The recitals of my childhood blur together.
So many teachers, parents, and teenagers bustling around backstage and in the green rooms, giving pep talks, marshaling lines of children, adjusting hair and costumes, putting out fires. So much eyeliner and hairspray. So many buns, card games, bourrées, and bows. Some tears, more laughter.
It’s a beautiful blur. My teachers must have run their recitals with love and organization. Now, backstage, I still feel like I did as a kid—safe, excited, purposeful.
Onstage, over the years, I slipped, tripped, entered and exited early and late, dropped props, lost hairpieces, broke straps, got kicked and stepped on, and trod on my own hem. I kept dancing and tried not to do that again. In the wings, adults waited with smiles and hugs.
At least I never fell ill mid-show—like a friend who flitted offstage to vomit three times during her pas de deux, while her partner bravely improvised.
Two days before one recital, my pointe shoes were mush and a severely bruised toenail threatened to destroy my teenage dreams. To my amazement and gratitude, my mother recognized the emergency. I skipped school so we could visit Capezio’s and a doctor—who lanced the nail and suggested I consider another sport. “Ballet is not a sport,” I retorted, shocked. “It’s art!”
How many costumes did my mother sew over the years? The first I remember (I was 5) was a Firefly’s sequined wings; the last was the Party Parent gown we made together (I was 17), a glamorous affair of teal satin and black lace.
Years later, I took my daughter to my old studio’s Nutcracker. Had nothing changed? There were the children, the bustling wings, the familiar music, my teacher still in command, the Party Parents clinking empty glasses. There was my dress, swirling and gleaming—a trace of the girl I was, left behind like a footprint on the sand. —Tamsin Nutter
DSL associate editor Tamsin Nutter lives in Berkeley, California. Formerly a marketing writer at MoMA in NYC, she trained at Vassar College and The Ailey School and danced with Regina Nejman & Company and others.
Offense, Not Defense
A teacher’s life is one of lessons learned. Forgive me that cliché, but it’s true. Most of these lessons hit hard, but as you get older—if you are supple and reflective—you might find a trick or two among the bruises.
Here’s a little gem that I picked up from a wiser teacher than I—the best defense is a good offense. (I sense a theme here—would “Popular Clichés” work as a recital theme?) When my daughter was entering her teen years, she switched from our fun neighborhood studio to a school with a much more rigorous program built on a strong ballet–modern base. It’s what she wanted and, with one of those “anything less than an A+ makes me apoplectic” personalities, it’s what she needed. The point is that, to maintain such a rigorous program, the studio director ran a very tight ship, including unbendable rules for parents.
One rule was pure genius. In the student-company contract the director explained that he frowned on parents coming to him to “discuss” their child’s placement, choreography, costume, and such. But if a parent insisted on a conversation, that parent would have to approach the secretary and make an appointment, which would be set at a time convenient to the director. And it was clear that this appointment would never be during regular studio hours.
This past year, one of my former students opened a studio. She told me that the door had barely opened when parents were all over her. I shared the appointment trick with her. The next time a parent marched into a class to discuss her daughter’s solo, my former student calmly explained the appointment procedure, then turned her attention back to where it belonged—her students.
This rule is genius because it not only provides the teacher or director with a polite response to an angry parent, it also gives that parent hoops to jump through—and most don’t. Like it? Feel free to steal it and use it luxuriously. —Karen White
DSL associate editor Karen White, a former newspaper reporter and freelance writer, has taught dance in private studios and choreographed musicals since age 17 and has no plans to stop.