Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Three Sons episode: "My Son, the Ballerina" (1965)

[How Board President Thomas Bell was inspired to take dance classes]

I went to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota for my undergraduate degree, and, while there, I was also a competitive cyclist on the college team. This was during Minnesotan Greg LeMond's dominance of the Tour de France, so the thought of racing bikes in a frozen wasteland didn't seem so crazy. The winters in Minnesota are long and bitter, though, and while we would tough it out in temps approaching the freezing point, there were long stretches of the year when we could not train outside without getting frostbite. So I looked around for ways to keep my legs strong during the winters.

Now, memory is a funny thing, and in my memory I had by then mashed together a few childhood memories:

1) Stories of former NFL defensive tackler Rosey Grier's fondness for needlepoint.

2) An episode of "The Brady Bunch" that features a cameo from NFL defensive powerhouse Deacon Jones, who encourages Peter to keep singing in the glee club despite the teasing Peter is taking from his football teammates. (Sound familiar?)

3) An episode of "My Three Sons" in which Robbie, struggling on the track team, is advised by his coach to take ballet lessons. The lessons dramatically improve his performance on the hurdles, and Robbie ends up cast in a ballet recital.

My mind made of these three memories a fantasy episode of "The Brady Bunch" in which Peter was struggling on the track team until Mean Joe Green  (apparently he supplanted Rosey Grier in my memory) showed up and advised Peter to take ballet lessons. There's even a scene in my mind where Mean Joe Green and Peter are in first position releve. Wearing tutus.

I wish I could get that episode filmed.

So anyway, my fantasy episode prompted me to enroll in ballet class with Carleton's dynamo ballet instructor, Toni Sostek. This was not my absolute first exposure to concert dance, though close to it. My only prior experience was performing in my high school's production of "Guys and Dolls," in which I was cast as one of the gamblers and as one of the Cuban dancers. There is, to my knowledge and great gratitude, no video record of this performance.

Now, I was a pretty good cyclist in college, a particularly powerful sprinter, and did well enough in my classes. I was not, however, a good ballet dancer. At all. But I kept doing it anyway. The most important lesson ballet taught me was the value of sticking with something that you're not very good at, that you'll likely never be very good at, but that nevertheless may reward your efforts in expected and unexpected ways. My legs did indeed get stronger, but I also started enjoying ballet for itself, not merely as cross-training for the cycling off-season. I loved the class, loved Toni, and I kept taking her classes not only in the winters but through most of the year. Later, I branched out and took Mary Easter's modern class, and I loved that even more.

In the years since, there have been times when dance has laid fallow in my life, but I always seem to find my way back to it. It enriches my life too much for me to let it go. My thanks to Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones, Mean Joe Green, Greg LeMond, Peter, Robbie, Toni Sostek, and Mary Easter for showing me the way.

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