Opinion: Dancing Snowflakes

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Ruth Okey’s at the City’s recreation department adult ballet class. Submitted photo.

By Ann Christoph

They say no two snowflakes are alike, and that is certainly true of Miss Ruth Okey’s snowflakes at the city’s recreation department adult ballet class. These snowflake candidates are nothing alike—seventeen to seventy, trim to chubby, petite to statuesque, we’re certainly not a uniform lineup for a corps de ballet. Nevertheless, we are united in our desire to become snowflakes in the snow flurry section of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker—or at least humor Miss Ruth. She thanks us for letting her boss us around. We thank her for trying to make something grand out of questionable material.

I have a new respect for the corps de ballet—the group of dancers performing in unison in the background while soloists dominate the stage. As a child of five or six, my grandmother Marguerite took me to see prima ballerina Maria Tallchief dance in Chicago. Perhaps it was Swan Lake—I just remember flocks of white gauzy dancers standing in the background, methodically raising and lowering their arms. “What are those dummies doing?” I blurted out, probably much too loud. In shushing me, my grandmother urged me to look at the whole ballet and save my comments. 

Karma has made sure I pay for that remark—here I am years later, still trying—and not approaching even the simple but beautifully trained way they raised and lowered their arms in the background.

We rehearsed our three-minute snowflake section for several classes and eventually, Miss Ruth thought we might be ready for an informal performance at our last class before the holiday break. She even brought ballerina-length white tutus for each of us. We were invited to ask family members to attend the last fifteen minutes of our class. Only one family member attended the sister of the most statuesque among us. Brave and encouraging, she videoed our efforts. 

It is now documented–I am hands down the worst of all! So bad that it looks like I am doing a pantomime of what is supposed to be danced. 

Even the basics are lacking—I think I’m standing up straight, I imagine my arms are in the right position—none of that is true. Somehow I delude myself into thinking that if I end up in the right spot, right position, no one will notice the inartistic way in which I arrived there. No, Ann, the video proves it’s all very obvious. Intuitively though, I knew my performance would be questionable–there was a reason why I invited no one to be part of our audience!

Even so, I am still a snowflake, filling in my part of the line of dancers. Most of all, feeling strong within, getting my body to do its best, knowing I can improve, and never giving up. Taking on the thing I am least talented in and sticking with it because the art itself is so beautiful, even though my execution is way less than perfect. There is a place for all of us–unique snowflakes—dancing into the holiday night, into the coming year.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor. She’s also a long-time board member of Village Laguna, Inc.

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