In memoriam

Found out that one of my college dance professors (the one who taught ballet) passed away recently. Shocking and sad news.

This got me thinking about her impact on my dance life. And, unfortunately, as years pass our memories fade. In spite of the fact that I was in her class for four semesters, I don’t recall any breakthrough moments in class. I didn’t perform in any of her pieces (I was invited to, once, but I’d graduated a semester early and was no longer at the school at that point). And in my experience it’s the rehearsal/performance experience were most of the bonds are forged. Regardless, there are a few things that have been flitting around in my head as I’ve been thinking of her.

She wasn’t a woman who was effusive with praise. It was only doled out once in a while.

I remember a comment she left in my dance journal at the beginning of my second semester freshman year (I still have that journal somewhere) where she mentioned something about improvement over the past semester and noted that I’d “slimmed down.” I remember feeling pleased, but a bit put-out. Really? A weight comment? This is a liberal arts school, we’re not training to be pros here. Not to mention that I had recently lost a few pounds thanks to a stomach virus during winter break. Great diet plan. Thanks lady! In retrospect, I’m not sure she was specifically commenting on that weight loss. Come to think of it, I had slimmed down during the first semester of college (the reverse freshman 15?). I was the rare person who hit her peak weight during senior year of high school. That was the first time I ever really thought about my weight as anything less than positive (I had always been a scrawny kid so gaining weight came with a sense of pride up until that point). Around that time I started paying attention to my food choices (you mean lunch should NOT consist of eating the candy bars you were supposed to be selling for a band fundraiser?) and started making my own food concoctions at the fast food joint where I worked instead of eating off the menu. Then college started and A) I walked everywhere, B) I had to take swimming twice a week for the first half of the first semester because I’m terrified of water and failed the swim test (the first part of the swim test was: “jump in the water feet first” to which I said, hells no, just sign me up for the class), C) I was in dance class for 80 minutes M-F, and D) briefly suffered a delusion that I wanted to play women’s ice hockey in spite of the fact that I’d never played before and did dry land training with the team a couple times a week (I ran away once we hit the ice). I was probably the strongest I’d ever been and of course the excess weight had gone in the course of all that. I hope that might be what she was commenting on. But I was pleased to know she even noticed the quiet dancer who hid in the corner and that she saw progress.

Another memory was of her coming around during adagio at the barre and manually lifting my leg higher. I had no idea my leg could go that high! Those little things — corrections, manipulations, etc. — made me realize that I had greater potential and reminded me not to be satisfied with the status quo. I could, and should, reach beyond my current level. This also reminds me of a class maybe a week or two into a semester. We were all in soft shoes and she chastised us for not wearing pointe shoes saying that we’d had enough time to get back into the swing of classes. We didn’t have separate pointe classes, by the way. The girls in the advanced class were just expected to be en pointe unless there was a good reason not to be. I don’t know how that meets with current teaching guidelines, but for me I think there was a benefit to doing entire classes en pointe. It took away the pointe fear and let them become just a part of my foot and I know I was stronger for it.

So while I don’t have any particularly fond moments and there were no strong bonds between us, I know she played a huge role in my development as a ballet dancer. And I’m sure that during her career (largely spent at our college) she influenced a lot of dancers. Praising only when it was truly deserved and worked for, and yet letting the students know they were capable of more and not letting us settle for mediocrity. Her loss will be felt on that campus for sure, but her influence will carry on in our alums who had the opportunity to study with her.

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