Mack Williams: The dance

Published 2:01 pm Sunday, June 5, 2016

Recently, it’s been “dance show season” here in Danville, and likely, also Salisbury.

The first dance teacher I ever met was Mrs. Tadlock, of Salisbury’s “Tadlock School of Dance” (name, to best of memory) at Lutheridge in the Summer of 1969, prior to my heading off to Appalachian. She helped chaperone our “upper-teenage” group, housed for a week in Leadership Hall.

Mrs. Tadlock invited me to have lunch with her and her husband at home before leaving for Appalachian, which I accepted.

There was a variety of cold cuts, cheeses, fruits and breads, including whole wheat. (Dancers and their families are evidently, healthy eaters.)

Germans eat healthy too (sausages, notwithstanding) for looking back, this reminds me of the menu of my old Yanceyville German-veteran friend, Bill Miller (now deceased) and his wife Irmgard.

We now skip from 1969 to 1981, when my daughter Rachel was 4 years old and became part of the dance school of Mrs. Meredith Gravely, of Danville, Virginia. (In her senior year, 1999, Rachel danced a wonderful “toe” number to the Mary Poppins song, “Feed the Birds.”)

Mrs. Gravely’s teaching was thorough, and her “meticulousness” was also applied to dance students’ parents during the hectic days of the “show’s” final rehearsals. Parents had prime responsibility for keeping up with the particulars of each dance costume for the numbers in which the child danced.

I can still see Rachel’s costumes clothes-pinned to hangars, with similarly attached hats, gloves, scarves, etc.

If parents or the assigned dressing-room ladies didn’t keep up with these things, making sure everything was re-attached at rehearsal’s end, the unfortunate child would not be allowed to participate in the final show.

As if this weren’t nerve-wracking enough, only one parent of a child would be given a final dress rehearsal ticket for which to video the child’s dance numbers (no filming during the actual recital, itself).

One night, I wound up with camera in hand, but not ticket; so I thought quickly and used the clip of a ballpoint pen to attach my “N.C. Association of Social Workers” membership card (which looked somewhat similar) to my pocket.

Mrs. Gravely had “watchdogs” patrolling the aisles, looking for hapless individuals without the proper “papers” (some German reference again).

Fortunately, I completed Rachel’s videoing before being “found out!”

The “patroller” coming up the aisle nearest to where I sat was particularly menacing! She was a member of the Danville Life-Saving Crew, and had the look of the old “Teutonic” character actor Erich Von Stroheim (i.e., “Sunset Boulevard” 1950). In the event of an auto accident, though, one would have wanted this lady around, as she appeared to have sufficient  muscle to be the “jaws of life” herself!

Of me (a mere “pipsqueak” by comparison) she could have made short shrift.

Much to my surprise, she didn’t physically “bounce” me, only saying I would have to leave (her “imagined bite” much worse than the actual).

One night, some years later, I was gripped by even greater fear.

This was the occasion of Rachel’s ballet shoes having gone missing in one of the backstage dressing rooms, their absence being discovered at the end of the final dress rehearsal for the “Big Show!”

Fear wracked my nerves as I searched the depths of trash cans inside that area, and all the outside trash cans of the Danville, Virginia high school, in the auditorium of which Mrs. Gravely’s dance recitals are held. (The school’s name is “George Washington,” so by grace, or “Providence,” I’ve managed to bring up that name now for three weeks in a row).

Giving up looking, I made my way (Rachel accompanying) to Mrs. Gravely’s house to beg for mercy.

We arrived at Mrs. Gravely’s darkened porch and I rang the doorbell, shortly after which an inside light went on, then the porch light, with Mrs. Gravely appearing in night gown and holding Rachel’s ballet shoes. (She came to the door, ballet shoes in hand, knowing without doubt that the late-night doorbell ringing  represented “a case to be pled.”)

Someone had found the shoes and turned them in; so we all said, “good night.”

The following evening’s “show” was wonderful; and while accepting a huge bouquet of beautiful roses on stage, the “ever-proper” Mrs. Gravely looked elegant in her evening gown.

I reflected that I was likely the only one of Mrs. Gravely’s students’ male parents to have seen her earlier in a much “later-evening” style of gown, generally worn through till dawn.

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