• When Patricia McBride was a young dancer in the New York City Ballet, taking a pointe class with Felia Doubrovska, she saw ballerina Violette Verdy blowing kisses in her direction. She looked behind herself to see to whom these marks of approval were intended, but no one was behind her, so she realized that Ms. Verde was showing her approval of the way that she — young Patricia — was dancing. Ms. McBride says, “This was a first and lasting impression of Violette: a picture of spontaneity, enthusiasm, and charm.”
• Anna Pavlova was interested in culture, and she wanted members of her dance company — many of them teenaged girls — to also be interested in culture. While the company was touring by train, Ms. Pavlova used to walk up and down the corridors to see what her dancers were reading. However, the dancers knew that she would be checking up on them, and knowing that she approved of the Saturday Evening Post, they would use this large magazine to hide what they were really reading: romance novels.
• Some people can’t see what is in front of them. A young dancer took a class with master choreographer George Balanchine, but she never listened to him. One day, she started to leave class in a great hurry at the end, and Mr. Balanchine asked her why she was in such a hurry to leave. The young dancer explained that she was going to take another class with a Balanchine expert. This shocked and amused Mr. Balanchine. He told the dancer, “Here I am. It’s me. I’m Balanchine. Why go anywhere else?”
• Even an elderly ballerina can remain in control of parts of her art. In 1959, while she was in her 70s, Tamara Karsavina demonstrated some steps of batterie at the barre to Antoinette Sibley, saying, “To get the full benefit from battements frappés, we must train our muscles to give a quick reaction. That means that the dégagé must be sharp and in the nature of a ‘hit out.’” The marveling Ms. Sibley embraced Ms. Karsavina and said, “Oh, Madame, I can never do it like that!”
• Ballet teachers often have a sense of authority. While teaching the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, Soulamif Messerer, who had defected from Russia, stressed the importance of the dancers believing they are the characters they are portraying on stage. She once scolded a class, “You don’t believe yourself — you must believe yourself. I danced for 25 years as prima ballerina at the Bolshoi. I know everything.”
• During the 1940s, Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, visited the studio of modern dance choreographer Martha Graham. Eventually, she asked, “What is jumping?” Ms. Graham asked dancer Merce Cunningham to come over, then she placed Ms. Keller’s hands on his waist, and Mr. Cunningham jumped in first position. Ms. Keller responded, “How like thought! How like the mind it is!”
• Choreographer Jerome Robbins could be very rude to people, and when he worked for the New York City Ballet, other people sometimes complained to George Balanchine. For example, John Clifford once told Mr. Balanchine, “Mr. B, I don’t know what to do about Jerry.” Mr. Balanchine replied, “You know, dear, he will teach you how not to treat people.”
• Some dance students are very loyal to their teachers. José Limón once overheard a couple of students at the Bennington College of Dance talking together after witnessing a performance of a dance choreographed by Doris Humphrey. One woman said to the other, “I don’t know how she can compose so well. She never took lessons from my teacher.”
• After discovering the world of dancing in his reading, Kenneth MacMillan decided that he wanted to study dance at the Royal Ballet School. Therefore, he forged a letter from his father and sent it to Ninette de Valois. The forgery succeeded, and he began to study dance. In 1946, he became a founder-member of Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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