Monday, February 8, 2010

Thank you, Mrs Cross

It has been so many years since I have seen you, yet I feel that I live with the legacy of our relationship every day. You taught me ballet, jazz, tap, character, so many different forms of dance and performance, for over fifteen years. You took me to professional performances, master classes, Summer schools. You coached me through exams, mentored me through performances, gave me the freedom to choreograph for and teach younger dancers.

From you, I learned the love of movement, how to engage my body and navigate its relation to space, my unique way of relating to music. I savoured the famous ballets, the sweet old time show tunes, the hammy character acting.

Recently, my Dad asked whether I’d be sending my little ‘un to ballet classes when she was older. I replied mostly in the negative. I was concerned for her body image, for damage done to growing muscles and tendons, for rigid views of performance and art. “Awww, come on!” He chided, “You had a brilliant time of it!” He reminded me of all the things I’d learnt: commitment, striving to do my best, working as a team, punctuality, multi-tasking, time management, taking responsibility for my contribution to something larger than myself.

I’ll confess I did go through a stage of resenting these sorts of things, the values you instilled in me. It was my angry-with-the-world phase, when I was keen to reject anything that confined me to my high school persona: the high-achieving, responsible, giving individual. I was wounded and lashed out at all the people who loved me, hitting out hardest against myself.

But now I know I'll always be that girl I was in high school – the girl you knew – and I have made peace with her now. She was sheltered and constrained and so thirsty to explore the world. Now that I have explored some of the world, I realise how lucky I am to be able to come home to the little niche you helped me carve. You helped me celebrate the things that made me different from other people, you recognised in me the potential to grow – intellectually and creatively – beyond my surrounds.

It was hard sometimes. You could be ruthless, you could be pushy. You demanded so much from me, and my family. But you never gave anything less yourself. And you never laughed at anyone for dreaming. The ballet school you ran, in the outer North Western suburbs of Melbourne, attracted young people who would never make the grade as professional dancers. But you worked hard to give them opportunities, as if they were as deserving as Margot Fonteyn.

You loved what you did but you never shied away from showing how hard it was, and the toll it took on you physically and emotionally, and how much it demanded from your family.

You showed us the reality of living our dreams and you gave us the love that we needed to bloom.

A memory springs to mind. You were giving me a private lesson in preparation of a big exam, and my Mum sat in to watch. When you thought I wasn’t watching, you murmured something to my Mum.

“Yes, I know!” I grouched, “I need new pointe shoes!”

“That’s not what I said.” You answered calmly. “It was something only a mother would understand.”

Later Mum told me that you had said, “Isn’t it strange to think she will be starting university this year!”.

You had seen me blossom from a cheeky little four year old to an awkward teenager to a fledgling woman on the brink of discovering the world. You let me go with your love and your blessings, and I carry both with me, every day of my life.

1 comment:

  1. aahhh, ballet and the ballet instructor! i LOVED my ballet instructor and this post brings back all those memories of her.

    i must say that my experience with dance gave me a VERY solid sense of my body and what it was capable of in terms of strength, not to mention the lessons in discipline that i have carried with me ever since. do consider sending your little girl to dance class, but maybe try modern..? it's not as stringent on the body as ballet...

    thank you for this post and reminding me of the enormous debt of gratitude i owe my own dear ballet instructor, wherever she may be =-)