On Saturday evening, when Olivia performed in her ballet recital wearing a baroque, gold lame-encrusted tutu and pink ballet slippers, I wished my 82-year-old mother were there to see it. Mom lives with my dad in San Diego now, but during my childhood, she owned a dance studio in the seaside town where I grew up at the Jersey shore. Every little girl I knew studied dance with my mom. To this day, when I meet friends from New Jersey, the first thing they ask is “How’s your mother?”
Before she was married, my mother danced professionally as a Rockette–five shows a day, fifty weeks a year, for five years, on the Great Stage of the Radio City Music Hall. At 17, she left her small-town life in Virginia, took the train to New York City, and high-kicked her way into that glorious chorus line of 36 long-legged girls. As Mom tells the story, if she hadn’t met my father and fallen in love, she’d be time-stepping at the Music Hall still.
Instead, she moved to the suburbs to raise five children. When her youngest daughter, my sister, started kindergarten, Mom dusted off her tap shoes and opened her neighborhood school. There, Mom created a place where dancers could learn the elements of tap, jazz, and ballet, along with an appreciation for music and movement. As one of my mother’s most dedicated students, I’m grateful she also taught this: a belief that our bodies should be allowed to fill space. That, and a lifelong commitment to good posture.
All over the United States at this time of year, girls (and some lucky boys) are pulling on their tights and rubbing their ballet slippers in resin; bobby-pinning their ponytails into buns and brightening their faces with blush and lipstick. For a few magical moments, our children whirl and prance across a stage, transformed into sprites and fairies, while in the wings, their dedicated teachers stand, counting measures and mouthing choreography.
To my talented and beloved Mother and dance teachers everywhere: I bow to you today, with grace and gratitude.