Dance, India, Music, New Hampshire, Real People »
April 4, 2012 | 12 Comments | Betsy Woodman
My mother, Ruth Woodman, had studied ballet in New York City before marrying my dad, Everett Woodman. By the time they reached Madras (now Chennai), India, she had two little girls and was about to give birth to a third, and the dance career had been put aside.
But, as luck would have it, our family happened to move in next door to a family of dancers. The three daughters—Padmini, Lalitha, and Ragini—were known as the Travancore Sisters and were also wildly popular as film actresses.
The sisters took my mom under their wing and allowed her to study the classical Indian style of Bharatnatyam with their guru. She even performed once with them, the local newspapers expressing some astonishment that an American—and mother of three—could do so well on the dance stage.
Later, in New Delhi, she founded a ballet school, and gave performances to support various charitable causes.
Five decades and two hip replacements later, my mom, along with my dad, was in assisted living at Woodcrest Village, in New London, New Hampshire. When the time came for the facility’s annual variety show, the activities director, Donna Baker, suggested that my mom, then eighty-five years old, do a dance. I found some ballet music my mom had once liked, and Donna helped her rehearse.
My dad was not at all convinced that this performance was a good idea, and when I arrived that evening and found my mom close to tears, I wasn’t very sure myself. Her memory had been failing, and she had little recollection of what she had practiced. “Why am I wearing this costume?” she asked. “What am I supposed to do?”
“You’ll be fine,” Donna said. She led my mom, who was now trembling with fear, out onto the dance floor. My dad and I exchanged appalled glances. Would she fall? Would she break down altogether?
Within the first few bars of music, however, the most amazing thing happened. My mother was utterly transformed. She seemed to grow a couple of inches. She took a deep breath and did a gracious bow, looked out and engaged the audience with eye contact. Then, maintaining elegant ballet carriage, she improvised an exquisite little dance.
Afterwards, she came and sat down with us, anxious and shaky. “Was that all right?” she asked.
Now my dad and I were the ones who were in tears–of pride.