My Dream Career
I could have become a ballet dancer if…
There were so many ‘ifs’ unfortunately …or perhaps fortunately, it depends on how you process what’s happened in your life.
Nevertheless, I’ve been dancing all my life.
As a little girl, there I am waltzing around the living room to the music on the radio, the faithful companion we huddled around in secrecy to hear the latest BBC news on the progress of the Allies. My Dad was in the POW camp in Germany so Mum to keep me happy sent me to ballet classes. At the age of 8, I was on stage in a major production with my best friend, and the stage bug never left me. I still remember some footwork when I was a little yellow chicken in the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks in Mussorgsky’s ‘The Pictures at an Exhibition”, or a comb in “Der Strubel-Peter”, a popular German story for children, while my friend was a bar of soap. Another friend was a cat. In our classes we always practised each other’s role. Three times a week we met and became like a family, and our ballet teacher was like our second mother. Those were very happy times for me in spite of the war, because I was doing what I loved.
Then Diphtheria grounded me. I was 10, the war was over, Dad was back, he gave me a penicillin injection; I survived the dreaded illness, but was forbidden to dance for the next 9 months so as not to damage my heart.
The next 3 years saw me dancing again a fair bit, especially in school concerts. Everyone knew my friend and I were dancers, so we had to oblige: Russian folk dances were the most in demand, until Tito broke up with Stalin in 1948.
About the same time I was struck by severe chronic stomach pain, consequently diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer, a very rare thing in someone as young, and forbidden again to stress my body physically! Another two of my school mates suffered from severe digestive problems as well. The medical fraternity blamed the stress we suffered during the war.
As soon as I recovered with a proper diet and returned to ballet classes, the communist regime started to root out all private enterprise: my ballet school was nationalised - my ballet teacher and her school assigned to a special high school where she invited me to enrol. It was a hard decision to make as I liked my high school and my friends. Anyway, my Dad was against it, “If you’re not Ana Pavlova, it’s not worth the trouble.” As a matter of fact, I could never have become another Ana Pavlova anyway for the mere fact that our school taught modern ballet, we never danced on points. Also, Dad didn’t consider the stage a proper place for a proper young lady. How times have changed. Some of today’s parents are pushing their children to become celebrities!
As I was her best student, my teacher tried to win my parents over by suggesting, “She doesn’t have to perform on stage. She can become a choreographer.” The truth is, being on stage was the main attraction for me; the stage was the place where I felt at home, and very, very happy.
For many years I suffered for giving up my dream. If I had insisted, my parents would have caved in, but I wasn’t sure myself.
So, for many years I cried in the theatre every time I went to a ballet performance, and I avoided my teacher every time I saw her in the street. Then I got married, had a baby and we were already thinking of leaving Yugoslavia for good when one day I saw her; this time I had the courage to approach her, albeit with a thumping heart. Oh, how pleased she was to see me and keen to learn what sort of career I’d chosen. When she heard I was teaching English, her face darkened.
“My dear girl, you being so creative, how could you take up something so uncreative?”
“I’m not happy. I miss ballet very much. Do you think I could start again? I’m 27.”
“Of course you can, because you’ve danced before. You’re young enough, still supple.”
That very same year we left for Paris never to return. My ballet career was dead and buried.
But, if we hadn’t left…
Well, my B.A. In English and French came in very handy in Australia. I got a teaching job and taught for many years. I also danced a lot at parties and went to ballet performances at the Sydney Opera House, but didn’t shed tears anymore.
Teaching was quite enjoyable. My students loved my enthusiasm and dedication. Once they wrote on the board “Merry Christmas to Irina, the Best Teacher in the whole World!”
I suppose I did a good job because teaching was the closest thing to acting. It actually opened the door for me to perform again on stage, this time with the French amateur drama group of Alliance Française de Sydney. My good French accent and natural acting ability secured me the top roles. Definitely the best 6 years of my middle-aged years. I was planning to do some theatre work in retirement, but it dawned on me at the age of 45 that I should do it there and then. Who could tell whether I’d be healthy and strong enough when I retired? I clearly remember thinking then of a mature man telling me when I was only 17, “Do not postpone anything you want to do now for later. Youth passes so quickly.” There was regret in his kind but tired eyes.
How right my premonition proved to be: I retired on medical grounds aged 58. One of the problems was my osteoarthritic left hip, which led me to a physiotherapist who, you wouldn’t believe it, suggested belly dancing! Tell a frog to jump in the pond!!! I went to my class with a walking stick aged 59 and belly danced for 6 years when finally in the year 2000, the Sydney Olympics year, I had my both hips replaced. Definitely the best years in my retirement, not counting year 2000 of course, although I managed to shimmy even then in the rehab hospital with my new hip!
I still dance around the house. I can’t resist the waltz or Django Reinhardt’s rhythm. More often these days, however, it’s Ouch! my knee…Ouch!...my hip…damn those old bones and tender tendons!
But I’m not riddled with regrets: I’ve done plenty of what I’ve always wanted to do: prance on the stage. Yet, I could not have done it without my husband’s support and that of my late parents, who looked after my children while I enjoyed myself. How lucky was that?
In truth, I never gave up my dream…I just didn’t make a career out of it.
© irina dimitric 2012