Eight en Croix, Four on a Side, Every Day Until You Die
At age thirteen, you need something glorious in your life just to breathe. My mother was at Long Beach State afternoons earning her teaching credential, and Dad was at his new apartment. Everything was changing, so I needed a daily dose of tradition. I found it at Rosalie and Alva’s Ballet Theatre on Weymouth Corners, next to Perry's Five-and-Dime, where after four o'clock class I could load up on bubble gum and chocolate bars.
"Raychelle, point your toe!" shouted Rosalie. Six years of study, and she never pronounced my name right, but she was like radar on an unpointed toe.
Rosalie pounded her stick on the floor and bull-horned another order – something about a bent knee. With her hair tucked under a white turban and her coral-painted lips and hair, she looked like Rhonda Fleming playing a female yogi. Rosalie raced around the room, bending an arm here, poking a leg there, shouting. Everything about her was theatrical and excessive, from her fabulous arches to her rusty garage door shriek.
"You have great potential," she had told me. "You may even have talent, if you can find the drive. If you want to dance, you can't think about anything else."
This was a problem for a shy dreamer with too many hobbies, but I was a faithful student, taking four classes a week. Rosalie was a model of her own philosophy. Though her dancing had been in movie musicals and night clubs, not in ballet companies, she was devoted to high art, and hoped her students would exceed her career of high-lift ballroom dancing with Alva.
Talent was a potent word, one my mother shied away from when I showed her my stories and poems. "Very few people have talent," she said. "It's inborn." Dad said even straight A's did not mean you could rest on your talent. I was desperate for someone to discover it had been born in me, talent for something. I knew I had a destiny that had something great about it. Rosalie seemed to think I might have talent, which in her view had nothing to do with being born.
In a studio filled with music, passion and pink satin, springing to my toes on a pliant wood floor, despite intense pressure on my knees and toe joints, I could feel talent steaming off my skin. It propelled me into the air. I imagined I might pause in mid-air, as they said Nijinsky did. So I did my eight en croix, four on a side, figuring I would do these exercises every day until I died, because satin toe shoes were levitation devices. With them, I could float onto imagination's gauzy stage, a soloist at last. The cavernous, raftered studio had once been a warehouse and still smelled faintly of walnuts, but it was so capacious that I could leap and spin across it far and fast, feeling myself an object of pure momentum. Ballet was one thing girls could do better than boys, better than anything in my father's supersonic world of satellites, apogees and payloads. Music was energy flowing through me, and I needed no quadratic equation to catch its waves and ride.
Rosalie said I had some physical defects, but determination could overcome almost any defect. I had just seen Margot Fonteyn dance at the Hollywood Bowl with that handsome Russian defector Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet. They were so perfectly paired and he danced behind her with such reverence that I felt I could do pliés forever to dance like that.
"Talent will out," my mother said mysteriously.
I did not know what this meant, but would rather hear Rosalie say, "Raychelle, you must work, work, work."
With my tendons stretched so taut in an arabesque I thought they might snap, I thought, if this isn't talent, I give up. Rosalie came over and whacked my leg with her stick.
"That's where your arabesque must be. Have you gained some weight?"I had no reply, but she had moved on to her next demolition.