Thursday, October 8, 2015

Miss Gloria’s Golden Girl

Once upon a time, there was a little ballerina,

Who was the rising star of Miss Gloria’s ballet class.  The fact that I was the best was never seriously in dispute.  Miss Gloria knew it; I knew it; the other students knew it; their mothers knew it, and if they failed to notice, Mme Mère was there to remind them. 

It all started one night when we were gathered around the television watching a beautiful ballerina twirl around on her toes and then slide gracefully to the floor into a split.  My ballet-loving father exclaimed in delight, “Isn’t that wonderful?” 

With the supreme confidence that a five-year-old has in the ability of her body to do anything she wants it to do, I replied, “I can do that, too.”  Whereupon, I got up and dropped to the floor into a perfect split, pointed toes and all. 

The next day, Mme Mère enrolled me in ballet school. 

Although much too young, for which my ankles have never forgiven me, I was the first in the class to go en pointe.  I’ll never forget that glorious moment when I laced those pink satin ribbons around my tiny ankles and rose on my toes on two blocks of wood for the first time.  The pain was excruciating!  Nobody told me about that part. 

Nobody told me that that beautiful ballerina floating across the floor is bourréeing on bleeding toes, blisters, corns and ingrown toenails.  The ballet dancer has a dysfunctional relationship with her own body.  On the one hand, she obsesses over how it looks while executing the minutest of moves, and on the other hand, she totally ignores the messages her body sends.  As the years pass, the messages (sprains, pulled muscles, torn ligaments and snapped ham strings) become more insistent, but the ballerina ignores them and learns to live with and dance in pain. 

I moved on from Miss Gloria’s class to private teachers, who were all enthusiastic about my future as a dancer.  But, eventually, after yet another, painful ankle injury, I decided I had had enough and hung up my toe shoes for good.  Mme Mère never forgave me and never missed an opportunity to tell me that, were my father still alive, it would kill him. 

I never regretted my decision to stop dancing, but I look back on my years as Miss Gloria’s golden girl with a mixture of fondness and a sense of loss.  Never again would I have that invincible conviction that being the best at something was simply the natural consequence of putting forth my best effort. 

So, were my years at the barre wasted, as Mme Mère complained?  Jamais de la vie!!   

You can take away my toe shoes, but you can’t take away the life lessons I learned in ballet class – grace, discipline and balance. 

And to this day, when standing in regular shoes, I often look down to see myself in full turn out.  Somehow, it still feels natural.  My husband calls it “duck feet.” 

You know, it’s funny, but every once in a while, someone will say to me, “You move so gracefully.  Were you a dancer?” 

To which I reply, “Once upon a time, I was Miss Gloria’s golden girl.” 


  1. M-T, I always enjoy your writing and how you add the perfect pictures for the right touch. This piece is especially bittersweet. I see too many kids pushed beyond their limits in dance and sports. I think it was so brave (and very smart) for you to give up ballet despite your talent and your mother's disappointment. Bravo!

    1. It's not easy to say "enough" to those who believe in us. Nothing we love is ever lost to us. I still love the ballet and love sharing that love w/others. I have such respect and admiration for those who make their career in ballet, especially since I know what happens when the toe shoes come off.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Cheri.

      Cheers, M-T

  2. Comment sent to me from my friend, Kate:

    What a sense of humor!!! I love reading your blog, so entertaining.

  3. M-T,

    Poignant and sweet post. Kudos to your mom for noticing your ballet talent & then immediately making sure you got lessons & kudos to you for realizing ballet had run its course.

    My daughter took dance lessons from age 3 until she was age 18. She was also a cheerleader starting at a very young age. When she got into 9th grade she decided cheerleading had run its course & wanted to pursue other things. Some of the cheerleaders & their moms couldn't understand her decision and were really surprised because she was so good.. Apparently all those dance lessons gave her an edge.

    I stood by her decision. My theory is there is a reason & a season for everything. Cheerleading had lost whatever it previously held for her.

    Cheerleading had given her confidence & made her less shy. So no regrets

    1. So true Rosie. A season for everything and a reason to move on. Nothing is ever lost. Everything we learn and experience becomes a part of who we are, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Your daughter is a wonderful example of that. I'm so glad you supported her decision.

      As always, I love it when you stop by.

      Chees, M-T

  4. Poignant story. I agree; that experience was not "wasted." It taught you a lot of things, and gave you an appreciation for dance and the arts that you can still enjoy today.

    1. Everything we learn in life becomes a part of who we are. We pass on the positive to others and make the negative a teachable moment.

      The arts (opera and ballet) are still where I draw my strength and inspiration. I feel so lucky that my parents nurtured that love from my earliest days.

      Thanks for stopping by, Deborah.

      Cheers, M-T

  5. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    Wow, one of your very best stories... so well written about the beauty and the pains!
    Yes, moving graceful for sure is part of it but I've often read about the excruciating pain a ballerina has to live through. Also for her back there is a toll to pay in the end...
    But still, we all enjoy a beautiful performance by elegant ballerinas!
    Sending you hugs,

    1. Dearest Mariette,

      Yes, indeed, there is a price to be paid for such beauty. How lucky we are that there are those special few willing to pay that price so that we may enjoy the benefits of their art.

      As always, love your comments.

      Big bisous, ma chère amie,

  6. Bonjour Marie-Thérèse
    For me La Danse Classique/Ballet has been my saviour all my life. It organised my mind, my body and my attitude to life. Having spent my whole life in the world of Dance, I earned my living and it fulfilled my artistic and creative needs. Now as a retiree and living in Paris I work as a Pilates teacher. Not a bad retirement job for a dancer, it has brought me much joy. Not least of all I can concentrate on the well-being of others instead of always looking inwardly to my own needs.
    Trés amicalement,
    from recovering Paris,

  7. Bonjour Mme Cygne,

    I can't think of anything more wonderful for a retired ballet dancer to do than teach Pilates. It's perfect. I have always believed that we should never stop doing what we love, and when we can no longer do it, we should teach others.

    I also love your comment about concentrating on others as opposed to being focused on oneself. I have never been a naval gazer. I believe that's the quickest route to physical, emotional and intellectual stagnation.

    We must connect when I am next in Paris, my beloved, recovering Paris. Take good care of her. Clearly you love her as I do.

    Cheers, M-T

  8. This was a really heartwarming story, and one that carries an important lesson. Working hard at what you’re good at is the path to success, but understanding what you want is even more important. That picture of the bruised and broken toes is an important reminder of just how much of a toll dancing can have on your body!

    Stephine @ Donita Ballet

    1. Indeed, Stéphine, dancing does take an enormous toll on the dancer's body. For most, it is worth it. I certainly value what I learned at the barre.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.

      Cheers, M-T


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