This Christmas, our daughter suggested we give our grandsons “life experiences”, with only a few gifts to put under the tree. We thought this was a terrific suggestion. We could enjoy doing things together as a family and make life long memories for them to remember.
A performance of “The Nutcracker Ballet” by the Napa Regional Dance Company was at Lincoln Theater in Yountville, and we thought this would be the perfect way to start our Christmas holidays
We arrived early and watched as the theater filled up. Many of the younger guests were dressed in their Christmas best. Some young ladies were in velvet or sparkling dresses. Young men, such as our grandsons, were in their blue blazers. Most of the young people were acting grown up, and excitement filled the air in anticipation of such a grand show
Surprisingly, during the show, I found myself drawn to the youngest little girl performers every time they appeared on stage. In Act 1, they were the little dolls and then later as angels all in white. They were so pretty with their long curls, halos and white wings. They were probably about 5 or 6 years old. Their performance was perfect, and I was so impressed. At their young age, they seemed to be comfortable and natural in front of this large audience. Each one certainly has a future in performing.
There is a reason why I was I was so interested in watching them. I had a dancing experience years ago when I was that age. I had forgotten all about it. It came back to me during “The Nutcracker” when I saw these exceptional young ladies.
Like them, I took dancing lessons when I was 5 years old. The Val Dez and Peggy Studio in Pleasanton taught tap dancing. I was placed in a group of other girls about my age. However, I had a problem after a few weeks of classes.
My dancing teacher told my mother that my “timing” was off. I had no idea what that meant. My teacher tried to help me. It seems my tap dancing steps did not match the others in our group. I didn’t feel the same musical beat. Eventually she did the only thing she could do.
I became a solo act.
Our dance studio scheduled a recital in the large auditorium of our high school. All the seats were filled with friends and parents. Pleasanton had a population of only about 2,700 in 1947. Besides the Alameda County Fair and horse races for two weeks in the summer, we didn’t have many big events in those days. So we made our own entertainment.
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My grandmother made my costume and I loved it. It was a little short skirt and a sleeveless top in sky blue silk. There were silver sequins on the top and hem of the skirt. And, for an extra touch, she made me a matching silver sequin trimmed bow for my hair. I thought it was the prettiest costume in the show. My pictures of long ago will prove it. But this beautiful costume did not help my performance.
There were two events that spoiled my dancing debut. On the day of our big recital a neighbor, who was a close family friend and a hairdresser, asked if she could do my hair for the show. My mother was happy to receive her help. Without asking, this woman cut my long blonde hair. I came home with curly short hair. I looked like a poodle. My mother was very upset and almost cried when I walked through the front door. Our families remained friends but she never did my hair again.
The second event was much worse. It happened during my performance.
I was tap dancing my heart out on stage all by myself. I thought I was doing well. I knew the routine. Suddenly my music stopped. I kept going “tippity tap, tippity tap” like a wound up toy doll. I was dancing and swinging my arms about to my own sense of timing. I don’t think I even realized my music had stopped.
My teacher must have been worried and knew I was still having timing issues. She must have been standing back stage and watching me. Her solution was to take the needle off my record. After a few seconds, she put the needle back on the record but in the wrong place. So the needle came off again. She continued to try to match the music to my off- beat tapping without success.
At the end of my routine, I was probably happy to finish and ran off the stage. Even though I knew something had happened, I do not remember any conversations with my teacher or my parents over this dreadful dancing experience. I wonder if the poor audience knew what was going on. It probably would been better just to let me dance away and to finish without the music.
The one thing (good or bad) was that my act was probably the one the audience would go home remembering from that evening. I grew up knowing that I had no sense of timing when it came to dancing.
I think that event ended my tap dancing career. I do not remember taking any more dancing classes. My teacher probably suggested I try something else and my parents must have agreed with her. I was just fine and happy I could keep my sky blue silk outfit with the silver sequins for dress-up.
These memories, long forgotten, came flooding back when I sat in the audience watching these cute dancers in the Nutcracker. In fact, until I started writing this column I had never told my husband or children about my short dancing career.
When I mentioned this experience to my husband his response was, “Well, you have always marched to the beat of your own drummer. You talk and write that way too. You write about simple subjects and make them entertaining.”
Our daughter made the perfect suggestion for a family activity to start our Christmas holidays. It was a grand day for grandparents, parents and children of all ages and reminded me 72 years later why I gave up professional dancing as a career.