My mom as a young girl living in a small Utah rural community had always longed for a piano to learn to play. She knew this would never happen because her mom was a widow struggling to find work to support her family of five dependent children. So Mom did the next best thing, she drew piano keys on a cardboard box and pretended to play. Later when she married and I came along, Mom decided to buy me a piano.
Although I had no interest in learning to play, she arranged lessons for me. After years of trying to convince her that I’d never fulfill her dream of being a pianist, she let me stop taking lessons. It was my tears at my first planned piano recital that finally convinced her. The move to California helped as we left our piano behind with grandma in Utah, and it brought the opportunity for me to study dancing.
My first introduction to ballet was confined to learning to do pliés at my new girl friend Mary Anne’s house. Holding onto her mother’s ironing board, my friend who had taken ballet lessons for several years was my teacher. Her dad taught piano but I couldn’t get enough dance instruction after I finally convinced my mom that ballet would make me happier than all the piano lessons in the world.
My greatest desire was to join my friend in her classes and perform in the famous ballet Swan Lake. I wanted to be in the Dance of the Little Swans. It’s a very intricate toe dance executed in unison by a group of four advanced ballet dancers, all unfortunately quite short. I was always tall for my age. You can imagine my disappointment, when after a few months of ballet lessons, our recital came along and I danced in a beginner’s ballet called the Seasons. I was the center dancer representing the sun because of my height. Within a year I had caught up with Mary Anne and danced with her in the ballets Coppelia, and Cinderella.
During the summers, we attended the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles to see Swan Lake as performed by the professional New York City Ballet. Their starring ballerina in those days was named Maria Tallchief, but she was not as tall as me. Ballet seemed like a dream world of handsome men and beautiful ballerinas dancing out my favorite fairy tales.