Thursday, April 04, 2013
D is for DANCE CLASSES
I know my mother meant well when she enrolled me in dance classes. The first ones met on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday in a small studio on Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the late ‘40s. I was eight or nine years old, but the memories—no nightmares—associated with those lessons remain vivid.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mother took me to tap lessons. If you’ve never seen a too-tall-for-her age, very round girl shuffling strapped-on, long, skinny shoes with big taps on the toes, you’ve really missed something. It was a sight to behold, but I’m sure not one you’d want to remember. One shuffle, two shuffle, three shuffle, slide. One shuffle, two shuffle, three shuffle, slide. Over and over again. My mind was always somewhere else, so I made more mistakes than those slim little girls with the cutesy feet. The class lasted only an hour or so, but it seemed an eternity to me.
On Thursday afternoon, my mother, who was determined that I’d learn to be graceful by taking dance classes, took me to ballet. Same place, same eternity, same clumsy girl. This time, though, the sight was different. There I was at the ballet barre, holding on tightly while my long, log-like legs went up and down and up and down in the most un-graceful way imaginable, my mother sitting to the side, just rolling her eyes. When we put on toe shoes, I’m sure all she could picture was broken ankles; however, I never broke an ankle, but I surely did turn both of them. I never could get up on pointe and stay there.
Those afternoons were never pleasant as we rode the streetcar home to our apartment in post-World War II housing. And then came Saturday morning. Back to the studio we’d go so that I could take acrobat. Oh, my, but that was an experience for all! As I tried to do somersaults, I’d roll off the mat. As other girls threw their shapely legs straight up in cartwheels, landing gracefully on the mat on both feet, I’d look warily at the mat, sling my legs maybe a foot off the floor, and usually land right on my fanny. But the worst thing of all was flips. I was so much overweight and so uncoordinated that I had to have help. The teacher had assistants who would put a belt around my waist, hook on straps, and literally throw me over in a flip. So, so embarrassing and so, so uncomfortable. I never landed correctly even with help.
I failed to mention earlier that my teacher, Miss Beryl (in my mind, she was Miss Barrel!), weighed about 300 pounds and couldn’t do even one thing to model for us. Her assistants, older prize students, taught us what they knew with coaching from the sidelines from the teacher. I think my mother realized that the lessons were futile after a year or so and withdrew me from lessons. But, never fear, my mother was determined!
When I was in seventh grade, she enrolled me in Saturday night ballroom dancing. Would she never give up on making me graceful and ladylike? I guess not. Those lessons were fun because I was with other kids who probably didn’t want to be there any more than I did. They were equally as embarrassing as the other dance lessons, though, because I was at least a head taller than any of the boys in the class, and of course, boys and girls danced together. We learned the foxtrot, the tango, the waltz, and the Charleston . . . but not the jitterbug. I don’t know why that one didn’t enter in to our repertoire. The son of one of my daddy’s bosses was in the class, a little shrimp of a fellow but a sweet boy with a sense of humor. He called me Giant Economy Size, and I called him Sample Size. We danced together as much as possible and had fun in a situation that could have been a disaster for both of us!
My mother never gave up on making a lady out of me, and today I’m grateful. She always meant well, and actually none of those dance classes did any harm. Today, I see only good from them if only for a laugh.