Rite of Passage

new shoes 1

Yesterday I had a heartening message from the mother of a very talented former Knoxville Ballet School student.  The subject line was Homework on Pointe, and the jist of the message simply, I don’t even know if I can get them off her to sew the ribbons and elastics.  This from a ballerina mom not so unlike my own after her ballerina wannabe daughter’s first pointe shoe fitting.  This young student is one of a small handful of mine who attended Young Dancer Summer Workshop at American Ballet Theatre’s NYC flagship facility last year, and whom I was so looking forward to teaching for the 2012-2013 academic year before my life came unglued; she had been mine from the get-go, arriving as a Primary Level student at age six or so.  Ballet teachers can be proprietary when it comes to gifted students, and I am unabashedly so of this one and a few others.

new shoes 2

Today her mom sent me another photo showing very nice rotation on her standing leg (for the uninitiated:  this is important).  I spent a while reflecting on my own first clunky pair of Capezios, and remembered the three-way argument between my mom, my instructor, and myself, in the ancient hallways of Memphis Ballet School.  My Russian teacher–a School of American Ballet-trained dancer and a George Balanchine disciple through and through–insisted I was ready.  My mom, whose training was of a quieter Canadian brand influenced by the staid English, insisted emphatically that I was not.  The three of us stood there arguing after my technique class one afternoon when I was about nine; I positioned myself strategically behind my teacher with my arms folded in defiance, my mom standing opposite, and when everything was said and done, I emerged victorious.  I could sense my mom’s irritation, but the result of that argument felt worth every drop of consequences that might be awaiting me on the long car ride home.  My teacher–and my mom–went with me to my first shoe fitting, and the child in these photos may as well have been me.

Shortly after my arrival in Vermont my new employer handed me the task of fitting a crop of young dancers–about the same age as my student here–in their first pointe shoes.  I brought with me a relatively recent credential as a certified fitter for Gaynor Minden, and it was put to the test right away.  Again I witnessed that important young dancer milestone, but from the other side and with improved fitting techniques and modern materials.  I now share the teaching responsibilities for that particular group of girls with my colleagues, and sense a gathering attachment to them with each passing week.  It is exciting to be part of the process of forming a young ballerina.

Mom and I still argue like crazy, occasionally loudly.  We don’t see eye to eye on many things, including some of the finer points of classical ballet training.  But we do agree on many, many things, and I remain indebted to her for agreeing to take on some of my students who are serious about ballet and who have been left with limited training resources after Knoxville Ballet School’s premature demise.  Thanks, mom, again.  And thank you for pushing these girls across yet another important threshold.

Mom in yellow

7 thoughts on “Rite of Passage

  1. What wonderful memories of pointe shoes with no laces!! I travel from Knoxvegas to Mobile next month to celebrate, attend, and (hopefully not fall on my butt) rejoice at the Sheffield School of The Dance 70th Anniversary reunion gala in Mobile. May I share this blog link with my friends? All the best, MJ

  2. One of my fondest memories is going with my father to the real Capezio place in Manhattan to get new ballet slippers. They gave you what can only be described as dancer trading cards and real live dancers were being fitted right next to me. I didn’t become a dancer and it was over 50 years ago but it still makes me smile.

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