David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance — Money, Mothers, Movies


• Dancer Ida Rubinstein was immensely wealthy. Her estate had greenhouses growing flowers of many different colors, and her flower gardens were designed so that the flowers could be replaced so that their color would match the color of her dress when she was entertaining. In addition, she filled a room with rows and rows of boxes set on shelves. Each box contained a hat, a pair of gloves, and a pair of shoes in matching colors.

• American dance pioneer Ted Shawn traveled the world looking for inspiration for new dances. While in Rangoon, he watched some Burmese dancers. A man in the audience threw some money on the stage, and a dancer picked the money up. The man in the audience yelled, “What do I get for that?” The dancer put the money in her bodice, then replied, “Only a receipt.”

• Caroline Otéro, a dancer, once advised Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a dancer and writer, “Don’t forget, there is always a moment in a man’s life, even if he’s a miser, when he opens his hands wide ….” Ms. Colette guessed, “In the moment of passion?” Ms. Otéro replied, “No — the moment when you twist his wrist.”

• Getting money for dates can be tough. The young composer Giacomo Puccini once pawned his coat to get enough money to take a ballerina out.

• Dancer Ann Pennington felt that the best writer in the world was George White — because he wrote her paychecks.


• When dancer Norma Miller was born on December 2, 1919 (before the days of Welfare), her father had recently died, and things were tough. Her mother, an African American, had a hard time trying to work and raise an infant at the same time, so she decided to put her daughter in an orphanage. However, at the orphanage, a little girl pulled on her skirt and asked if she was her Mama. This made her think about her daughter wondering who her mother was, and she said, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll suck salt before I’ll ever leave my children in an orphanage. I’ll never separate us ever!” She kept her word, and she kept her family together.

• As a boy, Patrick Healey-Kay — better known as Anton Dolin — studied under Mme. Seraphina Astafieva. Her way of pointing out mistakes was to rap her dancers on the legs. Her very best dancers were the ones who got the most raps because she wanted them to correct their mistakes and improve their dancing. Pat’s mother once said, “Pat must have pleased her greatly because his legs were always black and blue!”


• While touring with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, dancers sometimes whiled away the time before a performance by watching a movie — often the movie was being shown in the same theater they would dance in later that night. One day, the Ballet Russe manager, David Libidins, became irate because the film was still being shown when the stage should have been in the process of being prepared for the ballet that night. Although the movie theater manager told him that an audience was still watching the movie, he strode to the front of the theater, and ordered that the lights be turned on. When they were turned on, he was astonished to see that the audience for the movie consisted solely of ballet dancers. For a long time after that, the ballet dancers were forbidden to watch movies.

• Peggygene Evans had a career dancing in the early days of the talkies — and in silent movies. Her manager was her Aunt Ida, who made sure to protect her from Hollywood producers’ casting couches. Whenever Aunt Ida negotiated a deal, she always asked, “Now, are there any strings attached?” If strings were attached, no deal was made. Ms. Evans danced in Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera, and she danced in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer. The 4-foot-11 woman had a childlike quality and when she was 44 years old, she was able to double for 10-year-old Shirley Temple in the dance scenes for The Little Princess.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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