Posts Tagged Ballet Hysell

Ballet in my life — remembering an old friend

I first took ballet as a child.  I wasn’t very talented, but I loved it.   I was disappointed that I was not allowed to move on to pointe lessons then, so I quit ballet and took piano lessons for several years.   But ballet was not gone from my life; rather it was just beginning.

When I was in my early 30s, I saw the classic ballet movie, The Red Shoes, and knew that I had to get back to ballet.   I found an adult class and began again, relearning all that I had forgotten and moving on beyond that.  After a couple of years the teacher suggested that a group of us should try dancing on pointe.  She felt we were ready, despite our age.  I learned some of the basic moves and enjoyed the exercise.   My son also started taking ballet classes — like me, he wasn’t very good, but enjoyed it.

Soon after that I moved back to New Orleans and found a ballet studio that taught classes for pre-teen boys, so my son could continue his ballet.  I also started taking classes there and continued my progress.  Soon they started an adult pointe class, for those of us who were capable.  And that’s where I met my friend Jackie Fry.

Jackie had been a ballet dancer when she was younger, dancing with Harvey Hysell.   She had retired from dancing and was now teaching at the Hysell studio associated with the New Orleans Ballet company.  Jackie would teach us basic moves, but also short snippets from actual classic ballets.

Ballet Hysell was a big ballet school with lots of classes for all ages and levels.  Every year the company put on The Nutcracker ballet which included lots of children so my son had a chance to perform.  He was a child in the party scene in the first act and also a toy soldier in the battle with the mice.  I helped backstage with the little boys, making sure they got dressed on time and made their cues.   Later after my son quit ballet, I continued working backstage with the dancers, helping them dress and taking care of the costumes.

Jackie and I got to be friends, more than just student and teacher.  Something clicked between us, and I felt like she was part of my family — my chosen family.   We were different in terms of our careers — I was a college professor and she was a dance teacher — but deep down we had a lot in common.  We would get together to sew.  Sometimes we made regular clothing or drapes, but other times we made costumes.  New Orleans has a lot of costume parties so we joined in and made a statement with our costumes.  We would meet to go to all the art openings down Magazine Street, or get together to walk in Audubon Park.  Sometimes we would join her sister Pam for drinks, and often people thought Jackie and I were the sisters.  And when we were together alone, we shared our deepest thoughts and dreams.  We used to joke about becoming little old ladies together.

Jackie decided she wanted to get a college degree so she went back to school to study accounting. I would go over to her house and hang out with Bruce, her long-time love, while Jackie did accounting homework on the porch.  Bruce and I share the same last name, Harris, and we decided the first time we met that we were “cousins”.  People would ask why we didn’t check out our genealogical records, but we preferred believing it.

Thanksgiving was a big party with Jackie and Bruce.  They had crowds of people over with everyone bringing dishes and drinks.  I would go early to help cook and set up while Bruce set up the oyster shucking station outside by the smoker.  Jackie would make Apple Brown Betty to go with the pies and side dishes people brought.  The day after Thanksgiving was another smaller party, designed to get rid of the leftovers.  Even after I moved away, I sometimes went back to New Orleans to celebrate Thanksgiving with my “family”.

When Jackie got her degree, she got a job in accounting at Saks Fifth Avenue which had just opened on Canal Street down by the Mississippi River.  She would dress up and go to work, glad to have the employee discount on clothes.  But she hated the work!   After a while she quit and decided to open her own ballet studio, which she did.  The New Orleans Dance Academy opened in 1990 and was highly successful.  She taught hundreds of little girls and teenagers how to dance, but more importantly how to love dance and how to live life well!

Jackie died a couple of weeks ago, of ovarian cancer.  I knew it was coming, despite her positive outlook.  Her mother had died of the same.  I didn’t find out about her death until the day after the funeral — Jackie was on my blog list and one of the people at her studio wrote to tell me.   Her online guest book had so many touching notes of condolence for Ms Jackie, often mentioning her grace and charm.  She was loved by many people and won’t soon be forgotten.   I knew I wanted to write about her, but it has taken a while for it to sink in.   I hadn’t seen Jackie a lot after I moved away from New Orleans, and short visits from time to time weren’t enough.  But when we were together, it was taking up where we left off.

The last time I heard from her was in January when she sent me a short note in response to the blog post about my birthday.  All she said was, “Happy birthday, old friend!” but it meant a lot to me.  May 6th would have been Jackie’s 73rd birthday.   I’ll be sure to celebrate our friendship and our love of dance.   And I’ll always miss my old friend.

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