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My ballerina dream fulfilled

With my school reunion coming up and no room at the local inn, I put out the word that I would need a spare bed in someone’s home. Enter Chris Conway Smith, a younger grad who was still a kid, and therefore beneath my notice, when I blew town in 1967. It turned that Chris and I shared a bond: we’d both taken ballet lessons from the eccentrically glamorous Mrs. Cordova, who drove a rusted-out pickup truck from which she emerged on Saturday mornings with the regal bearing and jet-black bun of a Bolshoi star.

Chris grew up to become a ballerina (now retired). I hung up my one fervently awaited pair of pointe shoes at 11, when it became clear that I had neither the body nor the discipline for a life in dance. I wanted the tiara and the tutu, not the blood-soaked shoes and endless barre work. Still, nothing has ever obsessed me as ballet once did. Ballet books, ballet programs, ballet lessons…I couldn’t get enough. I dreamed up plots for ballets in which I would star and practiced the moves in our living room to a scratched recording of Swan Lake. Imagination transformed me from knock-kneed, pot-bellied Rona Maynard to the beauteous Maynardovna. I soared, I floated, I enthralled audiences all over the world.

Had anyone told me that Mrs. Cordova’s class would produce a real ballerina and I would not be that person, I would have burned with envy. Before my my visit, I gave Chris a call. “You lived my fantasy!” I said. Like all performers worthy of their curtain calls, Chris has an instinct for mystery. She promised a surprise for my arrival. What should I find but a breadcrumb trail of satin toe shoes pointing the way to my room? There on the door hung a froth of pink: a real Russian tutu with more layers of silk tulle than there are petals in a bouquet of peonies. “You’ve got to try it on,” Chris said.Between us, we proved that it’s never too late to live your dream.

Out came the shell-pink tights and matching leotard, the false eyelashes with rhinestone accents, the chunky leg warmers positioned to conceal the fact that Chris’s teensy ballet shoes barely covered my toes. I lamented my inflexible, middle-aged ankles, but Chris assured me she had a few photo-styling tricks up her sleeve: “When I get through with you, anyone would think you’d been dancing all your life.” First she had to squeeze me into the tutu—a project that required much tugging, twisting and fiddling with minute hooks, dainty as a ballerina’s earring. In the time she lavished on dressing me, my hostess could have made a multi-course dinner for at least six people of taste and standards. If you ask me, she had her priorities straight. Who remembers one dinner menu five years later? I’ll never forget our dressup game (excuse me: production).

Resized1You don’t simply wear an authentic Russian tutu. You submit to it. You let it mould your wayward belly with a power that puts Spanx to shame because you could take a nasty tumble if your tutu slips while your partner’s lifting you. Then you look at your reflection and feel exalted. Your thighs look leaner, your legs longer. You think to yourself, “Hey, I can dance!” (I actually said this out loud.) What you won’t be able to do without daunting inconvenience is pee. So I didn’t wear the tutu to the reunion dinner. Chris had a full house for the reunion, and fellow guest Mandy Levine whipped out her camera. Thanks to Mandy, I have a shot of every scene in the ballet fantasy from backstage meditation (the Degas moment) to post-performance smoke (the louche moment). Who knew ballerinas had a nicotine ritual?

Resized2Most dramatic moment: the curtsey. A dainty, cross-legged dip is all very well for tea with the Queen but ballerinas drop to the floor, light as a leaf. (Chest lifted! Long neck! Smile, smile!) I could practically hear the wild applause and smell the roses tossed to the stage. I extended my arms  But my groaning knees told me it was time to get up. They can raise quite a ruckus, my sexagenarian knees. They complain about getting out of a chair. At the very thought of rising from the floor, they go on strike. But don’t underestimate the power of two creative minds and dauntless spirits to overcome a setback. So what if it took both a cane and a hand from Chris to complete my star turn as ballerina? I haven’t had this much fun in ages. Oh, Mrs. Cordova! I wish you’d had a front-row seat.

Click here to read “The toilet that ruled my life,” about another zany travel adventure. Still curious about my ballet fantasy? The whole album’s on view at Facebook, where you and I can be friends if we’re not already.

Posted by Rona

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