Beauty in motion
Every Saturday morning in my home town, a rusted-out pickup truck would park in front of a rented hall on Main Street and out would step the most glamorous woman I knew---my ballet teacher, Mrs. Cordova. She had the face of the Russian ballerinas in the books I used to pore over---soulful eyes, aristocratic nose, gleaming black hair pulled into a bun. Her clothes had a cast-off look but she wore them with panache, from the chipped brooch at her neckline to the man's coat that swept the ground when she walked. Although she didn't have a dancer's body (her hips were too wide, her bosom too large, her frame on the dumpy side), she had mastered the walk. She could cross a parking lot as if it were the stage at the Bolshoi.
I was not a pretty child but in Mrs. Cordova's class I felt beautiful. She had a ritual I loved in which she'd call us out, one by one, to dance across the room to her, while she offered the gentlest of corrections. When it was my turn at last and I had her full attention, my arms seemd to float and my feet to skim the floor with glittering precision (thank goodness there was no mirror to show me how I eally looked). Then I curtsied to my teacher, my imagination transforming her radiant smile into the faces of my wildly applauding, flower-strewing fans.
I knew I had to be her favourite student. Looking back, I suspect every girl in the class knew she was the favourite, but then that's often the way with gifted teachers, whatever their subject.
My mother found Mrs.Cordova a pathetic figure and explained her reasons more than once. The white fur cuffs on my teacher's best dress were torn, held in place with safety pins. Mr. Cordova, with whom my idol taught ballroom dancing at night, had a hot temper and was rumoured to say terrible things to her, although she clearly adored him. "He's so Latin," she would say.
Then there was the question of her credentials. Just where had she studied ballet? A small-town dance studio, most likely. Should parents entrust their daughters' vulnerable bodies to such a person? I'd no sooner acquired my first and only pair of pink satin pointe shoes than Mother put them away in the attic for fear that dancing on toe with Mrs. Cordova would do permanent damage to my feet.
Maybe so, but I'd ben longing for those shoes. I had dreamed of gliding and twirling on pink satin toes. My ballet recital was just days away and rather than attend in homely, black little-kid slippers, I stayed home pleading illness. I never took another class from Mrs. Cordova. But for a long time, I missed her.
What I missed was her unshakeable belief in the power of movement to imbue the everyday with beauty. She taught me that a woman who carries herself with assurance and grace is by nature beautiful, never mind a few extra pounds or a yard-sale budget. Confident of her specialness, Mrs. Cordova created her own reality and invited her ragtag students---the gawky, the geeky, the overweight, the pigeon-toed---to share its enchantments. She gave me what I really wanted when I dreamed of a life in ballet. I'll always be grateful.
Click here to learn how, at 60, I fulfilled my ballet fantasy in a wild and crazy photo shoot styled by a real ballerina.
First published in Chatelaine, in slightly different form, September 2002. Copyright Rogers Media Publishing.
Posted by Rona September 03, 2010 @ 8:02 AM. File in Published in Chatelaine