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Using My Feet More Than My Brain

Tania Menai

Natasha, Tatiana or Tania Ė those were the first names that came to my motherís mind when she was expecting a baby. No, there is not a drop of Russian blood in the family. Nor had my mother, a South American born to German immigrants, been to that part of the globe. But she had always loved ballet Ė and no one beats the Russians in that matter. Yes, my motherís baby was a girl, so she went for the shortest name.

And here I am, born to attend high expectations of being a prima donna. My mother had a poor childhood and could not even think of attending ballet classes. Well, Iím glad the expectations had something to do with the arts - my parents would be deeply frustrated if they were dreaming about raising an Einstein or a Bill Gates.

When I turned six, my mother took me to my first ballet lesson, at a Rioís catholic school called Notre Dame. My uniform was turquoise, matching the band around my head. There was a piano player - thatís all I recall from that class.

Two years later, I enroll in another school Ė and this time my teacher, Cristina, became my idol. She was a professional dancer at the Rio de Janeiroís Municipal Theatre. Whenever my mother took me to watch her dance the Swan Lake or Gisele, I tried to wave to make her notice my presence in the audience. It never happened, but I would make sure to tell her the following day.

Dancing was never a problem to me - being short is actually a plus. It gives dancers more control of the movements. Not to mention that short girls are always put in the front line, both in the classroom and on stage. Ballet also gave me discipline and a good ear for music.

Ballet lessons were the good part of my days (yes, I also took swimming and English classes and, of course, private math lessons). But one day, my father, a major in physical education, noticed that my spine had an unusual curve. He was right: an X-ray showed scoliosis. The orthopedist sent me straight to physical therapy and then banned ballet classes from my life. My mother was so disappointed that she hired my teacher Cristina to give me physical therapy sessions at home. That happened for maybe two years, parallel to special private swimming lessons. Each time the x-rays showed improvements, my parents would take Cristina and her husband for dinner.

At 11 I was able to go back to dancing. Thatís when I found the dance school that would become my second home. This time, my idol was Sandra. Very sweet, yet very demanding teacher. She would pay attention to all our weaknesses and strengths. My strength? The arms. Weakness: well, I was never able to scratch my years with my toes.

Three years later, when regular school was already a secondary item in my life, I started to take modern dance Ė since this a ďsexierĒ kind of dance, I never thought a girl under 14 would be ready, mentally and physically, to follow the movements correctly.

At 16, I joined a folk Israeli dance group (in addition to the rest) and thatís when my boyfriend at the time gave me an ultimatum: ballet or me. We were dating for almost a year; and since both of us were studying in separate schools, we only had weekends, usually crammed with rehearsals, to meet. So, yes, I chose him. And I donít regret it.

[ copyright © 2005 by Tania Menai ]