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Chalk Dancers – study 2 – Pas de Deux
Nothing quite so exhilarating as flight now is there? Maybe Tania just believe that because she had heard it so often. Time to find out, how did I actually feel about flight. The opportunity arose when she was offered a ride on Pegasus over the bay at night. She was one of a a very few ever invited to do so. In fact very few members of the community were ever allowed entrance to the island camp. After all no-one wanted it to be known outside the value that flying horses and donkeys and fairies inhabited this valley along with humans. It was a special honour that she should be so entrusted. She was one of the last to take her turn. Tania’s lower lip had been sore for a a while from biting on it. She had learned to handle her flying, luggage carrying donkey, but only to fly her belongings around the secret camp, she’d be much to afraid to take it further than that.
It was more like twilight about five in the morning when it was at last her turn. She shook slightly but was not about to let anyone in on that. Tania had always felt dread and utter horror when about to try something new. Not in her character to let it show, not a chance. She took pride in her stoicism, it was a large part of who she was. In truth Tania was horrified every time she’d mounted a horse. Horses were big and capable of pounding her into a fine mush if they chose and she was entirely unsure of how they felt carting humans about. Tania thoufelt no envy or desire to change places with the winged horse or any horse for that matter.
Once solidly astride, some of the heart pounding fear dropped off. Tania was committed to the ride and so would no doubt get through it. She pulled my coat a little tighter around herself Tania thought she should really have worn something more accommodating to sitting on a flying horse.
“Nudge her”, said the stable boy. Tania almost bit her lip clear through. Sweat was forming on her forehead. She dug her heels lightly into Pegasus’s muscled body, Pegasus flinched a little. Obviously it was necessary to nudge with more certainty.
Sure enough Pegasus took to the sky in one great and confident swoop. So busy dealing with the fear was she to remember much of it or take any great enjoyment. That said, once in the air Tania was very much glad she had not totally chickened out. The view was utterly amazing. The cliff sides were so glorious in the early morning light. From up thee Tania could see clearly the cave entrance where the enchantress, warmly robed, could be seen in her early morning meditations.
The enchantress looked so serene in her elegant robes sitting in timelessness. Unlike mortals like me she knew exactly where the future would take her. Tania in her adulthood was going through most of her life blind sided by events over which she’d had no control. Well, enough envy. Envy is an unattractive state and not one to linger in. Not far away from her stood several of the donkeys, looking sleepily upward. Possibly wondering if it might be fun to come along with us. Maybe not, maybe just noticing that for once Tania had conquered the fear of flying horses and had taken a flight, after weeks of utter reluctance.
There were other more “human” views, bathers had startled at the mineral baths. Tania knew better than to wave, privacy is something we are all entitled to, and bathing was always private. Suddenly Tania noticed she had completely forgot to be afraid. Just then for one second, she was not afraid, not one little bit. Just as suddenly it all came back. Pegasus swooped and landed. Tania took sugar lumps from her pocket and brushed the amazing flying horse before going on her way way.
Before leaving the exclusive camp she was presented with a picture of the flight to remember the moment by, something for her to cherish, always.
Away 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.
Adults unlike children did not see the fairies with whom they shared the valley. Despite that the fairies did have a little something to do with their lives. Very often an adult shakes their head wondering why a lost object has just reappeared even though they’d looked for it right there many times before. Or a knot in the knitting yarn seemingly impossible to unknot becomes undone almost on it’s own. All the little things that cannot be explained away, that is the work of the unseen little people. They might be mischievous too and play little trick, turn the tap on a little as you walk away. Nothing really nasty, just mischief. There are rules the unseen world lives by, for instance horrible things are ever done to good people. Mischief is what monsters and gremlins are for. They don’t exist in the adult world, in part because adults do not want to believe in them, and besides that because they are helped to forget. That’s what fairy dust is for, to make the adults forget. Why is that? Why do adults need to forget and children don’t?
Adults don’t believe in fairies because they would ridicule each other for believing in them. Some of the unseen feared they might even be hunted down for research and put them in little cages in laboratories like they do with mice. Just a lot less complicated and much more safe for the faerie if adults do not believe in them. Children on the other hand, should believe in them, often a lonely child has only the little persons in the unseen world for friendship. The fairies just love children, fairies are very much like children themselves, always playing and taking delight in games and observing the natural world.
In the valley the only adult able to see the little unseen people was Big Slow Fred, to him they were very real, and the children soon learned they could talk to him about their small unseen friends and be believed. Sometimes Big slow Fred would even invite some of the kids to watch the goose races at his house with fairies mounted on the big fluffy geese and pixies urging them on. The fairies trusted Big Slow Fred and if he brought the children around they knew those were good children and could be trusted not to try and harm them. Occasionally a particularly nasty child had tried to harm the fairies by throwing rocks at them. the fairies with their magical quickness always got out of the way, but the geese might get hurt. Big Slow Fred would remind them that the gremlins would get them when they found out what a nasty little child he or she had been. Mostly the children in the valley were very good children, but it happened sometimes that a child did something nasty. Even here in the valley.
There are times that fairies and adults come face to face and all the adult is left no memory of it after a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust, and a feeling that all is well. The broad smile appears on their face and that can last a very, very long time.
Big Slow Fred still saw the unseen world, unlike children who, when they reached age twelve or so would stop seeing the fairies, pixies and dragons and the many other members of the unseen. big slow Fred would bring a slice of cake or pie to the evening goose races, to share with his friends the pixies and fairies (of course the geese were not forgotten either). His mom would give him a little extra knowing he would want to share. That is not to say that his mother believed in fairies or the unseen, but she saw no harm in letting Big slow Fred go on believing. Big Slow Fred was never lonely this way. since Big Slow Fred was expected to remain childlike his entire life, she saw no harm in his holing those beliefs.
Other parents would discourage at a certain age, their children to believe in the unseen. The unseen world except for those church figures such as God or angels. As the brains of children became mature, and those beliefs were discouraged the unseen became just that, unseen. They became the lovely thoughts of youth, of childhood, stories rather than real life. Real life is made up of what is just right at this moment in a very tangible way. Real life is always at any moment subject to change.
There were a few other members of the community in this peaceful valley still seeing the unseen. The valley was a wonderful place to live for the seen and the unseen. Those members other than Fred who were still seeing the unseen would not tell, for fear of ridicule, or worse. so, who were these people?
Well, normally if an adult happens to see a fairy, or, let’s say a dragon, then a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust will make sure they quickly forget all about it. It doesn’t happen often that for instance and adult would se a fairy or others of the unseen, mostly when there is a great sadness, a bump on the head or a little too much home-made wine.
Back to the fairy dust. Plain and simple it stops working on elderly or the very ill. They won’t tell you, because it hurts their dignity to suffer the giggle and snide comments. Some like our old Mr. Anshelm worry that their very unimaginative children (his son is the postman) will perceive him as quite crazy and send him to live in a home. Since no old folks home or long term care hospital exists in the valley, it means leaving this very wonderful place, this beloved valley to live in a big city. A big city with far too much concrete, and strangers with terribly busy lives. Most probably also there are few fairies here. After all how happy could a fairy be to live in all this concrete and glass.
So old Mr. Anshelm keeps it to himself that there was a time when he dropped his glasses, two very pretty faeries flew them right up to him and even place them carefully on his nose.. He was a bit frightened at fist, but then took a deep breath and looked again, and indeed there were two very pretty fairies giggling away bobbing and weaving in the air like hummingbirds.
Nowadays Mr. Anshelm’s very pleasant but dull son and the pleasant but dull daughter in law might leave for a day or two. Well, he manages quite well with a little help from the unseen friends. How wonderful for him this has been. His unseen friends will sit down with him and just talk or help him with those tasks that give the elderly man difficulty. Things such as picking up glasses when he drops them. After all without those glasses he could not see a thing.
Some evenings he drops by Big Slow Fred’s and together they will chat and watch the fairies, pixies and geese by the side of the old shed having their races, while sharing conversation and bits of cake and pie. Probably, Mr. Anshelm theory was that adults did not see fairies and the like, because they really had time only for raising new families and looking after their community. Their lives were already so full and busy. There really is no time in the adult’s life to deal with the unseen world. After all if you were consumed by day-to-day living the extra distraction by also being a part of the unseen world, well, frankly, he doubted anyone would be able to get anything done, most especially the much needed work like raising children or doing their jobs. Bakers wouldn’t have time to bake and teachers wouldn’t have time to teach., and, well, you get the picture, surely?
What a shame that children see the unseen and are thought to have wonderful imaginations, while should the old and the sick see the unseen and interact with them, they’d be accused of being crazy and are sent away. Surely, thought Mr. Anshelm, there is much good in the old and sick not feeling so lonely and unhappy when all the other adults are too busy with their own lives to spend much time with them?
Goose Races 2006
illustration – Winged Tales
Butterfly Ggarden 2006
Portrait of my Daughter 1998