Ballerinas on the Moon

December 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

In honor of Thank A Teacher Day:  the following is a slightly edited version of a post I wrote for Catonsville Patch over a year ago.    You can read the original version here.

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The lilting, closing notes to Brahms’ Waltz in A Flat Major still rang in the air.  (We had an actual pianist playing an actual grand piano in the studio when I took ballet.)  We would have just completed our rond de jambe exercises at the bar, and we would be waiting.  Silence.  We’d stand like statues in our closing pose, hands down delicately, elbows gently bent, feet in fifth position, head tilted just so.

A few of the braver and more impatient 10-year-olds among us would break the pose slightly to check on his reaction.  One of them would giggle a little, nervously, and then we all knew what we’d see when we turned to look at him.

Mr. Andros, sitting on a stool in the front of the room, beefy legs crossed at the knee.  One large arm flung around resting on the barre behind him.  The other large arm in the other direction, bent at the elbow and also leaning on the barre.  The bridge of his nose resting between thumb and forefinger, pinky in the air.  Eyes closed, but eyebrows raised.

And then we would hear it – the voice that was a cross between Squidward from Spongebob and Bert from Sesame Street.

“Laaaaaaay-deeeeeeeeez…………………. If you can’t count to four, I suggest you take upknit-ting.”

(No one bothered to point out to him that you also need to count to four when you knit.  You didn’t quibble with Mr. Andros.)

Gray-ish beard and moustache, black unitard, white socks, white ballet shoes, and a little sheer scarf tied around his neck if he was feeling dressy, age placed by me at anywhere between 40 and 90 years old, Mr. Andros was my favorite ballet teacher.  Ever.  In fact, my parents and I did as much as we could to make sure he was my ONLY ballet teacher, though over 8 years of classes at the New York School of Ballet, that was tough to accomplish.

We were young, but we all took dancing pretty seriously.  This was not a ballet school for sissies.  He, in turn, was demanding, but mindful of our youth.  His exasperation wrapped up in mock agony did absolutely nothing to hide how much he adored these groups of hopeful little girls.

He would ball up his hand into a fist and walk around us asking, “How would yyyyyeeeeewwwwwww like to be the first ballerina on the moon?”  We’d giggle, but try harder.

He would explain how a grand jete is done, and demonstrate the leap for us.  Then he’d roll his eyes and say, “Of course when I do it, it looks like the Hindenburg flying through the air…”  We had no idea what the Hindenburg was, but we’d try to do it better than he did.

He sat down with parents of this pre-teen girl, and spoke the words I knew he would, when they asked if I had any sort of shot in hell of being a professional ballerina.  I cannot begin to explain how badly I wanted with all my being for the answer to be yes.  Deep down, though, I knew I didn’t, and I think my parents did, too.

I wasn’t in the room, but I imagine it was the utmost gentle kindness he told them I would never be a prima ballerina.  While I was really good at duplicating moves demonstrated by him, I lacked strength, flexibility and the grace required.  I just didn’t have it.

Cordelia had it.  Cordelia was the same age as I was, but destined to be a ballet dancer.  Cordelia likely emerged effortlessly from the womb with her entire body in the perfect fifth position.  I’m sure as soon as her nose and mouth were suctioned out, she began pirouetting all over the delivery room.  She was proportioned perfectly for a life of dance, the flawless combination of delicate yet strong and flexible.  She was allowed to do our class in pointe shoes, while the rest of us were still years away from going on pointe.  She was that good.

Yet, on one Parents’ Day (we didn’t have recitals – we had a couple of days a year when parents could come watch the class in session) I’ll never forget the time we all did a combination in the center of the room.  When it was over, Mr. Andros was in his pose, sprawled all over the barre in exasperation, eyes closed.  Then he said something like, “Would the Lirtzman sisters (Rachel and me) please come to the front of the class?”  We did, and in front of all the parents and the rest of the class, he cued the pianist and had us perform the combination.

When we finished, he said, “Thank you.  That is how it’s supposed to be done.”

Most teachers help you succeed.  The rare ones help you fail.  Mr. Andros helped me see my limitations while making sure my self-worth and dignity remained intact.  I could let go of a dream without feeling like a failure.  Lesson learned.

(Epilogue:  Years later, my parents ran into Mr. Andros on the Upper West Side.  They were happy to see each other, but my parents told us he didn’t look at all well.  As I began to write this, I assumed he died many years ago.  I Googled him this afternoon for the hell of it, and was surprised to learn he only passed away in 2009, and had left a lot of writing behind.  I am so sorry I didn’t try to get back in touch with him to let him know how much he meant to me and my family, as it would have been so easy given the advent of the internet.  

I’m happy, though, that he lived such a long life, and that he was kind enough to leave behind writings about it. I never knew until this afternoon that he studied with George Balanchine and also taught the likes of Cynthia Gregory, Veronica Lake and JoAnn Woodward.   I learned that and when Mr. Andros was in the army, he was assigned to the Special Service Division of General Douglas MacArthur’s Headquarters Company and that his older brother, Plato Andros, played for the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s a pleasure to get to know him better, even if it is posthumously.  R.I.P., Mr. Andros.)

Rose-colored Glass, Part 4 – Rose-colored Again

February 24, 2012 § 4 Comments

As a kid/young teen, I had three pipe dreams.

1.  To be a catcher on the NY Mets.
2.  To be a professional ballet dancer.
3.  To be a glassblower.

I knew pretty early on (like, before I was 9) that due to a number of physiological issues, Number 1 was never going to happen.  I had slightly more (but not much more) hope for Number 2.  That dream of being a dancer lasted a little longer, but had pretty much evaporated before I hit the teen years.

The glassblowing dream, though, behaved in strange ways.  (You can read about its origins here and here.)  It sort of popped its little head in the doorway every once in a while well into my young adult years.  It took years-long sabbaticals, only to re-appear all refreshed and well-rested, tanned and toned (bastard) and tease me with thoughts like, “Man.  If I won the lottery, I’d open a glass studio.”  Or “I could have a glass studio on one side, and Rachel (my sis) could have a flower shop on the other…YEAH!  That’s it!  People can watch me making the vase their flowers were gonna go into!”

While glassblowing is expensive and unusual, I sensed if I could really study and practice, I just might have the ability to do this professionally.  However, unlike the first 2 dreams, I was only vaguely aware that this was a real aspiration of mine until I spent a week in an intensive glassblowing class in Pittsburgh when I was 42.  As you’ve probably read, though, it became clear to me over that week that this dream, too, was unlikely to pan out.

It probably goes without saying that putting a dream to bed at 42 is a lot harder than at 9 or 12 years old.   My parents weren’t there to buffer the blow, like they were with ballet.  I had to deal with this myself.  I dealt with it by staying as far away from the glass studio as possible.  Not thinking about it, not writing about it, nothing.

In the meantime, though, I did something else creative.  I continued blogging on Catonsville Patch.  I started my own blog.  I wrote about bullies, truck-drivers, gender, politics, you name it.  I started having breakfast with a friend whose writing I LOVED and we started talking about ways to get our writing out there more.  In fact, it was she who pointed me towards an essay contest in the Bethesda Literary Festival.  Here was the topic:  “Who or what has influenced, motivated or inspired you and how has it shaped your outlook on life?”

Oh, this was too easy.  Mr. Andros, of course.  My childhood ballet teacher – I had written what was essentially a love letter in the form of a blog post to him last August!  All about how he influenced and inspired me!  I really had fun capturing his attitudes and mannerisms in prose – it was perfect for the contest!  Except for the second half of the topic.  I hadn’t written or thought about how he shaped my outlook on life.  I had to do that (along with editing it down to 500 words…)

When I tackled that task in January, it came really easily, too.  While most teachers help you succeed, Mr. Andros taught me how to fail.  Rather, he taught me that limitations do not equal failure.  That I was valuable as a dance student, even though I wouldn’t be a professional dancer.  That it was possible to let go of that dream and keep my dignity and sense of self-worth.  That accepting my limitations didn’t have to mean rejecting the art form.  (Does anyone else see where I’m going with this?  Who needs help with the analogy?)

If that wasn’t enough to make me glance sideways at the glass studio again, there was this.  A tweet from my friend, Billy – and old buddy and music geek from camp.  That’s right.  Buck’s Rock camp, where all this glassblowing began.  He tweeted the following: “Your biggest fear should perhaps be ignoring your true voice’s true calling. The trick is: it might be different than you think it is.”  Now, he wasn’t writing to me – he was just having one of his many Oprah moments.  But boy, was he speaking to me.

Enough layers for ya?  Through writing, I discovered I could go back to glass.  Maybe my true calling is writing, not glassblowing.  Glassblowing can and should take its place with dreams which are now beloved past-times and activities in which I still engage with great joy.  I mean, crap – I already know how to write well…and getting better at it is a helluva lot less expensive than getting better at glassblowing.

Don’t worry, though.  I’m still getting better at glassblowing.  Here’s proof.  And if you didn’t feel like watching the video, here’s more proof.

3 of the 5 pieces I made on 2/20/12. The one on the left is the one from the second half of the video. 🙂

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