By Liane Kupferberg Carter
I was dragged to Ruth Skaller’s Ballet Studio for Girls the year I was seven. I had never expressed any interest in dancing. But earlier that year, I’d had surgery on my eyes, and someone suggested that dancing might help my coordination.
Ruth Skaller was a tall, olive-skinned woman of indeterminate age, whose classes were filled with giggling girls she whipped into line with the snap of her voice. Through a series of barre exercises, we would sweep our Capezio slippers over the polished pale wood floors, plié, rond de jambe, relèvé, to the strains of haunting, melancholy piano music on the Victrola that only years later would I recognize as Chopin. Mrs. Skaller would stand before the mirror, lower face cupped thoughtfully in her hand, humming as she turned out muscled legs beneath her skirt drapery until she had choreographed our next steps. We would line up, and then, like drifting dandelion fluff — or lumbering elephants — cross the room on the diagonal, spinning and spotting, pirouetting our way dizzily across the studio.
Often the next class would arrive while we were in progress. Taller, lankier girls would perch on the painted radiators, or sweep into the dressing room behind the studio, a gray affair of cubbies and wrought iron bars over narrow dusty windows that faced an unpaved alley. Swinging rectangular black plastic ballet boxes with pink Barbie-faced ballerinas painted on the front, they would click open the vinyl snaps to remove leotard and tights, then open cunning spaces at the bottom which concealed the soft shoes, or, for the lucky ones, pale pink satin toe shoes with wooden toe blocks. Continue Reading…