I love reading memoirs. They are so interesting to me. Mostly, I like them because I think: "Now, here's someone like me. Someone who is ok with other people seeing inside her head." The difference, though, between me and the She's is this: they believe their experiences are worth writing down for others. I belittle my own experiences. I truly think I do this because I never reached my goal of becoming a soloist or prinicipal dancer in a ballet company. Heck, I never made the corps. In that world, clout is based on rank and success. Ballet-wise, I never had much success, so I've relegated myself to a corner where I tell myself that the things that happened to me don't matter. People want to hear about the lives of people who made it, right? I don't know. But, I have decided this: I want to write it all down anyway. So, here's my first little installment:
Tendue. Tendue. We love to do tendue.
Miss Sharon was my first ballet teacher. In my mind she has the face of the actress who played Corky on Murphy Brown. I do know that she talked in a baby voice that I loved and had a blonde, Shirley Temple-has-become-a-teenager kind of hairstyle. It was the eighties. Leg warmers abounded along with high cut legs on the leotards and shiny, very shiny, tights. I only have impressionistic memories of my first ballet classes. I was three years old. An age that I only now, as a mother realize is so young. Maybe it was even a ballet/tap combo? Or ballet/jazz? The memories all have a sweaty warmth to them and that smell that is unmistakable: shoe leather, foot odor, rosin, and people. It kind of smells like old books. I think the only other smell I love as much is the smell of my mom's hair when she would lean over to kiss me goodnight after coming home post-bedtime from a night out- the smell of Dior Poison, fajita's from Chili's, and second-hand cigarette's from the adjacent smoking section. I can't remember any details as clearly as I remember that smell from the studio.
I remember being excited about going. I do remember crying when my mom left, but I don't think it was on the first day. I also don't think it was the screaming, tantrum, shameful (to my mind) crying of the little girl who clung to her parent and refused to be comforted. My sadness was just a quiet little bit of fear at being separated and challenged to do something I didn't know how to do yet. It feels odd now to think of a time when I didn't yet know the vocabulary, when plie, relevee, and tendue were still Greek to me- or, rather, French. I now know many, many french verbs in active form. If we are ever stuck among French-only speaking people, I will sound very bossy as we try to make our way. The records that Miss Sharon would play were as crackling as a campfire. I remember the song: “Tendue. Tendue. We love to do tendue. See the way we relevee...”
I'm not sure that I remember my first recital, but I do have the sense memory of hugging my dad's neck as he carried me up some stairs to a different studio on a different day than usual. It was an upstairs studio, and there were cookies after. Mexican wedding cookies, I think, with all the powdered sugar. That must have been a recital- would have justified the cookies and fruit punch. I do remember one recital when (a few classes under my belt already; maybe I was 5 or 6) I had the distinct feeling that Mr. Bruce was counting on me to remember the dance and lead my fellow students through it. Looking back, it was a terrible, boring dance. A real phone-it-in job. I've taught enough creative movement and beginner level classes to know. The record skipped, or maybe the song was just the wrong version? Or played a bit too long? Not sure, but I do know that it did not go well. I could tell by the panic on Mr. Bruce's face that it was his problem, not mine. It was the first of many times that I felt the pressure to carry the show.
I remember that the teachers would always say to go home and practice. I did. I didn't know at the time that I was probably the only one, or maybe one of a couple, that did. I would practice a lot. I would stretch and run through the dances with my body and then just in my mind. I remember swinging on my backyard swingset and chanting/counting through the movements to my dances. We did a jazz dance to “Electric Youth” by Debbie Gibson; and, thanks to the home movie that was made, I still remember most of it and remember the chanting of the steps. I've had people be surprised by the fact that we dancers are speaking the movements in our heads while we dance. How else would we remember?
All those little courses at the Amarillo College gave me something vital to my future in dance: the sense that I loved to perform. I wasn't screaming and begging to be taken home. I felt early on that this was serious work. WE LOVE TO DO TENDUE. No messing around. People want to see some serious ballet performance. And I'm going to give it to them. As a firstborn child with a bent towards arrogance, I would not probably have kept on if I didn't think I was good at it. Miss Sharon, Lou Jean (like “Blue Jean,” she'd say), Mr. Bruce, I could tell that they were giving me more attention than others. They were impressed with my flexibility and attentiveness. I found my favorite thing at a tender age, and, thankfully, those teachers at Amarillo college made me believe I could do it.