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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 9 - Disappointments

"All was going well till I pointed my toe and one of the buckles flew off my ballet shoe...'' Eleven-year-old Gayle Woodward appears as a dancer on the Town Hall stage.

Gayle writes engagingly about her life and times in New Zealand.

Although most classes at primary school were enjoyed, there was one daily occurrence which I hated along with most other pupils – milk at morning tea time. It was a government decision to get protein into youngsters by providing free bottles of milk for each primary aged child. Boys in each class liked this idea as they were allowed to be milk monitors, get some time out of the classroom to collect and deliver the milk on trolleys around the school and in the classroom poke a hole in each tinfoil lid with scissors and insert a straw before handing the milk out.

We girls had to sit and wait for the milk to come to our desks before drinking it all. In summer and sunny days in winter the milkman delivered the milk to the school, but it sat in the sun for about an hour before being collected. Therefore, most days it tasted rancid and could make us feel very sick. But we did not argue and dutifully drank our free milk as requested.

I was nine when our parents were asked by the minister at their church to foster a baby girl whose mother was suffering from ‘a breakdown’, probably postnatal depression. Deidre arrived at two months of age and slept in a bassinet in our parents’ room. Soon Mum was immersed in sterilising bottles, making up milk solutions, washing and drying nappies, and spending hours burping, feeding or rocking this beautiful child.

The jealousy I had felt when baby Mary took up so much of our mother’s time did not appear this time. I loved Deidre completely and accepted her into our family easily even when she began to call our father Dada. In fact she stayed for months and our parents became so attached to this baby that they asked to be able to adopt her.

Mary and I were thrilled but it was not to be. The birth parents simply arrived from nowhere, collected all of the baby clothes that our parents had purchased or sewed, threw a ten pound note on the floor and disappeared with their baby.

Our house seemed so empty without her but life got back to normal, sadly. I kept a picture from a calendar that looked like her in my treasure box. I think it is still there.

When Mary and I shared a bedroom, the bedroom wallpaper was pale pink with ballet scenes printed on it. I loved to gaze at the special curve of the ballerina’s legs, as they looked En Pointe. I learned to draw these feet and yearned to be able to do that.

At eleven years old I was growing tall quickly and becoming ungainly and clumsy. Always I was tripping over my own feet and looking very unladylike. It was thought that ballet lessons would teach me to become more graceful and in charge of my own body.

The lessons were held in a bare hall by the water in Glendowie and I was disappointed that our costumes were to be short, plain black dresses. We had pink ballet slippers and socks but they were held on by elastic – not a satin ribbon in sight. However, I enjoyed the exercising, the turning out of the hips and feet that we practised, the pliés, and the straight backs we were cajoled to attain. It was satisfying to keep your movements in time with the piano and the teachers clapping.

I did notice that I was a lot taller than most of the other girls and even the teacher. After a couple of months we began practising for a Recital. It was to be at the Town Hall in the city and I was very excited. Girls would be wearing tutus!

I was terribly disappointed and horrified to learn that I was to perform as one of the men in a group minuet dance with another girl as my partner. I was to wear a mauve taffeta pants set. Pants to knee, white stockings, BLACK ballet shoes with silver cardboard buckles attached and a long riding coat affair with lace protruding from the sleeves and a lacy cabot.

My mother, an excellent craftswoman, was asked to sew this outfit for me, from a paper pattern supplied and she was able to do this. It became rather a family joke that, as a teenager, I would bring home to Mother a Simplicity pattern and material and ask if it could please be sewn up for me with a whole two days’ notice. I had no practical knowledge or talent and had every confidence that she could do it well.

I got over my costuming disappointment and rehearsals got under way. It was a very nervous young dancer who waited in the wings on the Town Hall stage. I had a wig to wear and believed I looked quite dashing as I twirled my ‘lady’ partner around and bowed low and gentlemanly. It was thrilling to be on the stage and in the spotlights, stage makeup and wig disguising me.

All was going well till I pointed my toe and one of the buckles flew off my ballet shoe. It took all the courage and confidence I could muster to keep going without making the slightest mistake, easier because the audience was well hidden behind the glare of the lights. The show must indeed go on, it is true.

We all came out to bow at the end, listened to the cheers and applause and it all turned out very proudly for me. I was given a beautiful posy wrapped in a gold paper doily by my parents and I dried and treasured that, dreaming that one day I might be a prima ballerina and receive a huge bouquet as I curtsied at the end of Swan Lake.

Height got the better of me though and the teacher, Miss Julie, told me quietly after class one day that although I was talented, it was no use me continuing with lessons as by the time I was en pointe I would be over six feet tall, far too tall for my male partner. I took this with good grace, have kept my ballet slippers in a treasure box for evermore. I love watching ballet and can boogie the night away, interpreting music and moving with rhythm.

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