David Bruce: Dance Anecdotes

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Grover Dale started out poor, but became a millionaire through dance; however, he became involved in dance through accident. A neighbor wanted her son to have a companion in his tap-dance class, so she offered to pay for nine-year-old Grover’s lessons if he would attend the class with her son. Mr. Dale says, “If that woman had not come to my house that day, I don’t think I would have ever stepped foot inside a dance studio.” Another woman who greatly helped him was Lillian Jasper, the dance teacher. He enjoyed dancing and had obvious talent for it, but when the other kids started teasing him by calling him Mr. Tap Toe, he was ready to quit dancing. Fortunately, Ms. Jaspers told him, “Don’t quit! I’ll pay you to assist me.” She paid him $9 a week, and if not for that money, he would have given up dance. Of course, Mr. Dale became a dancer on Broadway and later published and edited L.A. Dance and Fitness

Edward Villella worked three hard years to learn how to partner a ballerina—before he learned to partner, he sometimes found it difficult to get ballerinas to dance with him. However, eventually he learned partnering—and learned it well. At Jacob’s Pillow, he partnered the wondrous ballerina Violette Verdy in the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, and she got off balance during a series of turns. Fortunately, Mr. Villella was ready to immediately balance her again. At the close of the adagio, when he was holding Ms. Verdy upside down and she was looking up at him, she said, “Thanks!”—in perfect tempo to the music.

As a young man, choreographer George Balanchine nearly died and so he believed in living his life day by day and not holding anything back. He would tell his dancers, “Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.” Throughout his career, including before he became world renowned, he worked with what he had, not complaining about wanting a bigger budget or better dancers. One of the pieces of advice Mr. Balanchine gave over and over was this: “Do it now.”

Sometimes, dancers can do more than they think they are capable of. When choreographing to the music of Ballade for Piano and Orchestra, George Balanchine named a sequence of steps for Merrill Ashley to dance. She and all the dancers watching the session laughed because they thought that that particular sequence of steps was much too difficult for anyone to do. However, dancers want to please Mr. Balanchine, so Ms. Ashley attempted the steps—and nailed them on her first attempt! Then she repeated the successful execution of the steps!

Serge Diaghilev motivated his choreographers by telling them, “Astonish me!” They responded by astonishing the world. On May 19, 1912, when Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun (L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune) premiered, it was a seminal, ground-breaking event. At first, the audience did not know what to make of it, and some boos and catcalls were heard as the ballet ended. However, Mr. Diaghilev ordered the ballet to be encored, and this time when the ballet ended the audience responded with a great ovation.

Everyone — including creative, successful, famous people — has been rejected at one time or another. As a youth, young people’s author Jean Little attended a party where a chaperone encouraged her to participate in a Sadie Hawkins dance where her partner would be whoever was closest to her when a piece of music stopped. Unfortunately, the boy closest to her looked at her, said, “Oh God, no” — then left her on the dance floor. (She spent the rest of the evening standing behind the record player.)

When Patricia McBride was a young dancer in the New York City Ballet, taking a pointe class with Felia Doubrouvska, she saw ballerina Violette Verdy blowing kisses in her direction. She looked behind herself to see to whom these marks of approval were intended, but no one was there, so she realized that Ms. Verde was showing her approval of the way that she—young Patricia—was dancing. Ms. McBride says, “This was a first and lasting impression of Violette: a picture of spontaneity, enthusiasm, and charm.”

Ruthanna Boris—like many other young dancers—was much impressed by baby ballerina Tamara Toumanova, and so she started imitating her, even carrying her head the way Ms. Toumanova carried her head. Of course, choreographer George Balanchine knew what she was doing, and one day he told her, “Your name is Ruthanna Boris and not Tamara Toumanova, and I wish you would pick up your head because that is one habit I could not make Tamara change. It’s not good for your dancing.”

When Serge Diaghilev died, Anton Dolin saw his photograph in a newspaper and without reading the article, knew immediately what it meant. He went to Lydia Lopokova and George Balanchine crying, “Serge Pavlovich est mort.” However, they were at least able to take comfort because Mr. Diaghilev had died in Venice, where he had always hoped he would die.

Choreographer George Balanchine seldom got angry, but one time he did was immediately before a performance when he saw a stagehand drop cigar ashes on a freshly mopped floor. He yelled at the stagehand, “Don’t you know where you are? You’re not in the street! This is not a gutter! This is the theater—a place where people dance!”

“Break” dancing got its name in New York in 1969 when disc jockey Afrika Bambaataa suggested that gang members take a break from fighting and killing each other and instead express their rivalry by competing in dancing.

At one time, Eleanor Roosevelt worked as a dance teacher at a New York settlement house for the poor. She taught movement and dance to impoverished children.

Modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan danced from a very young age. When asked when she had started dancing, she always replied, “In my mother’s womb.”

Ballerinas learn to dance on pointe — on their toes — in flimsy ballet toe shoes. These shoes last for only one performance.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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