After Faire Blur

26 May 2009

Tuesday after a very long, three-day closing weekend of Scarborough Renaissance Festival. Whew!

I had this one day to do paperwork and laundry and reorganize myself for the big packing day at the Pendragon booth.

In the middle of all of that, I got a sad message from an old friend I’d recently reconnected with on Facebook.  Estelle Weinlein, one half of the talented couple known as Estelle and Alfonso, has died.  My message came at about three p.m., and indicated she died around noon. 

In 1966, I was a four-year old child, small for my age, and already reading and writing.  I had a brand new baby brother, and still a year from starting Kindergarten, my wise parents decided it was time to find me something to do.  They enrolled me in a dance class.  As a primary student at the Estelle and Alfonso Dance Studio, I wore pink tights and a pink leotard, and my once-a-week, fifty-minute class was divided into two segments—twenty minutes of ballet, and twenty minutes of tap, with shoe-changing and attendance-taking and a trip to the water fountain in between.  After a few weeks of classes, the story goes—Alfonso called my mother aside after class one day, and informed her that perhaps her daughter wasn’t cut out for dance class.  Concerned, my mother asked if I wasn’t catching on, or if it seemed I was uncoordinated, as surely she’d had no inkling that would be the case.  No, he reported, I was really the best potential dancer in the class.  But, it seemed I wasn’t fitting in.  Apparently I was trying to help teach!  And, when the full story came out, it turns out that not only was I headstrong and a bit bossy, but I had actually spoken out and corrected Estelle when she gave contradictory directions!  Alfonso just wasn’t sure that they would be able to handle me, and thought perhaps it would be best if my parents waited a year or two and tried again.  My mother was pretty sure she could reign me in and asked him to give me a couple more weeks before expelling me permanently.  As I understand it, that’s the only such conversation they ever had until some twenty years later when Mother reminded Alfonso of this entertaining, anecdotal event.  I find it amusing in so very many ways (and I know my husband will too, when he reads this!)

A year later, Estelle and Alfonso had learned to channel my precociousness and were acting as my agents for radio and television commercial interviews!  By the time I started first grade (now in a red leotard!), I was up to three classes a week and I led the studio’s marching contingent in every local parade.  (Mostly ’cause I was really short, and really cute!)  By the age of eleven, (graduated to wearing blue) I was taking anywhere from nine to fourteen hours of dance classes every week and performing in all three of their productions every year.  I was proficient in ballet, tap, acrobatics and baton twirling.  I had just been accepted in the “Performer’s Company” of dancers that performed shows all around the Hudson Valley.  I could tap dance while standing on a three-foot wooden sphere.  And I was beginning pointe.  Unfortunately, I was also beginning to have larger than average tits, so the ballet and pointe soon took a back seat, and I added acting classes to the mix. 

By the time I was a freshman in high school, wearing the coveted black leotard of an adult, I was playing leading roles in the annual full-scale musical productions that Estelle and Alfonso produced.  I was thrilled to be Wendy in their Peter Pan production, Dorothy in their “Wizard” and as a senior, I chose to miss my senior prom to play the role of Rosie in their Bye Bye Birdie.  One of the most special things about that role, was that Estelle pulled from storage, one of her old vaudeville costumes, and I wore that in my big dance number!  What an amazing honour that was.  My first job was as a receptionist at the dance studio.  And, my love for theatre and dance had inspired me to branch out and get involved not only in school productions but in community theatre, as well.  I still have a newspaper clipping that Estelle sent to me, of the chorus line of a local production I did, of Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.  Underneath the caption, listing my name as one of the dancers, is a  hand-written note from her, that reads:  “Front Row and Smiling–that’s our girl!”

Estelle and Alfonso played a  huge part in molding me, and making me into the person I am now.  I became a very good dancer under their tutelage.  But, they didn’t only teach me to dance.  They taught me to work hard for what I wanted.  They taught me much about discipline and rules.  They taught me to be goal-oriented.  They trained me to be confident and to smile in the face of  pain and stress and nervousness.  My love for dance  and for theatre has never diminished.  In fact, it’s not much of a stretch to see how in my world, dance led to theatre, which led to costuming.  Or how all of that led to a love for Renaissance festivals!  

How different a person I would be now, if my parents had introduced me to a horseback-riding trainer, or a swimming or gymnastics coach  in 1966, rather than to Estelle and Alfonso?  If, instead of adjusting my turnout and lifting my chin, and telling me to smile, someone had been correcting my fingering on an instrument or my grip on a racket?

It is a sad day for me, and for Alfonso, and for their children and grandchildren.  And, for thousands of others like me, whose lives were touched by the caring, nurturing hand of Estelle.

My photo today started out as a photo of Artemis.  But, cats being cats, she was not feeling cooperative and she jumped as I clicked, shaking the camera, and rendering her shape unrecognizeable.  I ended up with this bizarre blur of cat and color.  Not inappropriate for the day after faire, I decided. And actually quite appropriate for the emotional side of me, tonight.  It’s a little like the blurriness through the tears. 

~MB