The Dance Teacher

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.

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12 Responses to “The Dance Teacher”

  1. Sveta says:

    Beautiful story.

  2. Mark McC says:

    Even though I never took dance lessons with her, your charming mother has always been an inspiration to me.

  3. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Sveta. Maybe you and I also connect on a Russian ballet level.:-)

    Mark: She’ll be so happy to read your comment. Very sweet.

  4. Mary Furlong says:

    Many thanks to my dear friend, your Mom. I saw “Anything Goes” on Broadway this past Sunday and I could do “most” of the tap steps.

  5. joyce maynard says:

    i can imagine how happy and proud you must have felt.

    and about your mom all i can say is WOW. she hasn’t lost it.

    (bodes well for you in your eighties.)

  6. Bug's Mom says:

    Beautiful story, beautiful mom. You should submit this for publication, Jessica. Really great piece.

  7. Jessica says:

    Mary: Right on! As a charter member of the “Benevolent Order of Tap Stars,” no surprise you could do the steps. Gerry will be proud.

    Joyce: Have to restrain myself from becoming too much Mamma Rose. Not easy.

    As my dad says about my mom, “She’s a showstopper!”
    Hoping I inherited that gene.

  8. Deanna says:

    Every girl should grow up in a dance studio!It was like a big dress up box! I can still see Mom in the wings, dancing and Daddy standing in the doorway in the back. Always gave me reason to keep my head up!

  9. Sharon says:

    She still looks like a Rockette in those photos!

  10. Jessica says:

    Bug’s Mom: Gracias, chica! And thanks for the nudge to submit; Gerry’s story deserves the widest audience possible.

    Deanna: I agree. What a special childhood. xoxoxoxo

    Sharon: Once a Rockette, always a Rockette! Thanks, doll.

  11. Margaret Pearsall says:

    I loved reading about your daughter & your mother. We were Rockettes to gether & share great memories. I’ve had a dance school for 49 years, the past 14 years my daughter has joined me. Kerri was a Rockette for 19 years. I only wish your Mom & Dad still lived in Syosset so we could visit.
    Congratulations on your award Jessica, your family is so proud of you.

  12. Jessica says:

    Dear Margaret:

    My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, and I thank you :-)

    My mom has talked about you and her other fellow Rockettes so often over the years, I feel as if I know you! And almost as if I’ve lived the experience myself. A very special time and place in history. What an honor for you both–and your daughter, too–to be a part of it. I feel proud, by association.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

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