“it’s the daughta!”

That’s what my husband and I exclaim when our daughter calls on the telephone.

“It’s the daughta!” To which she replies “It’s the madda!” or “It’s the fadda!” Inside joke. And one which has us grinning like cheshire cats and laughing like madhatters.

What’s she been up to these days, for those of you wondering since our daughter left ballet for contemporary dance?

Well, her recent performance in Houston Grand Opera‘s AIDA went splendidly.

upper right corner..."the daughta!"

upper right corner…”the daughta!”

Our daughter was the dance lead which placed her front and center in Dominic Walsh‘s choreography. She was also honored to be only one of two dancers featured in the show’s glossy program, alongside the several, notable opera singers from around the world. The other dancer was the male lead.

Not one to be put off by funky costumes, our daughter relished her role as the Ethiopian witch doctor who battles the Egyptian warrior intent upon enslaving her people for his pharoah. I applauded her wild, frenetic moves in battling with her armed opponent.

I imagined our daughter following in the footsteps of her great aunt, my mom’s eldest sister, a kahuna…a native Hawaiian witch doctor. I never saw my aunt “in action,” although I’m sure she was just as formidable.

When not the wild and wooly witch doctor, our daughter joined the other female dancers as high priestesses and slave girls. Years of training and performing ballet continue to shine through our daughter’s seemingly effortless moves. Her solid foundation in technique will serve her well no matter where she lands in the dance world.

On the final day of the show the dancers were invited to audition for the opera’s spring engagement of CARMEN. The entire NYC production will take up residency for a month-and-a-half. Houston’s opera was asked to provide one male and one female dancer to “cover” or understudy the dancers being imported from the Big Apple

As she sat on a plane leaving Houston bound for Pittsburgh and her next gig, our daughter was notified by email that she was chosen for CARMEN. Talk about an ego booster!

While performing great roles is of course a dream come true, for our daughter the process is equally as important. 

Working with artists from whom she can learn and grow, and sharing in the camaraderie of fellow dancers with varied backgrounds and experiences is something our daughter relishes. She does not like to stagnate…as a dancer or as a person.

As she charts this the next course in her dance career, networking is absolutely vital. Hence working with the movers and shakers from the New York production staff of CARMEN will put our daughter in touch with folks she might not otherwise have gotten to meet. Already she was excited to work with the woman who put the dancers through their paces as she auditioned them for the opera. Our daughter looks forward to working with her again, as well as the director and his assistant who did not make it to Houston for the audition.

Hawaiian ballerina in Spanish mode

Hawaiian ballerina in Spanish mode

And here’s the thing. Dancers in operas CAN make more money than ballet dancers. For CARMEN our daughter’s salary will be nearly double what she made with the ballet company. After being with them for 6 years, mind you! I’m certain even some of the principals don’t make as much as she’ll be making. 

But then, of course, there’s the flip side to every coin. And that’s the fact that our daughter must pay her own way…from housing to health insurance…and everything in between. So life isn’t always…a bed of roses.

Nonetheless, our daughter is thrilled to be the one picking and choosing which roses she’d like to smell as she wanders down life’s path. And as far as we’re concerned, hubby and me…

our daughter is the most beautiful and fragrant of roses…

………hugmamma

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michael grimm, humble beginnings

Wanted to share Michael Grimm’s humble beginnings, on America’s Got Talent. A star in the making, I hope he never changes once fame and celebrity move in. But it’s unlikely his grandparents, gentle southern folk, will allow their child to be other than they raised him, a sweet, young man with enormous talent.

crooner michael grimm, no gimmicks

I don’t usually watch America’s Got Talent, but the latest captured my attention “hook, line and sinker!” How judges Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan and Howie Mandel, maintain focus throughout endless, mind-numbing days of auditions, is beyond me. Earning fabulous salaries and world-wide attention, must convince them to stay put. Not even a million bucks could spare me falling asleep, eyes wide open, or resting my head wearily on crossed arms, loud snores competing with the performers on stage. So I applaud the judges for their stamina.

The 4 acts making it into the finals were each worthy of being selected. Doubts about such variety shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, Dance Your Ass Off, and America’s Got Talent, are appeased when I witness phenomenal talent that might otherwise go unnoticed. In this case, all 4 will reap the rewards of discovery, Defying Gravity for its uniqueness and inventiveness; Prince Poppycock, for his self-deprecating, over-the-top, ready-made Las Vegas act; and angelic Jackie Ivancko for a voice which belies her 10 years, and the wisdom of an old soul. Michael Grimm, the grand prize winner, walked away with $1 million, and a 1 year Las Vegas contract.

The final moments in any awards ceremony are usually pensive, especially for the contestants. The face-off between the America’s Got Talent finalists, were no less stomach churning. I kept telling my daughter that Grimm, given his humility, probably expected Ivancko to win. Between both, her voice was “other-worldly.” In each of the shows leading up to the finale, it was heartwarming to witness Grimm quietly speak with Ivancko, a sweet-faced child.  It seemed obvious that he understood and appreciated her huge talent. So when the show’s host, Nick Cannon, announced Grimm as the winner, his stunned look wasn’t a surprise, but it brought tears to my eyes.

Grimm entered the competition as a long shot, a young man from Memphis wanting to buy his grandparents a new home since their’s was destroyed in Katrina. Each time he made it through another round, he expressed amazement and gratitude for making it thus far. His demeanor was calm, quiet, shy, humble. Dressed simply in dark gray, casual jacket, shirt, jeans, very small hoop earrings, a trademark fedora pulled low, sporting dirty-blonde hair with blue eyes, Grimm was the epitomy of a heart throb. Looking like a cross between James Dean and Michael Bolton,  Grimm sang “When a Man Loves a Woman,” his “ace-in-the-hole.” Bolton’s number worked for him a long time ago, and it worked its magic once again, for Grimm. He was catapulted to stardom, and as they say, his life will never be the same.

Yesterday as I was typing away at my keyboard, I overheard a news reporter give a “thumbs down” to Michael Grimm’s win, in favor of Defying Gravity because of its innovative, gimmick-laden, Las Vegas appeal. This act will probably make it to “Sin City” on its own merits, that’s how good it was. Execution of the performers wasn’t always in sync, so it didn’t look professional. But they will surely perfect the act with more practice, a luxury not afforded them in the  time constraints of the show. The reporter complained that Grimm and Ivancko belonged on  American Idol, saying “They’re just singers!” But actually, that’s what appealed to me.

Viewers chose 2 singers for the final competition. I agree with the pundits’ speculation that a 10-year-old headlining a Las Vegas show, probably didn’t appeal to the masses. Show host Cannon, when interviewed afterwards, opined that Grimm had indeed won the theatre audience, who was all abuzz after his sensational performance. As judge Osbourne summarized earlier in the contest, he consistently “stepped it up,” each time he took the stage. What I found charming was that Grimm’s humility never took a back seat to his obvious talent, and growing showmanship. Minutes after being declared the winner, he bent down, scooped Ivancko into his arms, gave her a peck, and spoke what could only have been comforting words, while looking deeply into her bright blue eyes. My daughter and I agreed that Ivancko most likely developed a crush on the handsome, soulful crooner.

Michael Grimm, a singer with no special effects, belting out ballads in the style of other great artists before him, Sinatra, Elvis, Bouble. Sometimes simple is better than wild and glitzy, that’s what the voters felt, and that’s what I felt.

grimm and ivancko, buying their CDs for sure…hugmamma.

coffee with friends, so much more than

If women were the world leaders of governments, corporations, learning institutions, medical facilities, courts of justice, sports teams, the entertainment and music industries, and any other body having great societal impact, they’d probably do their venting over coffee with girlfriends.

Coffee with the women means, friends gathering together to vent about anything, and everything. Surely centuries old, this female ritual has probably saved countless marriages, and kept our prison population from overflowing. Our ancestors, cave women, must have wanted to crack a few skulls. Being dragged around by the hair would not have been an endearing prospect. Native American women didn’t drink coffee (or did they?) but using smoke signals to communicate their marital woes was, perhaps, the start of environmental pollution. A frontier wife might have envied Annie Oakley her skills with a gun, when her cowboy came through the door smelling of whiskey and women. And a Victorian lady must’ve ripped off her corset and took a swig, when she was in a snit. Would Sonny and Cher have continued as a duo, if she’d had regularly done coffee with the women? “And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on. La, de, da, de, do, la, de, da, de, day…”

Women, coffee and conversation are like a game of Ouija. One speaks, another interrupts, the first resumes speaking, and the ebb and flow of conversation continues. The chatter is spirited, peals of laughter ring out, continuing to ripple through the group. Then voices quiet into whispers, while knowing glances and nodding heads silently agree that “it’s so frustrating…” whether it’s talk of jobs, husbands, children, mothers, even mother-in-laws. All agree that these sessions are more productive than paying for psychotherapy and a lot more fun as well.

The best coffee gatherings are among women whose personalities are in accord. Allowing one another time to speak, rather than hogging the conversation is also important. Egos are stroked, each feeling uplifted knowing others care, so that they needn’t continue shouldering their burdens alone. Coffee (for me) with a good friend (tea for her) became an important “life-line” when I moved with my, then 16-year-old, daughter to Atlanta. For two-and-a-half years I chaperoned her while she journeyed toward a career in ballet. My husband, our financial support, remained behind.

When my daughter was invited to train with the professional company where we relocated, our family consented without hesitation. Rushing forward without thought, we moved into an apartment with my husband’s help. The day he departed for home, we breakfasted at a pancake house. It was then that the finality of our decision hit me like a “ton of bricks.” I burst into tears. Ever the pragmatic one, my husband assured me he’d visit in a month or so. That seemed like an eternity to be without my best friend of so many years. But as moms have always done, I “placed one foot in front of the other,” and carried on.

It’s been about 5 years since I returned home to my husband. Having apprenticed with a ballet company in another state, my daughter was promoted to full member a year ago. She begins her second season this fall. Through hard work and maturity beyond her years, she has accomplished every young ballerina’s dream. There were peaks and valleys to be sure, but my daughter weathered them with our help, and the encouragement and prayers of many who have loved and supported her through the years.

Offering me a shoulder upon which to lean, or cry, was a woman who became, and remains, a very dear friend. It wasn’t unusual for Becky and I to linger over a cup of coffee, or tea, for hours, kibbitzing about her son and my daughter. Both aspired to being professional ballet dancers. We’d compare “war” stories about people with whom we had dealings, who seemed insensitive to the difficulties our children encountered. Very little was ever resolved, but reinvigorated, we could return to parenting, knowing a friend was nearby.

I was able to offer Becky some advice, since I was already in the midst of helping my daughter wend her way through the maze of becoming a career ballerina. It is such a singular path, not like being in college with thousands of like-minded youngsters. How one dancer succeeds is not a ready prescription for another’s success. But from my observations, certain facts seemed applicable to every wannabe professional.

Success seems dependent upon 50% talent and 50% other factors like a solid work ethic, quickness at learning choreography, resiliency to criticism, continuing good health, and a lot of luck. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be “in the right place, at the right time.” When it comes to casting, being a favorite of resident and visiting choreographers is a plus. Less tangible is having “the look” that an artistic director wants for a role or for the company in general. This alone can force a dancer to audition wherever there may be openings, in the hopes of a perfect match. With much effort and good fortune, a job is found, if not, the dream will likely end.

Deciding to go the college route, Becky’s son graduated with a Fine Arts Degree in Dance. To his credit and due diligence, he is in his second year apprenticing with a ballet company. This is no small feat in the current economy when the arts are suffering the loss of patronage.

Belonging to a rare breed of women, moms of professional ballet dancers, Becky and I continue to enjoy a mutually supportive friendship. Circumstances may prevent us from meeting as we once did, but given the ease of travel these days, it’s not too far-fetched to assume we’ll be meeting for coffee, tea and friendly conversation somewhere, some time… 

it’ll be like old times, only better…hugmamma.