you!

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