Dancing for the Meat Bones
When I was a little girl of about seven, I would go with Momma to the various stores for the food items.There was a grocery store, small and compact where we got the necessities and the fruits and vegetables called Shapiro’s Mart. There was the butcher shop where we got the meat for the week. There were no freezers yet until I was about twelve. The butcher shop was called Rodman’s and Mr. R was a nice and elderly man. Momma would give her list and then she would say, "Can you throw in some meat bones" and very meekly say "not charge me for them."
Mr. Rodman would say only if the little one (meaning me) will dance for me. Momma must have bragged once to him that I liked to tap dance in the solitude of our home. I had no tap shoes, no routines, and no lessons and so I made up my own steps. No one saw me do it except Momma and sometimes Dad. My brother Herbert was five years older than me and was in high school and he would have probably laughed at my dancing. So Mr. R told me he would give Momma the bones free and I pretended to know what I was doing and did my one minute routine. He clapped and gave Momma the wonderful bones for free so she could make good vegetable soup.
Things financially were very tight in those days and Momma even went to work part time in an office to help with the finances. Mr. Shapiro’s food store was in the basement of a house across the street from our row home and the butcher shop was up the street from him. There were no malls in those days, all the department stores were located downtown on two or three blocks and that is where we went to do clothes and shoe shopping. So you got to know your merchants because they were a stone’s throw from your home and they were like your neighbors. They also lived not very far from their businesses and often walked to their shops.
So I thought myself a star because I danced for Mr. Rodman and got Momma the free meat bones. As I got a bit older, I declined going with her to Mr. R and Mr. S’s stores. I wanted to be more independent and Momma went herself to do the shopping. We could not afford tap dancing lessons, though we did take piano lessons. The reason being for that was that the piano teacher was Aunt Bessie and she was married to my father’s brother. He owed my dad lots of money from loans Dad had made when Dad was prosperous and he never paid Dad back. So Aunt Bessie gave my brother and I "free" piano lessons as kind of some sort of payment. When you look back, it was a meager payout for lots of money owed. My brother and I did not like Aunt Bessie and did not like the lessons.
I played the piano better than I tap danced because of course, I had professional coaching.
When I was about fourteen, we moved to an apartment house and on the first floor there was a ballet school. It was run my Miss Ellen Gniadowski and I would peer in to see all the little girls in their ballerina costumes being coached and groomed by Miss Ellen. She seemed to be a caring and considerate teacher and I kind of envied the little ones learning from her. She was so different than Aunt Bessie that I was really jealous that Miss Ellen had not owed my Dad money and then we could have gotten free ballet lessons.
So I had a little bit of knowledge of tap dancing, a little bit of seeing ballet and lots of piano learning and practicing. I saw that teachers like Miss Ellen can make a difference in a child’s life rather than teachers like Aunt Bessie. Aunt Bessie knew she was giving us coaching as a somewhat payout for her husband’s loans and as a duty also. She did not care to instill in us the desire, the love, the caring for the piano. As Miss Ellen was very caring to her little girls, always encouraging them and telling them they were doing well. I could hear her do this through the open door and the hallway as I would go up the stairs to our apartment. I loved Miss Ellen even though I only waved at her and she finally knew my name because we were tenants in the same building. I never asked Momma to give me ballet lessons because I knew that we could still not afford even the small prices Miss Ellen charged.
One day, Miss Ellen was going into her downstairs studio and she saw me staring into the glass window. She said that I should come in and watch the girls for awhile. I ran upstairs and told Momma where I would be and I was enchanted viewing these lovely youngsters learning ballet. Miss Ellen, we heard, had been an
up and coming ballerina and gave it up to marry and to have children. This was her way of continuing on with something she loved and still she had a home life with her husband and daughters. I told Miss Ellen that someday I would do dancing when I was older and could afford it.
Miss Ellen said she was sure I would accomplish this. She said no matter when you start, it will not be too late. So I heeded Miss Ellen and my husband and I started ballroom dance lessons when I was forty-two and he was forty-six. I always remember Miss Ellen versus Aunt Bessie. Miss Ellen was a delightful coach, an admiring friend and a competent human being. She instilled in these young and hopeful ballet students that they could handle and accomplish anything they wanted. At the end of the sessions, twice a year, she had a recital.
So the moral of this story is that a good coach is also a good friend. A good friend will nurture you and encourage you and be proud of you. So as Mr. Rodman thought I was a good tap dancer and he knew nothing at all about it, he still encouraged a little girl to dream and think she could tap dance. I thought I was special because Momma got her free meat bones to make a special veggie soup and I dreamed I could dance. Miss Ellen made these girls think they could do and would do better if they practiced and came for their lessons. The Aunt Bessies of this world only go about and do their jobs because they have to or need to and they never reach the heights of being called a great friend or teacher. The Miss Ellens of this world are the spirit that makes our children feel high up unto the sky and these children go on to achieve and accomplish and become happy citizens.
So hopefully, we can all be more like the Miss Ellens than the old biddy Aunt Bessies. We can encourage our children, our friends, and even our senior citizens that there is always time to learn something new, to appreciate the new things we learn and to help others accomplish their dreams. Whether the dreams are even out of our reach, we can lift ourselves up high on an imaginary step stool and grab them and enjoy them and love them. When my grandson Brock was about six or seven, he let a balloon given to him by the restaurant where we had eaten lunch, fly high into the heavens. He said it was for my mother (his great grandmom) to hold onto while she was in Heaven. So we should all hold onto something that is very high up and try to achieve it whether we are six, sixty or older. Hold onto your dreams and they will come true because the Miss Ellens are right here along side of us encouraging and are proud of us.
Keep on Dancing
Elita Sohmer Clayman