Dance Stories – Pain as Dancer’s Path to Enlightenment

10722131_10152727610096067_178908513_oAway from home. A little frightening at 14 but I had an inner drive wanting to dance as much as ordinary mortals want to eat, drink and sleep. I did not want to dance, I had to, and then, in the late 60s, New York City was where a girl, badly wanting to dance would have to try and make it, before you were 16 and far too old to make it.

Arrangements were made, suddenly I had parents in New York, far away from “home”. Two men, who both worked as choreographers and directors, thrust into the role of parents to a 14 year old girl. They shared a very fashionable apartment on the upper west side, and I had my own room. It never occurred to me those days that Ron and Paul were gay. To me they were two men, lifelong bachelors who lived together. Period. They did not flaunt their sexuality, probably because tolerance even in NYC was minimal except within the confines of the theatre.

I was 14 but no one knew by looking. I could have been 20. I was tall, confident and looked like all the other little dancers. NO one questioned whether I was in the country legally or not. Frankly I don’t know if there was proper paperwork. something was worked out between my parents back in Canada and my new foster parents in New York.

Frankly, I think my father was glad for the break of being a parent and my mother had already moved back to Europe for a year r so with my little sister. Apparently the news of her older daughter (that would be me) being raped by he friend (or the vicious lie she considered that to be) required a lengthy vacation abroad. I was blessed with a mechanism to shut it all out and boldly move life forward leaving that wretched baggage behind. Ron had seen me dance, offered me a spot in a touring company he was artistic director for. After a summer doing back to back musicals in a tent theatre he suggested the new arrangements. I think I was his good deed. He will always be my hero.

Though my dream was to be in the ballet, ballet was the long shot and I knew it. There was a lot going against me succeeding. For one I did not have the impressive pedigree of most 14 year old prospective ballerinas. No scholarships at prestigious schools. NO letters of recommendation by teachers whose own careers would make one gasp. Nothing. My background was a series of stops and starts with good but not exceptional schools. The stops and starts had to do with how many times my family moved, and the lack of interest my parents had in me having any kind of career in dance. I was also taller than most girls in ballet and my knees and elbows were overextended. The ballet was populated by short ballerinas and even shorter danseurs.

Still, here I was in NYC, age 14, with a roof over my head, and an offer of a part time job sewing tutus to pay for taking classes, keeping me in pointe shoes and leotards. If I clocked enough hours I could even take a master classes at the Julliard, or at the Gelabert Studio. It didn’t take an awfully long time for my resume to be come respectable enough to take more and more master classes and more and more auditions for apprenticeships.

Living with Ron and Paul was a real education, not just in dance but in career management. Ron explained the rules of life.

Rule 1: You are not a dancer unless you can earn a living wage with it, so you never, ever, ever dance for free, never. Donating your time for a worthy cause is a good thing only if it guarantees a stepping stone to more and better work, and attach a dollar value to the time donated.
Rule 2: As long as your dance skills are equivalent to the pack of lies in your resume, and the pack of lies can’t be easily checked, lie, once you have the credits, drop the lies.
Rule 3: If it helps, change your name. In the midst of Russians taking a whole lot of dance jobs away from American girls and given that I still had a thick Dutch accent I put “sova” at the end of my name. When a few years later it became unpopular to hire Russian dancers (there was a strike at the American Ballet Theatre protesting the hiring of Alexander Godunov and the defection of Baryshnikov when we had perfectly capable Americans like Fernando Bujones). My name changed again and I worked with a coach to get rid of my accent.
Rule 4: I could stay as long as I was working and I had to go home to finish the school year at my high-school in Canada as per arrangement.

There was the predictable, no drinking, no boys and no staying out all night with friends. Little chance of that. I sewed, I danced I did my school work on time. Ron and Paul introduced me. In time they became like proud parents. I( was ever conscious of earning their respect and my keep. I walked their poodles, and their friends poodles. I ran errands. Unlike my real parents they took and interest. Even as inconvenient as coming to watch me dance far away in Pittsburgh, one of them showed up for every opening, hell, even in Baltimore.

There was an audition for a Broadway show requiring tap dancing skills, which I had none. I had seen a couple of Shirley Temple movies and nothing else. My mother thought tap dancing terribly lower class and no daughter of hers would engage in such pedestrian pastimes. I ran home to get my tights and leotards soaking in the sink, change into dance pants and tank top and beg Paul for some of his time to teach me enough tap to pass for knowing what I was doing.

Paul called someone who fixed up some tap shoes in my size I could pick up on the way. Typical of Paul he ordered them in red. He gave me the name of a good tap teacher on the way to the audition, step, shuffle kick, tap, turn, and so on. All put together in time for the cattle call. Paul may not have been thrilled to by a “dad” but he always came through.

Not the ballet, but my first steady paycheck in New York at age 14. Dancing seven shows a week there wasn’t time for a social life, just some hours here and there making more tutus for the New York City Ballet.

So ended the first month of my life as a dancer. It was 1968, my resume was still a pack of lies and I was considering changing my name to something Russian and I had same sex parents, I hadn’t been this happy in years.

2 thoughts on “Dance Stories – Pain as Dancer’s Path to Enlightenment

  1. Aletta, I suspect you have enough material for an very interesting autobiography. I will most certainly read it. Love, Sonja

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