Monday, January 19, 2009

Blue Tutu

I should have been in lightweight, fine-mesh tulle, pink or white; costumed to evoke a Degas dancer (I did have a black ribbon around my neck), posing among the polished wood furniture featured in the print ad for a fine antique store. If my costume had been white or pale pink, I felt sure, I would have been placed up front in the photograph. (Though maybe it was my olive complexion, too, that was too dark; I loved the sun and did not yet cultivate paleness as a mark of beauty, though at the time, there were still many assumptions about what a ballerina's skin ought to look like: anemic, as if to belie any suggestion of her true athleticism.) As it happened, though, I was in a costume of coarser blue material, and when the ad appeared in Architectural Digest in the mid-1980s, I was in the background, next to a seated violinist, pretending to be more interested in following along with his sheet music than in performing any dance steps. Front and center was another girl, a girl with the right costume, who showed off a lovely arabesque penché, using the back of a carved walnut chair as support. I remember looking at the glossy page of the magazine and feeling no thrill at all, no pride or glamor, only a bitter disappointment, as though there were humiliation in my pose and in my uniquely light blue tutu. In fact, I believe the requirement was any pastel color with a long skirt, so technically there had been nothing wrong with my light blue costume. And I had no right to be disappointed, to be surly even, considering the fact that my mother had moved small mountains to create a costume for me, just so I could have this opportunity. But I was thirteen and fully initiated into the ballet world, where the stock in trade at any cost is the illusion of perfection. Let the extent of my ingratitude (the real shame in the story) be clearly stated, because despite my mom's labor of love, imperfection was precisely the problem, through no fault of her own: the costume, which had been purchased with a short tutu that my mother then altered by hand with pins, needles, thread, and longer lengths of stiff blue tulle, was jury-rigged and second-best. We had tried, but had been unable to find anything more classical in style at the last minute, such as it was when we learned about the photo shoot. I had wanted "Les Sylphides" and ended up with something, well, not at all sylphlike. It—I—did not conform to the image in my mind; nor, I guess, to the very commercial image in the mind of the artistic director for the ad. It was an early lesson in disappointment, and in superficiality. Both were to become hallmarks of my experience in the dance world.

1 comment:

  1. What evocative imagery! Clearly, your parents' love and devotion contributed towards developing your remarkable resilience. I wish the same for my own children...