Two simple words heard routinely in the context of the ballet studio during the learning process. Implicit in them is the notion that you have internalized one phrase or movement sufficiently to move ahead to the next.
When I closed my small school in Knoxville two and a half years ago I (wistfully) left behind the beginnings of critical mass, but also a handful of kids emerging as young dancers with the potential to work in the ballet world, should they choose that life. I had spent nearly six years shaping some of them in the classroom, and helping their parents learn how to navigate the trappings of ballet school, and how to be intelligent and discerning consumers of ballet in general.
Then came wailing and gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair when I turned the school’s deadbolt a final time. And so many questions. Foremost: what do we do now? I made the best suggestions I could for my loyal ballet families under the circumstances. I sent some of them to other local schools. My mom agreed to teach a few who were willing to travel two hours one way to see her; the logistics of that arrangement ultimately did not work, for anybody. At least one family relocated to a big city, where there were many more opportunities for strong training, greener pastures, as it were.
I recall something my mentor and advisor, Raymond Lukens said one summer afternoon in 2009 to a roomful of sweaty teacher trainees at American Ballet Theatre. I am paraphrasing, but more or less his message was that we must teach our students to survive without us. Of course, I think he meant older students who were closer to liftoff. Not so much the tender, gifted pre-adolescent children like the ones I had the great privilege and joy of teaching nearly every day of the week.
I worried about them. This is a proprietary thing that happens, I think, when you have invested so much careful training in a child, to be toyed with (potentially) in the hands of some unknown quantity elsewhere.
Last week I had a little lift, a message from one of my former school parents. She and her husband and young daughter (my erstwhile student) would spend Thanksgiving week in NYC and wanted advice about finding a perfectly fitted pair of pointe shoes at the epicenter of the ballet world. We swapped messages back and forth about the location of Gaynor Minden’s quiet, unassuming storefront, a pointe shoe company where only a few years ago I undertook an afternoon of fitter training from my friend and colleague, Karen Lacy. In no time flat Karen helped arrange a fitting for my student with an able staff person there.
This was not my young student’s first pair of pointe shoes—that milestone had been met a couple of years earlier, just after I left Knoxville. But this was her first chance to own a pair of cherished Gaynors, obtained right from the source. (And for the uninitiated: there is a mystique surrounding pointe shoes that defies explanation here and probably deserves its own essay. Suffice it to say, It must be the shoes. That is all.)
A couple of days later my young student’s mom messaged me with three photos taken during and immediately after the fitting. I was ecstatic—the shoes are lovely on her feet. She is also lovely and by all appearances is evolving into the beautiful young lady I knew she would be. I left my thumbprint on her to be sure, from the first day her six-year-old self stepped into my classroom, but her development is continuing as it should without me.
Her mom gave me permission to post these images; I especially loved the message that came with them: “This was a day she will remember when she’s ninety!”