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Fans meeting favorite dancers

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In his marvelous reminiscences of ballet and NYC in the fifties in the Ballet History forum, Kurvenal recalls a party at which Tanaquil Le Clercq was present and he was "so in awe of her that I couldn't put a sentence together without sounding totally stupid." On the other hand, Leigh Witchel did put a sentence together, too closely, when he encountered Merrill Ashley on Broadway. He was so nervous, all the words ran breathlessly together.

What was it like for you meeting a beloved dancer for the first time?

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After many years of hearing stories about her from a dear friend, I met Natalia Dudinskaya for the first time in 1990. I was so thunderstruck that on being introduced to her, I couldn't say a thing, not a word! After a protracted silence she turned to my friend and said "Does this girl speak English?"

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Standing on line at the deli near David Howard's old studio, I thought the hand on the person behind me (viewed periferally) might be that of Gelsey Kirkland. Turning "casually" around, my recognition was confirmed. When it was my turn to pay, my own hand shook quite alarmingly as I handed the cashier my money. :) This was far from my first encounter/non-encounter with Gelsey, but it didn't matter. Familiarity, in this case, did not breed familiarity.

Elsewhere on the board, I recalled a bus ride when I boarded, and the only other passenger was Mme Danilova, seated in the front. I gave her a smile and nod of recognition and took a seat near the rear door. We did not exchange any words, but she spent the rest of the ride preening and posing for me, apparently happy to have an audience. I was enchanted.:(

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How about an encounter with a favorite singer?

I had heard Irina Mishura an Moldavian born mezzo in many roles in several venues throughout the midwest--had become just a bit obsessed with her.

Carmen, Amneris, Azucena, Adalgesia--all the big dramatic mezzo roles.

And then there was Samson and Delilah, an opera with three arias that are top-forty hits for this voice.

I was at five of the six performances of S&D at the Michigan Opera Theatre in Motown and went backstage after one of them. I was prepared--I had both her CDs with the booklets out for signing, the program folded to the page with her picture for another autograph and a few well chosen words memorized.

Once backstage, accompanied by a chorus member who we knew, we spoke with a few of the other singers in the production, then came upon Ms. Mishura's dressing room. Her husband (also her manager) was in a chair outside the room--a friendly type--formerly a Detroit area resturant owner--he told us to go right in.

The star dressing room backstage at the Detroit Opera House are actually small suites. One room has couch, a few chairs and an upright piano. The next room is the dressing room proper, with a sink, big mirror, etc. As it happened, Ms. Mishura was sitting the dressing room part of the suite, still removing her dark "Delilah" make up. She was not terribly happy that her fans had been sent in to see her while she was still recovering from the performance. I almost turned and ran.

She was as gorgeous in person as onstage, and after shooting a look at her husband was graciousness itself. She signed everything and, while it took a while, I was able to get my all purpose speech out:

"We saw you as (here fill in roles you have seen the singer and where) and you were wonderful in all of them. But tonight you even outdid those performances--I have never seen anything so good. We hope to see you again in (whatever is coming up)."

I have found it always works to tell an artist that you have seen her in several roles and love them all.

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I am about to be a horrible name dropper. Oh, what the Hell.

During the mid 90s I worked with someone who was well connected to New York City Ballet. One night my wife and I got an invitation to sit in Balanchine's old seats. We were then invited back stage during intermission where we met Sean Lavery, Nick Hubbe and Judy Fugate. For someone not connected to the dance world it was quite an experience.

My big moment was meeting Merrill Ashley in the Green Room a few years later. She is as wonderful in person as she appeared on the stage. Very unassuming and nice to talk to. We chatted for several minutes. She has always been one of my favorite dancers and I regret not having seen her dance until late in her career.

Nick Hubbe is very charming. I understand he is fun to be around even when he is being serious.

Sean Lavery is one of the most decent people I have ever met. My understanding is that he has never complained about his career being cut short. Anyone who has attended any of the talks dancers periodically give knows that they all speak highly of him as someone who has helped them in their careers. I regret that I have seen him dance only on video tape.

We also met Alessandra Ferri through a friend, but it was a quick how do you do and that's about it.

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i'd agree with you on that, farrell fan. :)

carbro - LOVELY story about danilova.

i am NOT overawed by meeting dancers. (i have met lots, including 'big names' - as have quite a few posters here, i believe.)

EXCEPTIONS (i.e. the times i WAS overawed):

- i WOULD have been overawed by dudinskaya, Mme. Hermine ...but the opportunity didn't come up! (from my teacher's perspective, i regard her as a teaching legend, more so than as a dancer.)

- when i was young i got fonteyn's autograph, but i was too embarrassed to say it was for me, so i said it was for my sister, when handing the programme over to an assistant. DIDN'T see fonteyn herself, at the time.

- only time i recall being overawed by meeting someone 'famous' was when i worked at a 'new age' fair in covent garden, and kylie minogue came in, apparently un-noticed. she came straight up to my counter (i was selling swarowski cut-crystal hanging window ornaments), stayed about 5 minutes selecting things, and we exchanged a few lines - but i deliberately acted like she was just anyone else, for her sake, as she was clearly trying to just 'be normal'. when she told me she was looking for gifts, as she was going home to australia for christmas, i SHOULD have had the presence of mind to say "i should be so lucky...lucky, lucky, lucky...", (since she had acknowledged that she recognised my australian accent) - but it only occured to me AFTERWARDS. damn! ;)

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oh yes! - my beautiful 16 yo niece got her photo taken with matthew perry, standing alone, 'couple-like', last christmas at an LA hotel. her family and he happened to be at the same catered christmas lunch 'do' (sorry for the bad grammar), and he was apparently completely normal, FRIEND-ly (sorry again!) and approachable, about conversation and the like. i admit to being a bit overawed by THAT, and am amazed that she wasn't bragging and showing it to everyone! i saw it in their christmas photos, and thought that her date looked at bit 'old' for her...

nothing to do with dance - sorry.

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I met Merrill Ashley when I was about 15 0r 16. I didn't say a word. I just stared at her. I also had lunch with Isabelle Guerin and a mentor of mine at the time. I didn't even realize who she was until I saw her on video months later. I didn't say much at lunch but I wonder if I would have said anything anyway. I probably would have froze like I did with Merrill.

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Although Streep's not a dancer, this is a dance story. Several years ago, as my husband was staying close to the phone waiting to hear news about his dad who was in the CCU of a distant hospital, the phone rang. A woman asked about private Irish dance lessons for someone else for the summer. Husband was anxious to get off phone, so he hurriedly told her he didn't give private lessons in the summer but "she's welcome to come down to the dance hall on Fridays when the kids take lessons". "Oh, no thank you, " said the voice.

After he hung up, he realized the name mentioned: Meryl Streep. He thereupon called me at work saying, "I think I blew it. Meryl Streep wants private lessons and I said no, but she could come down to the hall!"

So, because I work at a school with some celebrities' kids, I asked around and someone knew Streep well enough to tell her why husband was so short with her secretary. Streep called back and the upshot is that he gave her private dance lessons twice a week all summer long in preparation for her "Dancing at Lughnasa". She had said she wanted to be well-prepared for the dancing scene but also mentioned that she didn't tell the director she was taking lessons because she was afraid he wouldn't like it. Turns out when she went to Ireland to shoot the movie, she knew way more than she should.

But if you ever see the rerun of Streep on "Inside the Actor's Studio", she does about 20 seconds (if that) of "Irish dance". She'd forgotten mostly everything by then but it was still a little recognizable.

Years later, I was flipping TV stations and Bette Midler was on either Oprah or Rosie O'Donnell. Something Midler said caught my ear as I was about to change the station, "I got a call from Meryl Streep. You know, when Meryl calls, you don't say no!"


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Then there was the time during the Royal Danes' last New York visit (too, too many years ago), when I waited at the stage door with photo/memorabilia laden friends. While Arne Villumsen was graciously signing autographs, I stepped around to stand back-to-back with him. A friend responded to my raised eyebrow with a shake of her head. Translation: Is he tall enough to partner me? No.

Ah, well . . .

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During the visit of the Sadlers Wells Ballet to NY in '49, there was a party being given for the Company at the NY Public Library on 42nd Street. Knowing some of the ins and outs of the building, a few of us were successful in crashing the party, hoping to see some of the principals. It was a very c rowded affair. We made the acquaintance of a young man sitting on a marble ledge and had an enjoyable evening with him talking about the ballet 'scene' in Europe and NY, Ashton Vs. Balanchine (even then!) and he was interested in our opinions of the Company. The young man's name?--John Cranko.

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My husband was at a party once, and idly picked one of those 'Pinpressions' things off the table. If you've never seen one, it's a block of movable blunt pins -- you can push your hand against the pins and create a scupture of your hand. My husband was just about to shake it out and, oh, make a sculpture of his hand or something, when he recognized the face that currently occupied the space: Baryshnikov. He set it down v-e-r-y g-e-n-t-l-y.

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A couple little things come to mind on this subject. The first was when my daughter was having her "audition class" at WSB at age 11. She was told that Miss Day would not be teaching the class that day, they had a guest teacher -- Martine VanHamel, [who at that time was still dancing with ABT.] My daughter just blinked and got teary, the realization that this was the "real thing" was a quite a shock.

The other was several years ago when she was dancing with Miss Farrell. We were out and when we got home there was a message on my answering machine. It was Suzanne Farrell leaving a message for my daughter to call her back. I didn't want to erase it!

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In 1980 I was taking class with Maryon Lane at the Urdang Studios in London. I wasn't feeling well and Maryon knew it, so when I felt faint after plies and port de bras, I asked her if I could sit down in front of the class and watch the rest, and she said yes. About a minute after I sat down on the floor next to an empty chair, into the class waked Ninette de Valois, who sat on the chair next to me and kept up a running commentary for an hour and a half! (I just said "Yes ma'am" to everything and nodded a lot). When she left with someone who had come to collect her she had forgotten her coat on the chair, so I picked it up and ran down the street after them in my class gear to give it back.

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The parents of one of my daughter's best friends (NOT a ballet dancer) from high school were and perhaps still are friends with Baryshnikov. When this girl first discovered my daughter was a dancer, she asked if daughter knew of B. When daughter said yes, of course, the friend nonchalantly commented that, "when I was little, I got sick and threw up on him."

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For three seasons of the Kirov Ballet in London I stayed at the same hotel as the company, the first time was just luck the next two were planned. It was wonderfull at breakfast to see the dancers drift in with the elegance walk that only ballerinas can manage at that time of day. In the evening, after the performance, it was a different story as very tired dancers returned. I was lucky to see most of the star names but in particular it was Altynia Asylmuratova that made the biggest impression. I was just coming in through the door when she passed me dressed in slacks and a sweater going to the theatre, nobody recognised her as she walked down the road, but I knew that I would see her in the leading role that night.:)

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treefrog and atm711, i really enjoyed your stories. Mme. Hermine - i too have done class at the urdang with various people, and with maryon lane at london studio centre - a few years after you. i can appreciate your story, but for the life of me i cannot picture de valois walking through that dreadful entry hall into the urdang studios, and sitting down to watch class there. i guess it had to be seen to be believed. :D

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even funnier, grace, is that a day or so later i went upstairs to look at an academy class through the window because someone had told me she was upstairs and i saw her sitting watching the class, but this time she was sitting alone with a stony displeased look on her face, for whatever reason. also if i remember correctly, at the time maryon worked for the royal ballet school, so that may have had something to do with why she was there.

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I'm a classic story of totally falling apart.

I was a stress case before I discovered the ballet (well, stayed a bit stressed afterwards too)-- ballet finally helped me learn to take time to smell the flowers. Although I had always loved ballet it was more in theory than having seen anyone or any ballets I LOVED. Then, I saw Darci Kistler on the Kennedy Center Honors, and I was a goner (my tape is so warped by now).

I met her less than 2 years later (I was 18 at this point) when she and a small group performed in NJ. By the time my mom and I made it to the backstage area, apparently others had already met Darci and left. But, someone went to go get her for me. The minute I saw her come into sight, I just started crying and crying. I was just so overwhelmed. Thankfully, my mom was there to explain to the concerned Darci why I was losing it. She was so sweet to me. But, it's a bit of a blur after the whole bawling thing. I still have picture from that night-- Darci is still in make-up and my face is all red and blotchy!

When I met her a year later on the night the Balanchine Celebration ended, I held it together... while I talked to her. I mentioned I had been the one crying and crying back in NJ, and she sweetly said, "I remember". After she signed my souvenir book, I turned around to my sis and mom... and started crying.

Thankfully, I don't cry at meeting the dancers anymore. What a relief for them and me.


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this one is courtesy of my little (now 33 years old, sigh) brother. having seen the nutcracker, and with all the wisdom of his then 6 years, he came with me to class and said to the director, "I really like the Nutcracker, but I want you to change it." The director, somewhat amused, said "Really? How?" whereupon my little brother said triumphantly: "I want the MICE to win!"

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Earlier this year Kyra Nichols gave a talk in New York State Theater. At one point she said she was out with her son at the local McDonalds when she heard a woman seated next to them address her own daughter as "Kyra." She asked the woman where she got the name. The woman told her that she named her daughter after Kyra Nichols the dancer and Kyra Sedgwick the actress. Kyra Nichols then introduced herself. The woman must have been absolutely stunned.

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One night in 1987 after a performance I was leaving the stage area at City Center to head for my dressing room and I came face to face with Margot Fonteyn. She was beautiful in a white fur coat and white fur hat with strands of silver hair showing.

We spoke about the performance for several minutes in which she gave me the feeling we had known each other all of our lives.

I don't remember changing clothes and walking home that night.

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