From the time I was five to the time I was eleven I took ballet lessons. For the most part, I loved it. Not so much the tulle, as I never got to the pointe shoes and pink tutus stage of dance, but for the music and the lights, and the pink tights. There’s something really charming about little girls in pink tights.
When I was six, Auntie Annette (not an actual relative, but one of those affectionate aunts that families tend to acqire) gifted me with the childrens book / photo essay A Very Young Dancer, about a little girl named Stephanie who was studying at the School for American Ballet. In the book, we follow Stephanie to her regular dance class, and then to the auditions for the annual New York City Ballet production of The Nutcracker, through rehearsals (she’s cast as the ingenue) and performances. The pictures are full pages, in grainy black and white, and yet, even without color they share the magic of music and theatre and willful suspension of disbelief. In those pictures, even though you KNOW that Mother Ginger is a guy in makeup and hoopskirts, and wearing stilts, you totally believe that little dancers live within the skirts.
It was my favorite book for the longest time, and I’m fairly certain I still have it tucked away somewhere, right there with “Dance me a story,” which was how I fell in love with the story of Giselle, and an ancient album that featured Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan hosting / narrating Peter and the Wolf, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and The Nutcracker (the latter performed as if it was a musical).
Years after I’d put the dancing behind me, I was working props for the Fresno Ballet, and one of my jobs was to help Mother Ginger into her (his) stilts…and it didn’t spoil the magic a bit.
Dance if you feel the least down-hearted
Dance and you’ll feel good once you’ve started
You’ll ho with a hee and a ha, and a yip
And a yep full of pep as you step, step, step!