Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Heart Ballet

Ballet.  You either hate it, or you love it, or it is in your blood and you have no choice.  I belong to the latter.  My mother was a ballet student... teacher... lover...   She had the chance to join the San Francisco Ballet Company or marry the love of her life, Bob Adkins, my father.  Surprisingly she chose love - must be a generational thing.  Don't know if she ever regretted her decision - that's another post altogether.  She kept dancing after getting married, after my birth, and the birth of my little brother and for years after that.  She would scope out the new teachers in town, just for fun.  I would tag along, often dropping into a heap on the ground, not able to continue after a grueling barre workout.  She was the Ballet Energizer Bunny!  Even in her late 60's, visiting me in Arizona, she came to my adult ballet class with me, blowing my peers out of the water.  Her grace... regal stance... her elegance at all times... 

Here she is in 1952.. at the age of 18... I also found this costume in her closet after she died!  It is a lovely sage green color... handmade by her of course... about an 18" waistline.  It hangs in her honor in my closet... along with her lovely worn pointe shoes.  Presenting the lovely Meta Joanne Stout - who became Joanne Adkins... and eventually Joanne Magill... my beautiful mother.

She followed my father around the country, while he chased his dreams of becoming famous.  Sometime we were wealthy, sometimes (most of the time) we were broke.  She taught for local park bureaus wherever we lived, wanting to help those children who couldn't afford to go to the fancier studios.  I was incredibly lucky to receive a scholarship from Portland's beloved Jacqueline Schumacher, Portland's strict Russian style Ballet teacher, whose studio was at the top floor of the Odd Fellows Building in Portland, Oregon.  My parents met "Jackie" when she was the choreographer at the Portland Civic Theater, where they were regular performers.  Mom didn't drive, so we took the bus downtown, then walked up the six flights of marble stairs to that glorious studio, with huge mirrors on one wall, and a large Grande Piano in the front corner.  The live pianist (always live) pounded out Chopin Etudes as we sweated to the crack of Jackie's cane on the floor... keeping time... tapping us gently when our chins would fall, or our rumps were not tucked under enough!

She never bragged about her past... I never knew that she portrayed Odette, in the first ever production of Swan Lake in the United States!  She said the "white Russians" sent her a single red rose before each performance (Ballet West Blog)... it gives me chills to realize who I studied under!  I'm honored by her talent and her humility... her beauty and grace... and the fact that she is still going strong at the age of 90.  This was taken in 2008, when she was just a youngster of 86 - look at her!  

I love Maria Grandy's quote about the two teachers my mother studied under:  "From Mr. Vasilieff came movement, flow, Russian panache.  Mrs. Schumacher provided careful technical training - the fine details and nuance."  (Maria Grandy Article)  Russian panache - what a great phrase... and Jackie certainly did teach the fine details.  We never got away with anything.  I am unable to find photos of her teaching in her studio... another testimony to her humility.  She taught for the love of dance, and not for glory and fame.

I started dancing in my playpen, in the corner of mom's classes.  She said eventually I just climbed out and joined in.  Searching my archives, I only found one photo of me in a dancing pose at the age of 9.  How different our pictorial lives are now!  Even though Morton's Neuroma and other issues prevent me from taking class, ballet will forever be in my heart and soul... Thanks Mom!

Even though I can't dance anymore... my heart soars when I PIN!
   The Ballet


  1. Deborah - thanks so much for your writing this. In 1962-3 I studied with Mrs. Schumacher, and your description of her studio is precisely correct. She made an indelible impression on me. I went to U. of Utah in 1965 just because of their ballet dept., and there came to understand that I needed to go another direction. But...once the ballet's in you I'm not sure there's any going back. I am charmed to read that Mrs. Schumacher is still with us. She certainly charmed me then, and seeing her picture above - after almost 50 years, she still does. She, you, me, and a host of others - we are all lucky for having had this experience. Thanks again for sharing your part of it!

    1. Oh I'm so glad you commented, Tom! I wonder if you were in class with my mother? We started there in 1962, after Jackie choreographed my parents in "CAN CAN" at the Civic Theater. Mom slipped right into the advanced class... but I was only in grade school. I didn't realize how lucky I was until years later when it HIT ME...

      Remember that crazy little elevator? Mom was always terrified of it, which meant always climbed the six flights of marble stairs... but once at the top, walking into class... something happened. No talking... just stretching... piano warming up... Jackie at the front in her black leotard and knee-length skirt... her cane... her loving discipline... you are definitely right... there is NO GOING BACK!

    2. Debbie - hi! I just thought I'd check back to see if you'd even noticed my comment. How nice that you did!

      I was not in the class with your mother, as I was decidedly NOT advanced. I happened upon the advanced class a couple of times when, I think, I was early for my class, or maybe it happened AFTER my class - Saturday mornings. I recall her daughters being there - the older (I only know of two) was home for the holidays, and from the American Ballet Theater. Her placement and extension, and clarity of movement astound me to this day, in my minds eye. In all the the class, she was clearly the pro. Younger daughter Heidi was also there. I'll admit to an instant crush on that one! Something about gals in tights... :) Later, in a minor role with the Utah Ballet, I got to see the visiting Jacques d'Ambroise dance. I cannot put in words what that was like.

      Yeah, I absolutely recall that elevator. I thought it odd that you wrote of climbing the stairs. I often did that just to warm up a bit, but definitely rode the elevator sometimes, which I thought rather a leap back in time. I also always made it a point to hit the nearby Safeway after call (before driving back to Salem - I was 17 and then 18, using my mother's car). Desperately hungry at that point, it was time for a couple of pastries - a weakness to this day.

      Powerful, powerful memories. I think now I know why. I used to think it was the workout, which I liked. But other athletic endeavors of mine, in which I was ultimately more engaged, did not so impress me. Now I know it was the aesthetics. I was a ceramic artist for awhile, and got scholarships for my poetry, out of high school. Now I compose for classic guitar. All have left deep, and lasting impression in my brain. For some of us, the beautiful, in all its forms, is an endless seduction, and ballet is beautiful. So are those who do it! (Professionally, I'm a psychotherapist - also, ultimately, an art form!) Thanks for providing the opportunity for this reminiscence! And all the best to you...

  2. Anonymous2:54 PM

    Joyce Quinlin Gray - When just a toddler, mother could not hold me still - nor did she want to. I had overcome polio, watched Gene Kelly with a passion, and little "Pennie" was going to dance! I began taking from
    Mrs Schumacher at the Billings Dance Studio on 33rd when I was about six. We began in white shorts, white socks and white slippers. We then advanced to a larger room and in time, we were wearing pink skins, black leotards and then the black slippers. Mrs Schumacher was strict, but those of us that were serious wanted to be as perfect as we could. She was beautiful and so loving. Her daughter, Gretchen, was a year ahead of us, and then came Heidi, behind us. Soon, Mr Billings moved his tap classes and ballroom to another buiding, and we entered the larger room. We went from once a week, to twice, and then three days a week - and constant practicing in between. I loved Maria Grandy and was so devestated to learn she died. There were do many "older" students that we looked up to, Marnie being one. And, the summer classes - wonderful! Unfortunately, I had a problem with asthma and after ten years of classes, I had to quit. But, I still dream of those classes, and imagine that I could get up and dance the same as years ago. Those years were the favorite of my life. How I wish I could see Mrs Schumacher again, she was just so adored.
    If anyone knows how she is at this point, what happened to Marnie (I believe John Gardner is still teaching. I believe he joined our classes with a brother), I would love to know.
    If anyone is in touch with Mrs Schumacher - she is very much remembered and loved.

    1. Oh Joyce... your comments brought tears of JOY to my eyes! She was so strict, yet we all felt her love, didn't we? And OH THOSE SUMMER CLASSES... what a workout... what GROWTH we achieved during those intense weeks! I'll never forget the day I entered the doors of the Advanced Class... even to be in the back row was such an accomplishment! I was starstruck by those "front row" girls (my mother being one of them).

      Last time I saw John Gardner, mom and I took a class from him at Mt. Tabor Park. I believe he was working for the Park Bureau at the time... bless his heart! But that was 30 years ago... I heard Jackie was still alive, but will try to get more specific information for us. Keep me posted if you find out anything!

      Thank SO MUCH for sharing your story... I pray that dancing will be part of the activities in the eternities to come... I look forward to being in class with you! Now put on some Chopin... ahhhhhh

    2. Anonymous10:01 PM

      Debbie: I wrote to Maria Grandy when she was in New York with, I belive, the Metropolitan, and was able to see her perform with Robert Joffrey when they danced at Oregon City High School. She was so talented and the expressions on her face - just beautiful! I still have her letter in reply to one of mine, tucked away. I was much younger than Maria and it was so kind of her to take the time to write a young admirer.
      I am now putting pictures on my wall, two of myself in skins, leotards and toe shoes, standing in the snow, and beneath I'll hang my leotards and worn out toe shoes. I had to buy a new pair of skins (or tights, as they are now called!), but there is no way that they will fit this older body..I have tried to do a pirouette, but can't remember how. I do do a few barre exercises and am very careful to keep my hands and arms just right - remember Mrs Schumacher telling someone to correct their hands and legs - not to look like they had "chicken wings". She always said that if she threw her shoe at us, she wasn't mad, it just meant she loved us. Well, one day, I did something wrong and I rec'd the ballet slipper. She must have loved me so much!
      I studied in the Billings studio on NE 33 from about 1949 to 1959/1960.

  3. Oh my gosh... as I did yet another search for our beloved Mrs. Schumacher, I found a fairly recent post (June 26, 2013) on a Facebook Page "SAVE OUR BALLET" - lo and behold, there's a photo of Jackie in her role of Odette, and a comment from Gretchen! Here is the link if you want to search for it... what a thrill to have found her after all these years!


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