Anna Pavlova by
200
(323 Stories)

Prompted By Family Myths

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My mother always had a wonderful sense of rhythm and a great ability to move her body to the beat of the music. I inherited that and my love of the arts from her. As a close friend, also with a depressed mother, said to me when I called to tell her of my mother’s passing, “Well Betsy, if your mother hadn’t loved the arts, we wouldn’t have met”. I hung onto that thought, rejoicing in all the good things that came to pass from my mother’s devotion to the arts, which I learned from her and I wove those into her eulogy, delivered on what would have been her 97th birthday in 2010. She had died three days earlier.

Her ability to dance was noted early by her family in Toledo, OH and she began taking ballet lessons at the Beatrice Gardner Dance Studio at the age of 7. She LOVED it! She didn’t have a perfect body type to be a ballerina, but dreamed of a career on the stage. Beatrice’s mother made the costumes, many of which wound up in a box under my bed, so I played with them as a child too, and dreamed some of my mother’s dreams.

Little Connie Stein

About the time she began her lessons, the greatest dancer in the world, Anna Pavlova, was on a world tour and came to Toledo. Knowing how much her little sister would want to see Pavlova, Mother’s oldest sister, Ann, obtained tickets to a matinee performance. In fact, they sat in a box, overlooking the stage. This would have been around 1921.

The great day came and the two sisters, 11 years apart in age, got on the street car to go downtown. My mother was in a tizzy of excitement. Pavlova did not disappoint. She ended her exquisite performance with her signature role: the Dying Swan. The crowd erupted in applause and Pavlova, the greatest Prima Ballerina of the age, took her bows.

The applause died down, except for one little girl in a box overlooking the stage who continued to clap and clap, even as the rest of the audience fell silent. Pavlova looked up to see who her admirer was. She saw my mother in her seat, still cheering wildly, went to the edge of the stage, and bowed, just to her. In ballet parlance it is called a “révérence”.

My mother never forgot that moment and told me that story from time to time. It was the thrill of a life time. I still get chills, thinking of it and how it must have felt for my mother, the aspiring ballerina, to be acknowledged by Pavlova.

We had a small, graveside service for my mother, but I told that story and I, a sometime beginning ballerina myself, performed a “révérence” á la Pavlova at the end of the story. This time, I acknowledged the artistry of my mother as we lay her to rest beside her sister Ann.

Connie, dressed for a Russian dance.

 

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: Beatrice Gardner Dance Studio, ballet, Anna Pavlova, reverence, Mother
Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a wonderful story for this prompt in all ways, Betsy! Your final reverence (apologies for lack of accent marks) to your mother was the perfect bookend to the reverence she received years before from Pavlova. I imagine that, when you first thought of doing so at her service, it felt just right.

    And, of course, you have the perfect illustrations of your story as well, not just showing your mother as a ballerina, but also doing a Russian dance. Brava!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. As I recall, I had mapped out some of the thoughts I’d say at my mother’s funeral, but the reverence was impromptu and I spoke without notes, so don’t actually have the text of what I said. It just felt right in the moment.

      I hadn’t thought about the correlation between Pavlova and my mother dressed as a Russian dancer before your comment. The two photos are framed together; were on the wall of our house in suburban Detroit, brought along to her apartment in Needham and now hang in my study, so I have lived with those images since I was a young girl. The Russian costume was one that was under my bed and I used to get dressed up in it too, so it long ago lost its close connection to young Connie and sort of became mine. But thanks for making that unconscious connection. I like it.

      • John Shutkin says:

        Just amazing that the reverence was impromptu and you spoke without notes. Brilliant!

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          She was very old when she passed and I had a long time to think about what I’d say. As I mentioned, it was the comment from my old friend about the connection to the arts that triggered a lot of positive thoughts (I really wanted to stay positive; as you will read when the prompt “Caregiving” comes up in a few weeks, that wasn’t always easy). But yes, the reverence just came to me.

  2. Suzy says:

    Great story, Betsy! I can only imagine what a thrill that must have been for your mother. Of course she would want to tell that story and have it passed down in the family lore! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    What a touching story,. Betsy. My granddaughter has a passion and talent for ballet and I have loved watching her perform from age 3 to today at almost 14. So I can easily imagine your mother’s passion for Pavlova. As always, I am amazed by your wonderful photos.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Laurie. I hope you will share this story with your granddaughter (tho you may have to tell her about the great Pavlova first).

      As for the photos, these were my mother’s. She had them framed together when we all still lived in Huntington Woods and I encouraged her to set up a “Rouge’s Gallery” on the hallway wall on the second floor of our house, so I saw the photos every day for years. After the house was sold, she took them to her apartment in Southfield, then to her retirement home near me. Now I have them hanging in my study, so I, again, see them almost every day. The Russian costume was one that was in that box under my bed that I dressed up in, so I was quite familiar with it and was angry when she tossed the box when I left for college. Guess you can’t save everything.

  4. Marian says:

    Lovely story, Betsy, and what a wonderful tribute to what your mother valued most in life.

  5. What I love most about this tender story, Betsy, is that even tho true, it glows with the aura of myth. The details of the box seat, the most famous ballerina of all time, the enchanted little girl still clapping after others had stopped, the final réverénce — and then full circle with you performing the touching réverénce — brava!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Barbara. I like the way you capture it: “glows with the aura of myth”. That is the way it feels to me, as it took place so long ago, involves someone so famous and someone I knew so well, but long before I knew her. You are correct, it takes on a quality of myth in my life. I share my stories with a group of friends and some family each week (in this case, more family members). In my introductory email, shared before the link to the story, I told them that of all the 175-odd stories I’ve written over 4+ years of writing for Retrospect, this is my favorite. I think you can see why.

  6. Betsy, what a wonderful story and image of your mother as the spellbound little girl at the ballet watching the great Pavlova!
    My mother, born in 1918, had a childhood memory of seeing Eva Le Gallienne as Peter Pan fly across the stage, and she remembers crying out with all her might to save the life of the dying Tinkerbell , YES I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES!

  7. John Zussman says:

    What a lovely story and how exquisitely told! I loved hearing that you “played with [your mother’s costumes] as a child too, and dreamed some of my mother’s dreams.” Your eulogy provides the perfect ending, bringing everything full circle. Brava!

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