Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pretty Is As Pretty Does-Dancing through the years

I was a homely little baby. Black eyes, black hair, kind of scrawny and covered with downy black hair when born.  My worried father asked the doctor if I was "a throw-back" to a prehistoric time.

As I grew I was bow legged and enamored with all things "cowboy"...

and yet my former model mother, who was stunning, 

and my very stylish paternal grandmother

were determined to turn my sister and me into a beauties in spite of the also constant admonition, "pretty is as pretty does".  My hair was tortured into huge bows.  Mother rubbed my legs and gently pulled them to make them straight (maybe a bit too much as I am now somewhat knock-kneed.) 

Never giving up, when I was older my mother sent my sister and me to ballet lessons, because my sister loved to dance, and to make me graceful.   As toddlers in Tulsa, Oklahoma we were sent off to learn to be like Maria Tallchief, Oklahoma's first prima ballerina.  All little girls in Oklahoma wanted to be like her.
Maria Tallchief
I don't remember this except for going to the store to purchase little black ballet slippers.

 My earliest memory of actual dancing was later in Morocco.  Rosalind and I took lessons with all the little French girls.  Because they went to school on Saturday, they had a midweek day off and the lessons were held on that day.  We would arrive hot, tired, and hungry from school to dance with rested, feed, and happy little French ballerinas.  I tried.  I was a fairly athletic child, but could never quite get the beat.  Rosalind got the steps the very first time, always.  While I felt a bit like a elephant in a tutu.

For years we took ballet lessons and I never got any better at it.  Recitals were a torture!  As Rosalind reminded me in the comments on a previous post, Maestro Novikoff  in Tacoma, WA dance classes, was terrifying with his carved wooden walking stick.  With it, he would whack the back of the legs of any young dancer  who did not have the proper turnout at the barre.  Although I did love the costumes.  One that I remember was sort of a gypsy/Russian peasant costume with rows of ribbons around the skirt and ribbon crowns with ribbons streaming down the back.  Robin, my best friend in Tacoma, and Rosalind and I all had them and wore them frequently afterwards for our "plays."
Me, in the center trying to pretend I'm anywhere else, and my friend, Robin, looking perfectly comfortable on the far right.

When we moved to St. Louis, my Mother somehow thought I might be better at modern dance.  Again, great costume, horrible performance.

My daddy's mother was delighted with her beautiful daughter-in-law, but less enchanted with her granddaughters, tom-boy me and slightly plump Rosalind.  Still, she continued to try.  Permanent waves in our very straight hair, new outfits every season. Because of my grandmother,  Rosalind and I always had the nicest dresses.  Blue for her, because of her red hair, and pink for me, because of my black hair.  Perversely, we both always wished for the other dress! Mama worked on our posture and deportment.  Frequently her sentences began with "young ladies don't...." or "young ladies always...."

Finally sometime during high school, grandmother got her wish and I was briefly beautiful.  No longer wearing thick glasses, but brand new contacts and with everyone ironing their hair to make it straight, just like mine, I turned into a swan. 
Still wearing boots, though.
Somewhat startled but secretly a little pleased at the attention, I began to find that "outside pretty" was very heady stuff and forgot the "inside pretty" part.  I became interested in clothes, boys and dances.  

All young ladies and gentlemen in Hobbs, New Mexico where we lived at this time, attended "The Assembly" which was a ballroom dance once a month with lessons on how to do the steps.  The boys were forced to dance and the girls were forced to graciously have their toes trampled.  Much to my surprise, I found that, if the boy could dance, I could too!

Looking back, I am not too happy with the young lady I became; vain, self-centered and none to nice to the boys who were interested in me.  Fortunately this narcissism did not last too very long.  Just a year out of college, I regained my balance.  When I had my own daughters, I tried not to place so much emphasis on their looks and a lot more on their accomplishments.  It turns out that all three of them are beautiful, inside and out!

When you talk with young girls, you might ask them about what interests them, what they are good at doing, what they might want to accomplish in their lives.  Only then might you want to say, " oh, and that is a very pretty dress you are wearing" or "you have such pretty eyes."  We all enjoy compliments about how we look, but I intend to make "pretty on the inside" a priority with the young women I work with and with my grandchildren. I quite agree with this quote from one of my favorite authors, J.K. Rowling...

How about you? Are you pretty on the inside? Do you put too much or too little emphasis on looks?

And just for are my granddaughters, who like costumes too, in the coon skin hats I bought for them and the vests and trousers that Rosalind (who actually likes to sew) made for them for their "dress up box."


  1. Such interesting memories. Love the cartoon of the elephant in the tutu but I remember feeling like the HIPPOS in tutus in Disney's Fantasia!

  2. I swear Sara sometimes looks just like that picture of you in the ballerina dress.


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