Monday, April 06, 2009

Daphne the Ballerina

When I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina. Nobody told me the grim truth, which is that all ballerinas have long arms and long legs, and I just didn't. And still don't. Short, I am. Little short arms. The sleeves of this jumper I'm wearing are turned back about three inches to make it fit me. When I buy any kind of trouser-type garment the length I'm looking for is SHORT, damn it. If I drive anyone else's car I have to move the driver's seat forwards about four feet.

Russian peasant stock, you see. Good at lifting things. Lots of stamina. Tall and willowy? - - not a chance.

But when I was four, I didn't know.

My parents had taken me to see ballet at the Grand Theatre in Leeds, several times - - I particularly liked La Fille Mal Gardee, about a country girl who finds herself a bloke and there's a great trick where all the chorus hide the man in some corn, and I could never work out how it was done.

I had seen Swan Lake, too. I overheard someone talking in the interval.
"Aren't the tutus beautiful?" I loved this strange new word, tutu, and I had no idea what it meant. I remember saying it to myself over and over, in the hope I'd work out the meaning, because I sure as hell wasn't going to show myself up by asking - - I was four, for goodness' sake, not a baby any more!

Anyway, finally I found out somehow, and I wanted to be a ballet dancer and wear a tutu. Pink, for preference.

So I started at Miss Carr's Ballet School, which was above the Clock Cinema, in Oakwood in Leeds. I remember buying my first pair of ballet shoes from a shop across the road - - pink, they were, with pink ribbons to tie them on. Paradise.

We did a lot of Spring Points to start with, jumping with one foot pointed out forwards, then the other foot. We did a lot of stretching exercises too: we sat down, knees bent outwards, and tried to put our knees flat to the floor.

It was at this moment, I think, that I realised this ballet lark wasn't going to be as easy as I had hoped. Some girls' knees just went flat to the floor with no problem at all. Some girls could just do the splits. My knees didn't, and I couldn't.

But after a lot of all this Spring Points we started rehearsing, for we were going to take part in a performance at the Civic Theatre, which is now Leeds City Museum.

Sadly, there were no tutus involved. It was a sailor dance and I can still remember most of it. We pulled on imaginary ropes and did little salutes and skipped round in circles.

When the time came to make our grand entrance on stage, we all danced on sideways in a long line. I was the leader, because Miss Carr had worked out that what I lacked in dance ability I made up for - to some extent at least - in memory. I could be relied on to come on at the correct moment, and to do the right steps in the right places.

I remember the moment when the hornpipe music started, and I proudly led the long line of four-year-olds dancing sideways onto the stage.

To my absolute astonishment we were met by loud gales of laughter. I had absolutely no idea why, none at all.

We finished our dance to loud applause but I was not happy. Why a whole row of tiny girls, all dancing sideways onto the stage, should be funny I just could not understand.

We did a few more performances, but my heart wasn't in it. I knew I was never going to be the Prima Ballerina in the pink tutu. I gave up ballet, and started swimming instead, and have never knowingly worn pink since. These early traumas take some getting over, you know.

Here's the photographic evidence, in a sailor suit. Forty-something years ago. Four-year-old Daphne.

I'm standing in the garden under the kitchen window. The apple tree behind me died of old age about ten years ago - - and here's the exact same view, this afternoon. The greenhouse hadn't even been built then, and now it's gone and there'll soon be a shed there. The lawn was bigger in those days.

Anyway, that photograph shows the beginning, and the end, of Daphne the Ballerina.

Of course, I got over it. I moved on. Oh yes. Honest.


Anonymous ruth said...

I am similarly short with short legs and arms but I never wanted to be a ballerina. However, I was sent to ballet lessons. I remember the outcome of some ballet exam (were there really such things?) leading my ballet teacher or the examiner to write on my report 'Ruth would be quite good at ballet if she looked like she was enjoying it'. I was never going to be good at it and I probably knew it. I certainly didn't enjoy it and my face obviously said as much.

9:16 pm  
Blogger Jennyta said...

Now I always wanted to do tap dancing and have lovely red tap shoes like two other girls in my class - but no-one took me seriously. :(

9:32 pm  
Anonymous Milo said...

Enjoyed the post - poignant!

I always liked ballet and wanted to be a dancer as a child. My parents had these classical music tapes I seem to recall, and I'd put them on and dance around the room, a la Swan Lake, like something possessed.

I don't think I ever really had the stamina or suppleness for ballet though the tall / gangly look I did have.

As a student I got into house (dance) music which is quite rhythmic and trance-like; I enjoyed that.

10:01 pm  
Blogger Debby said...

I loved this!

4:15 am  
Blogger Dumdad said...

I have to confess I never wanted to be a ballet dancer. But my daughter goes to ballet classes and she'll no doubt be disappointed eventually and give up. The fact is that very few young girls have the physique to be proper ballet dancers. And, anyway, professional ballet dancers end up destroying their bodies and often their health. Madness!

8:25 am  

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