RAMONA ON CORONA and……..Maya and me
A humor series on navigating this difficult time
Today, for my Wake-Up Call newsletter (subscribe here!), I’m sharing another installment of a humor series from my friend Pam Goldman, centering on a woman named Ramona, who tries to help… in her own way. If you’re new to this series: Here’s the previous installment. Read on.
Did you take ballet when you were a child? I did. Miss Pat Likely’s Dance Studio was next to the Food Fair in Linden, New Jersey and my mother took me there every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning for ballet, tap and acrobatic lessons. I don’t believe I asked for these but she clearly wanted a ballerina in the family and my older brother wasn’t game.
I will never forget learning first, second, third, fourth and fifth positions in my butter-soft leather pink ballet slippers with an elastic strap to keep my feet in them. I loved my black leotards and pink tights but nothing got me going like my pink tulle tutu. I was a princess in the making.
For the Spring recital a professional seamstress was called in from the dry cleaners next door to measure us for our costumes. My first costume was for the tap number. Picture Ginger Rogers as a seven year old. I wore a top hat awash in lime green glitter with kelly green glitter for the brim, a lime green satin blouse with kelly green satin shorts and a lime green satin jacket with dark green satin lapels. I squiggled my skinny legs into black fishnet stockings barely held up by a pre-teen garter belt (I had no hips) and bottomed off with my shiny black patent leather tap shoes secured with black grosgrain bows.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t mess up once during the tap routine, though the whole thing is a blur almost 3/4th of a century later. I was a bit self-conscious during the ballet portion of the performance as I had unfortunately inherited my father’s bowed legs which seemed to be highlighted in pink tights. Picture me on tippy toes with a set of parentheses holding me up where muscular calves should have been. Suffice it to say I didn’t have the perfect body for ballet.
The acrobatic portion of the recital was centered on doing splits, cartwheels and jumping jacks. We were all sweating to the max by the end and though we were too young for deodorant I think they should have broken the rules on that. After the curtain call I got dressed quickly and had a pen at the ready for autograph hounds outside but there weren’t any. My mom and I waited a few minutes and then got in the maroon Dodge and went home.
In college I was a theater major and lo and behold, one of the required freshman classes was Ballet I. I was thrilled to get into ballet slippers and a leotard again!
Plie, rond de jambe, arabesque, battement! Might I still be a ballerina? I had become a fan of the Bolshoi’s prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, whose long arms waved like water in “Swan Lake.” I wondered if I might become the American swan even though my arms were shorter.
Long story, short arms: I didn’t.
However half a century later, living on the East side of Manhattan, I was sagging in my middle, becoming pear-shaped, and trying to get in shape by going to my $1-per month gym ($1. First six months, 50 cents thereafter), walking the treadmill and panting on the elliptical three times a week. But I was getting nowhere quick at 3.5 miles an hour. I had a light bulb moment.
I called the studio where I had taken my own daughters to study ballet. Ballet Academy was founded by Miss Lily, a mature twenty-something with incredible business acumen. She had built her school into the go-to-place for mothers looking for a healthy after school activity for their daughters.
I called Miss Lily and said my dream of becoming a ballerina had never faded. Was I too old to brush up on my technique? “Never too old! Four hundred seventy-five dollars for 8 lessons,” she said. I gave her my debit card with my non-arthritic hand.
“A size 10 ballet shoe?” the octogenarian former ballerina Miss Giselle asked incredulously from behind the counter at the Capezio shop. “I don’t believe we carry that size.” She disappeared behind a pink curtain, her feet pointing out and returned moments later with a slim box. “We do go as high as size 9. Would you like to try them?”
I shoehorned myself in, my toes curled under my foot. “These work” I assured her.“And I need a black leotard, pink tights and a pink tutu.” “A tutu?” she said giving me a not-so-subtle once-over. “Yes, I’ll take one with an elastic waist please.”
There were eight of us in the intermediate class. The brochure had said it was for “those who have had the ballet experience, are familiar with nomenclature for specific ballet movements and can fork over $475 for 8 lessons.” I qualified for one out of three.
I hadn’t expected actual ballerinas in my class but there they were, muscular calves, sinewy arms, delicately poised at the barre ahead of me. No one else wore a tutu. I took first position, bent my knees and dipped for the first plié. I felt a twinge in my lower back but powered through and dipped even further on the second plié, praying as I did.
When we had to prance across the room, one at a time on a diagonal, doing an arabesque mid-way, I made sure I was last in line, hoping those ahead of me would be breathless and looking for their water bottles when I took my leap. I can only report that I did not fall.
I don’t think, as I took the measure of the other ballet students, that any of them had had 2 Cesareans, as I had. Their stomachs were visibly concave. Truth be told I wore Spanx under my leotard but seeing my profile in the mirror made me want to sue its founder, Sara Blakely.
There comes a time in life when you want to see an orthopedist. After my fourth class was that time. My knees were killing from the jumps. Here’s what the doc recommended. “Act your age,” he said. I ignored the co-pay on the way out. I was so furious.
If you asked me if I wanted to be a brain surgeon and I was say, over 50, I’m no fool. I know that’s impossible. But I thought maybe a senior ballerina who did free performances at assisted living facilities might be a possibility.
Who’s laughing now? I’m booked through November.
The last word: VOTE!
Pam Goldman is a writer, therapist, wife, mother and (young) grandmother. Her work has been published in The New York Times and VIVA Magazine. She is completing her first book, titled LEFT.
This appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.