Dancing at the Academy

There was a time when I was going to be a ballerina; there was a time when dancing spoke for my soul. But I don’t dance much anymore.

I started dancing when I was four years old. Dance immediately became my art—my body cooperated, I understood the rhythm of the music and the concept of practice, I relished the attention of my dance instructor, I adored dressing in costume, and I had no inhibitions about performing. I loved the stage.

And what a stage! Although I attended a small, local dance school in an impoverished neighborhood, our dance recitals were held in the splendor of a lavish theater completed in 1908, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. However, by the 1960s the Academy, located in a neighborhood deemed dangerous by some, had largely fallen out of favor.

A true theater with a large stage, full curtains, ornate staircases, a balcony and boxes, worn yet plush seats, and dressing rooms was ours for two nights—dress rehearsal and recital. During the dress rehearsal, between my numbers, I raced to the theater’s balcony to watch or danced the “alley cat” with my sisters and friends in the dressing room; during the recital I waited for each of my numbers with great anticipation.

In bright red lipstick and with a large black beauty mark beside my mouth—my mother’s touch—I went on stage in my glittery costumes with an excitement that could not be rivaled by anything else in my life. I sang, I danced, I basked in the applause.

After the recital, my parents gave me and my sisters wrist corsages and took us to our neighborhood ice cream parlor. There, on our once-a-year visit, I had lemon sherbet, the most sublime delicacy in my culinary experience.

Those special nights lasted until I was eleven, when my dance instructor died in an auto accident. My mother found other nearby dance studios for me, but they were businesses, not schools. By the time I found a good teacher, my body had become too awkward and my focus too diffuse to pursue dancing seriously. By college I readily gave up dance.

My dancing renaissance occurred when I joined a dance club in my twenties. Too late to become a dancer but not too late to learn, I began to understand some of the lessons I had never truly understood before—how to gain balance, strength, and grace by lifting the inner axis between my pelvis and chest and how, during each and every rehearsal, to dance as if I were performing because doing so was the only means to performing well. I also learned that there was a place in my life for something to which I had once aspired to excel and now aspired only to enjoy.

It was also at this time that dance became the voice of my soul. Dream after dream had me dancing in symbolism so rich it propelled me forward. I danced on the streets of New York City, I danced with the children with whom I had grown up, and I floated on air once I achieved the syncopated rhythm.

I continued to dance—at parties, in dreams, and around my apartment on Saturday afternoons—but eventually I no longer pursued a formal outlet for my movement.

Now I rarely dance. Sometimes I feel a sense of loss because dancing is no longer part of my life or dreams. Once in a while, when I turn on music, my young sons dash into the room, and we dance about frenetically.

For now, this is enough. After all, I’ve already danced at the Academy.

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