David Bruce: Dance Anecdotes

• Jacques d’Amboise studied ballet as a child after school. Unfortunately, he sometimes got into trouble at school and for punishment had to stay after school—until his mother requested of the nuns at his Catholic school that they not detain him because of his ballet lessons. This, however, led to a problem. Instead of serving detention, young Jacques would be excused with this public announcement that embarrassed him but amused the other truants: “Mr. d’Amboise is excused now to take his ballet lesson.” The first time he danced in public was equally embarrassing. He danced at his school, and he says, “I tried to do as many pirouettes and entrechats as I could.” Unfortunately, he was concentrating so hard on these acrobatic dance feats that he was totally unaware until the dance was over that he had split his pants.

• Kevin McHale, when he was General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, spent hours teaching rookie Kevin Garnett how to play under the basket. At one point in his rookie season, Mr. Garnett worried about his statistics; they were lower than he would have liked, perhaps because he had entered the NBA straight out of high school instead of playing basketball in college like most other NBA stars. Mr. McHale showed Mr. Garnett the rookie stats of such NBA stars as Shawn Kemp and Scottie Pippen. Mr. McHale told Mr. Garnett, “Take a good look. These aren’t much different from your numbers. These players have gone on to become stars. The last thing I need is for you to get discouraged. I don’t care how good you are. I care how good you will be.” Mr. Garnett was good, and he quickly became much better.

• If you want a great education, study under people who really know their stuff. After graduating from art school, Judy Chicago noticed that art galleries featured work that was highly polished and highly crafted. She wanted to learn to do that, and she remembered what sculptor John Chamberlain had often advised her: “What I should do is go to auto-body school. Those are the guys who really know how to paint.” Ms. Chicago did exactly that. Her class consisted of herself and 250 men. She says, “I learned not only how to spray-paint, but about respect for the object—that I was actually creating a physical object.” For her final examination, she spray-painted a Chevrolet truck.

• Dalmatians are associated with firefighters. In Springfield, Missouri, a trained Dalmatian named Becky Thatcher taught children fire safety. A firefighter would talk at a school assembly or other event to children about safety, and Becky did tricks to make the lessons easy to remember. For example, the firefighter would talk about what to do if your clothing caught on fire: stop, drop, and roll. As the firefighter talked, Becky stopped, dropped, and rolled. Following one of these assemblies, a parent wrote the fire department that because of the firefighter and Becky, in an emergency the parent’s own child had stopped, dropped, and rolled—and put out the flames.

• In 1950, George Balanchine went to England to work with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet and stage Ballet Imperial. While there, he stayed with the noted choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton. Later, they talked over those good old days together, and Mr. Balanchine told Sir Frederick, “You know, you really taught me something.” Mr. Balanchine’s then-wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq, listened closely, hoping to learn something important about ballet, but Mr. Balanchine explained, “Yes, you taught me alwaysto pile up the dinner dishes in the sink and run water over them before your charwoman arrived.”

• Isiah Thomas left college before he graduated so he could make big bucks in the NBA. His not getting a degree disappointed his mother even though he bought her a nice house in a nice neighborhood, so she made him sign a contract saying that he would earn his college degree. On the same day that her son made a last-second shot to win a playoff game against Atlanta, she picked up his diploma. Talking with Isiah on the telephone, she was so excited about his getting a degree that she didn’t even ask him about the playoff game.

• Buddy Collette helped to join a white musicians’ union group (Musicians Local 47) and a black musicians’ union group (Musicians Local 767) together. In doing so, he had help from African-American celebrity Josephine Baker, who spoke to an integrated audience, saying that she didn’t see why there were two (segregated) locals; after all, the audience was integrated. She saw two little girls in the audience, one white and one black, and she spoke for a moment to them. The two little girls hugged each other, and Ms. Baker said, “I think you can learn a lot from these youngsters.”

• Many of Aesop’s fables contain wisdom—something that you would expect from teaching stories. For example, the fable of the lion and the mouse teaches children about kindness: A lion caught a mouse and prepared to eat it. The mouse begged for its life, and the lion felt pity and released it. Soon afterward, a trap made of ropes caught the lion, and although the lion struggled mightily, it could not get free. The mouse heard the lion’s roars and quickly chewed through the ropes, releasing the lion.

• R. Mendel, a Hassid, looked for a place to establish a House of Learning. He journeyed from city to city, and in each city he was welcomed and asked to establish his House of Learning in that city. But each time R. Mendel moved on. Eventually, he came to Kotzk, a city where people who opposed Hassidism met him and who threatened him with clubs. R. Mendel then said, “This is the place,” and he established his House of Learning in Kotzk.

• British long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe attended Sharnbrook upper school in Bedfordshire during 1987-1992. Vaughan Caradice was her maths teacher. One day Mr. Caradice was writing an exam question on the chalkboard when young Paula gently told him, “You might want to have another look at that.” Mr. Caradice says, “When Paula says that, you have another look—and she was right: I’d made a mistake.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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