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Petrus - Dancing in winter

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

One of the most surreal moments….. As a tiny, eager sophomore, at the National Academy of Arts, I was in love with dancing. In love with the thrill of flying across the floor and being good at something that made my heart happy. I was dancing so much, class, rehearsals, and performing as an ambassador for the school; I developed tendonitis in both my hip flexors. Back then, doctors in that small Champaign, IL. college town, didn't know what that was, really, or how to treat it. They tried ultra sound, DMSO, massage, ice, heat, was a mystery. 

Dancing at the barre, turned out, Plie’s hurt so badly they made me cry, but turned in, I could dance up a storm. 

So Petrus, our ballet master, didn't believe I was injured. I guess he thought I was faking it, or spoiled, or trying to get attention.   

    One day he saw me fooling around in the studio between classes with the jazz teacher, Nat Orr, an alvin Ailey soloist -dancing and improving with abandon. We were having a blast. It was Joyful. Classmates were cheering us on.

Petrus saw us. He pulled me out, screaming at me in the hallway, seen through the glass window, filled with huge eyed students. His cheeks were red, bellowing at me with snapped anger vehemence, into my pale, terrified face. He banned me from classes. 

To be called a liar and a faker was something that I couldn't comprehend. It was gut wrenching to be sneered at and not be believed. I sat alone, ordered into the girls dressing room, weeping with hurt and confusion and belligerent, white hot anger at the injustice and helplessness of the situation. My face and lap soaked with tears.

Outside it was a gloomy, Winter day. Grey snow muffling the noise from the street. The lights were off in this half of the dance studios, no classes were going on in the room next to me, just the pale light from the dusk and street lamps under the trees.      A bit later, after I'd cried it out and was almost dozing, curled up among dance bags and sweaters and coats, our ballet master peeked his head into the dressing room and softly asked me to come out into the studio. 

Without many words, he mumbled he wanted to see something. 

He wanted to partner me in something he was choreographing…..empty, silent, dim studio.....just us.........susu....passé developé attitude.....panché.....stretch down.....and up...promenade en if in slow passé slowly....... other side.......attitude, panché,  and up...a small lift….transition…soft, slow…transition…

the beautiful shoosh and creak of pointe shoes on wood flooring.

I had no idea what he was doing……… At each position he'd stop me and stare in the mirror, eyes intense, working.

Taking a mental picture of the shapes and the line. 

Painting into his head what he was seeing me do, I was becoming his borrowed canvas...... First I was terrified he was going to yell at me, but then the flow of the work, and those airy soft pictures we were making, was the focus,……

I was confounded-thrilled that he thought enough of me, to finally partner with ME?! 

   I knew I could do it, but that he thought so, was a confusing shock and a surprise.

He’d only ever corrected me with a barest flick of an eye brow or a dismissive, nasty joke at the end. 

This is the man who derisively called me " tits and teeth" when I got my braces off, at 13. He cast me as lead in ballets, only to fire me the next day, over and over again.

Breaking my heart.

I just reveled in the work and the beautiful shapes we were carving gently in the air......but in felt like a secret, as if he was giving me a nod to my talent that he'd never let anyone else see.      It was just as bewildering as the rest, if not more so......why be so gentle and generous and benevolent and beautiful with me now? And not in public? This man held clear disdain for me in public, to the point of making a sceme, being angry at other teachers for giving me roles or having me teach rehearsals for them.

But for those few, private moments, with the snow shrouding the windows, 

I had permission to be the dancer I really was. My little dancer heart floating in the movement……And we danced......

Then it all came crashing down.....but that's another story......

December 2012

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