David Bruce: Dance Anecdotes

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When he was a young boy, children’s book author Walter Dean Myers went with some other boys to a church gym, where they hoped to play full-court basketball. They were disappointed when they found half of the court occupied by girls who danced, then stretched. The boys made what they thought were appropriately disgusted comments, and the girls made a deal with them. If the boys could do the stretching exercises that the girls were doing, the girls would leave and allow the boys to play full-court basketball, but if the boys could not do the stretching exercises, then they had to perform the dance routine with them. The boys accepted the offer, but they quickly discovered that none of them were limber enough to do the stretching exercises that the girls were doing. The girls made the boys live up to the deal they had made — the boys had to perform the dance routine with them.

Early in her career, while she was still a student at Denishawn, Martha Graham showed talent, but she had not yet made a major impression on Ted Shawn. One day, Mr. Shawn and some of his students were working on Serenata Morisca, a solo Moorish gypsy dance, as Mr. Shawn tried to decide who would perform it during the next tour. At one point, he looked at Ms. Graham, who as usual was sitting quietly and observing when she was not dancing, and he said, “It’s too bad Martha doesn’t know this dance. She would look just right in it.” Ms. Graham spoke up, “But I do know it.” Mr. Shawn replied, “That’s impossible — you’ve never danced it!” Ms. Graham then demonstrated the dance, which she had learned from watching the other dancers. She was given the solo to perform during the tour.

Cynthia Gregory was able to dance the role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake in only her second year with American Ballet Theatre when David Blair of the The Royal Ballet staged a new production. She was chosen to be one of five dancers who would understudy the role. Three of the dancers had to stop understudying the role, then a fourth understudy became pregnant. This left the ballerina and two understudies, including Ms. Gregory. However, tickets for Swan Lake sold briskly, and ABT decided to add two more performances and let all three dancers undertake the role.

When Adele Astaire was four years old, she began to take dance lessons. Occasionally, her mother would take Adele’s younger brother, Fred, along when it was time to pick her up after class. According to a family story, Fred discovered a pair of ballet slippers, put them on, then imitated the dancers he saw by standing on his toes. Later, Fred and Adele became a famous dance team in vaudeville. After Adele retired to get married, Fred went on to become a famous movie star and danced with such luminaries as Ginger Rogers.

In the party scene of the Nutcracker ballet, the performers on stage appear to be talking together. Sometimes this is not acting — the music by Tchaikovsky is so loud that often the performers feel free to talk. During one series of performances in which ballerina Alice Patelson danced, the production manager had to warn the performers to be quiet during the party scene because their conversations were becoming too loud.

Choreographer Merce Cunningham sometimes uses the I-Ching to help him determine the order of movements in his dance creations. Therefore, dance writer Janet Lynn Roseman decided to use the I-Ching to help her decide which of her too-numerous questions to ask him in an interview. Mr. Cunningham was delighted that she had used the I-Ching and assured her that she had asked the right questions.

Even as a 14-year-old youngster, entertainer Jennifer Lopez took her craft seriously. During a dance class, her teacher saw that she looked upset as she struggled during class. Thinking that she had boyfriend trouble, he asked her what was wrong. She replied, “I just want want to be better.” Impressed by her seriousness about dance, he replied, “You will.”

Small decisions early can make enormous differences later. Alicia Markova was thought to have weak feet and legs when she was a little girl, so her doctor suggested that she study classical ballet to strengthen her limbs. As all the world knows, Ms. Markova became an accomplished ballerina as an adult.

When the Native American tribe known as the Wampanoag dance, they dance both clockwise and counterclockwise. When they dance clockwise, they are thanking the good spirits. When they dance counterclockwise, they are paying respect to the other spirits — the evil ones.

As the great dancer Rudolf Nureyev edged closer to his 50th birthday, critics began to say that it was time for him to retire. However, Mr. Nureyev declined to stop dancing. Instead, he said, “Inside, I am only twenty-three, an eternal youth. Dancing, for me, is forever.”

After ballerina Marie Taglioni made her triumphant debut at the Paris Opéra, several ballet dancers became so jealous that before her next performance, they sprinkled bits of soap on the stage in the hope that she would slip on them.

Martin Luther King, Jr., liked to dance as he was growing up, but his father, a Baptist minister, disapproved. Once, his father found out that his son had been dancing, so he made him stand up in church and apologize to the congregation.

Comedian Lily Tomlin used to do some weird stunts when she was starting out in show business. For example, she used to tap dance while barefoot — after gluing taps to the soles of her feet.

Edward Renton once conducted a ballet with such slow tempi that dancer Robert Helpmann, who tried mightily to jump to the music, complained, “Have you never heard of gravity?”

During the late 1960s, a batboy named Stanley Burrell entertained the Oakland Athletics with his dancing. Later, young Stanley became famous as rap artist and dancer M.C. Hammer.

According to many Native Americans of Canada, the Northern Lights are actually a dance. When the Northern Lights appear in the sky, one sees the spirits of the ancestors dancing.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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