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Alex Dances

Alex Dances

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Alex Dances

294 Seiten
4 Stunden
Mar 9, 2019


Alexandra Ward Dixon comes from a long line of strong-minded women. Her great-grandmother ran a southern textile mill when women of her class stayed home and served tea. Alex is the fourth-generation heir to the family textile dynasty, but she has other ideas: Alex dances.
Her story is the third book in a trilogy that follows a large and sprawling family through decades of change to their world, changes from within and without.

Mar 9, 2019

Über den Autor

Mary Ann Claud is a singer, a lover of the arts, a mother and grandmother, a wife, a friend, a lover of life. She has written professionally for decades and has now brought her talent and experience to her first novel. THE DANCIN' MAN is a family saga, its drama playing out against the backdrop of social and economic change in the American South from the 1950s until the 1980s. Mary Ann now lives in Tryon, NC with her husband, Olin, and her cat, Eli. Both give her gifts to show their devotion.


Alex Dances - Mary Ann Claud


"I always danced.

I would be set out

in the backyard to play

and to play was to dance."

-Aileen Passloff,

The New York Times,

January 8, 2019


Alex remembers…

I call my grandfather Pops. I’ve always called him that. I didn’t remember why and never thought about it until one of my girlfriends asked me where the name came from. We weren’t very old, nine or ten maybe, and we were at Pops’s and Anson’s house, the three of us playing Monopoly in the sunroom. I guess Pops was babysitting. Anyway, when I asked him, he leaned back laughing and told us the story.

"One afternoon when you were three, I took you downtown to see the new fountain dedicated to your great-grandmother, Dolly Ward. I bought us a treat, chocolate-covered ice cream bars. You got chocolate all over both of us and wiped your sticky little fingers on the new pink smocked dress your mother had bought you for Easter. I tried to clean you up, but I didn’t do a very good job.

"When I took you home, your mother hit the ceiling. She was furious with both of us, you for ruining the dress, me for spoiling you. While she scrubbed your face, you kept telling her how good the treat was, saying ‘Pops, pops …’ You called the ice cream a Popsicle, but she misunderstood. She said you mustn’t call me Pops. ‘That nickname,’ she said, ‘is not suitable for a man of your grandfather’s distinction.’

"You looked at me to explain, but I just smiled and winked. I didn’t mind a bit. Not then and not now."

He’s been Pops to me ever since.


October 2014

My name is Alexandra Ward Dixon. I’m a junior at Parkersburg Academy.

I am tall and skinny and I don’t have any boobs but I have very long legs. I’m a dancer so that works for me. My ambition is to be a principal at ABT, the American Ballet Theatre. My stage name will be Alexandra Ward with an ah sound in the middle, like Alex-ahn-dra. I’ve known since I was six that I would be a dancer. I hear music in my head all the time.

The problem is that my parents don’t understand how serious I am about a career in ballet. When I told them I’m auditioning for the 2015 ABT Summer Intensive in New York, my mother was not impressed. New York? she said. I don’t think so. Another summer wasted on your toes?

She doesn’t get it. Summer intensives are designed for dancers like me. The major companies all offer them. It’s a mutual thing. They’re looking for talent and young ambitious dancers are looking for more advanced training and jobs, maybe. And intensives aren’t easy to get into. Last summer in Washington I was one of only one hundred accepted out of a thousand applicants. First, you have to audition. Second, you have to stick it out. Intensives are hard. Sometimes we made an eighteen-hour day. I loved every minute of it. I’ve never been so tired or so sore or so happy. I knew I was better than the others because the instructors kept moving me into more advanced classes. And best of all, I was away from home.

My mother thinks that those summer camps, as she calls them, are all fun and games. I’ve tried to explain to her that American Ballet Theatre doesn’t let just anybody audition, much less attend their summer intensive, and that Cindy thinks I’m a shoe-in. (Okay. Bad joke). Cindy Bradley is my ballet teacher. She’s been coaching me en pointe since I was eleven. Cindy is the only person who knows I want to dance professionally. I haven’t told anybody else, like my parents for instance.

About my parents, I am supposed to be writing an essay about my family. My dad is rich and sort of famous, I guess. And everybody says my mother’s beautiful, but I don’t look anything like her. I can see why she doesn’t want me hanging around. (I mean, honest to god, I get it. A too-tall, bun-head daughter with acne does not fit the picture.)

Everybody knows my mother. She’s the Volly of Volly’s Folly, boutiques where she sells the clothes she designs, made out of fabric she designs. That’s the thing about Volly. She has to be totally in charge. Like she named me for Sam, her uncle. His middle name was Alexander. He died the year I was born, 1999. Volly adored him. The kindest, funniest man ever, she says. I guess that eliminates my father and grandfather for the congeniality award.

People wonder why I call my mother Volly, her childhood nickname. It’s because she told me to, because she obsesses about Dolly Ward, her grandmother. Dolly made everybody call her by her nickname, so Volly does too. She wants to be just like Dolly Ward, only better. My great-grandmother is a legend around here, the first woman to actually run a textile mill. That was back in the fifties. Volly talks about the Wards all the time and she has this huge coffee table book she had published with lots of pictures. Dolly built a big house called Montvue, with columns and porches and gardens. It’s famous, too.

In spite of all the glamour, my home life is less than exciting. Volly doesn’t talk about anything but Volly’s Folly. My dad doesn’t talk about anything but college. He says my grades are iffy for a really good school. I’m proud of my parents’ success, but with my mother nothing is ever enough. Like right now, she’s in New York for the spring shows. She takes fashion very seriously and I don’t. It’s one of the things we fight about.

Volly expects me to go to college and then work for her so I can learn the business and take over eventually. I’d rather die. I’m struggling with the decision about AP courses and taking the SAT and Volly doesn’t care about anything but what I wear. She says it reflects on her. All she ever talks about are the boutiques and her new designs and what a disappointment I am because I don’t see things her way. We’ll never understand each other because we’re total opposites.

I’m more like my father. He’s a lawyer and he over-thinks everything but at least he doesn’t make instant decisions. Volly has never asked me if I want to inherit Volly’s Folly and run it or not. That’s typical. She jumps on the first thought that enters her head and the decision is made. No discussion. It works for her, but not so much for the rest of us.

We live at The Orchard, the old farmhouse my father, Hughes Dixon, inherited from his grandfather. Except Volly is hardly ever home anymore. And Dad’s involved in a lot of environmental causes and he’s in and out, too. When they’re both away, I stay with my grandparents, Ted Brunson and Anson Macauley. I have my own room at their house and my own key. They’re more my parents than my parents are. I’m happy my grandfather married Anson. They met when she came here to teach at the local college. My real grandmother, Virginia, died before I was born, so Anson isn’t really my grandmother, but she totally gets me.

Cindy says my experience at the ABT Summer Intensive will help me get ready for the Youth America Grand Prix in 2016, if I want to go for it. YAGP is international. The competition is awesome, but if I get in and if I get a good score, I might get a contract with ABT’s Studio Company. It’s an active performing company but smaller, a branch of ABT. Like I said, ABT is my dream. Then if I get into the Studio Company and if I’m good enough, they’ll promote me to the ABT corps de ballet and eventually I’ll be a soloist and then a principal. That’s the way it works. Lots of ifs but I know I can do it. Except it’s not what my parents have in mind. My plan doesn’t fit with theirs, so they ignore it. They have already designed my whole future, case closed.

So. I’ve done what you asked me to do, Mrs. Walker. Because you’re my school counselor. When you said I would have to take the SAT as early as possible because I’d probably need to take it twice I thought I’d die on the spot. And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, you said I’m not working up to my potential and that maybe I need to see the school shrink or maybe you needed to talk to my parents. That’s when I started to cry.

You looked really upset and said that if I’d write an essay about my family it would give me perspective, and maybe we could use it when I apply to college. I probably won’t go to college, at least not any time soon, but here’s the essay. And I’m telling you right now, my life isn’t about them. My life is about me.

So please, Mrs. Walker, do not send me to the school shrink. I’m not confused or depressed. I’m just determined and I’m getting desperate. Consulting my parents will only make things worse. But I promise you this much. I’m going to be a professional dancer, one way or another, whether they like it or not, and I’ll do whatever I have to do to get there.

Notes on potential college application essay of Alex Dixon from Margaret Walker, M.Ed, ASCA:

Alex, you know this is completely unacceptable. As your guidance counselor, I should not have to remind you that the college application essay is a serious document. I appreciate the section that focuses on your ambition as a dancer, but as you know, the purpose of a college education is to produce a well-rounded human being, not a performer. If you have any hope of getting into college at all this essay must be rewritten with clear life goals in mind. I would suggest that you emphasize what you learned during your summer experiences about discipline and dedication. Please include something about your achievements and hobbies, extra-curricular activities, etc., things about the rest of your life other than dancing. I will forego sharing this with your parents until I have a new essay in hand, but I am going to suggest to them that you should see a professional who can help you understand why you persist in underperforming. Your obsession about ballet is not healthy. Perhaps skipping that year in Lower School was not a good idea.


October 2014

The next evening as Cindy comes out of her office and reaches to turn off the few remaining studio lights, she sees a shadowy figure in the mirror wall opposite the barre.

-Alex? What are you doing here so late?

-I was watching videos from Don Quixote. The Kitri solos. The fan … I don’t get it. I got sidetracked by the thirty-two fouettés in the act III grand pas de deux coda. I can handle them okay, but what’s with the castanets and the fan?

-Kitri’s fouettés are a little too advanced for you right now. You could hurt yourself.

-I’m certified damaged goods already. My guidance counselor thinks I should see a shrink.

-Why in the world would anybody send you to a psychologist?

-She says I’m not performing up to my academic potential. She doesn’t know anything about performing. She can’t read a meeting announcement in assembly without her hand shaking. She made me write an essay about my wonderful family and what a lucky girl I am. I was mad and I did a riff on Volly’s control issues. I watched her read it. When she got to that part, her face got red and she started playing with her beads.

Cindy chuckles. -Poor woman.

-I probably screwed up when I wrote Mrs. Walker that I’m desperate, but it’s true. You’re the only one who understands, Cindy. I want to do what you did. Now.

Cindy sighs, then opens her arms and embraces her pupil. -That’s scary. Why do you have to make this so hard? You don’t want to do what I did. My way isn’t right for you. If I hadn’t pushed myself too hard before I was physically ready, I wouldn’t have had to quit early.

She turns Alex away from the barre to face the mirror wall. -Look at the two of us. The uniform’s the same, pink tights, black leotard, blond hair pulled up in a bun. Alike, except I’m eight inches shorter and thirty years older. Those long legs of yours are a rare gift. We’ve got to protect them. Running off to New York isn’t the way to do it. You’re still growing.

Alex snorts. -Short legs or not, you made it into ABT corps de ballet. I’m fifteen and I’m nowhere.

-It was easier in those days.


-No really. The business doesn’t work like it used to. All I needed back then was a good reference. And we’ve learned a lot about the physical development of teenagers since then.

-I just want a chance, that’s all.

-Sometimes what we want isn’t the best thing for us. All I wanted was the chance to dance for Balanchine, but I didn’t make the cut at City Ballet.

-But you kept dancing. You didn’t give up.

-Until I fell. I wanted too much, too soon. I pushed too far, too fast. I didn’t take care of myself. My body couldn’t take it. You’ve got to build your stamina slowly for Kitri. Maybe you can do the fouettés, but performing the entire role is extremely demanding.

Alex shrugs. -But it’s fun. My only fun. I can’t think about what’s good for my body all the time.

-Don’t look at it that way. Ballet is a way of life. A discipline that requires you to put your health and your physical development ahead of everything else.

-You’re lecturing me.

-Because you need to hear this. Take risks on the stage, or in the practice studio. Nowhere else.

Alex drapes her arms around Cindy’s shoulder. -When you got hurt, did it break your heart?

-Of course. But I had to make a living and I was willing to do anything as long as it involved dancing.

Alex slips down to the floor and begins unwrapping her ribbons. -And you’re happy teaching? It’s enough?

-Yes, dearie. It’s enough. Because of dancers like you.

Alex pulls off her pointe shoes, bags them, and rises to her feet. -I can’t imagine doing anything but dancing. It’s the only time I feel alive. She raises an arm over her head. Watching herself in the mirror, she misses the emotions that flash across Cindy’s face.

-Listen to me. You could be a great dancer someday. You’ve got all the physical attributes and you’ve got the passion. That’s why I want you to do it right, not the way I did it. I’ve assumed your parents supported you. If they don’t, we need to talk to them, get them on board. Going to New York with their backing can make a world of difference.

-They are clueless. I’ve tried to tell my dad that it’s like being a highly trained athlete, that I can’t help it. It’s who I am. He smiles and says whatever I want and goes back to tapping away on his phone.

-And your mother?

-Major hassle. High drama. I’d have to beg and plead and even then I’d never get her permission.

-Speaking of your parents, Cindy looks up at the big round electric clock that hangs above the door, -if you don’t get yourself out of here and go home, your dad is going to call the cops on both of us. Wait a minute, are you legal to drive alone at night?

-More or less. I’ve got the day permit and I’ll be in the clear next month. Dad thinks I’m at Anson and Pop’s already. I told him I’d sleep over. I’m not gonna get caught between here and their house. It’s only a few miles.

-Alex. No. This is exactly what I mean about taking risks. I’ll drop you off and your grandfather can bring you down here in the morning to get your car. Let me get my keys and my bag.

-Whatever. Alex sighs, quirks up the corner of her mouth. Adults make her crazy. Even the ones she loves.

Cindy goes into the office, grabs her sweater and the huge black shoulder bag she always carries, and turns off the remaining lights. They leave the studio. Cindy locks the heavy glass door.

-I’m going to talk to Anson, Alex says. -She comes closer than any of them to knowing how important this is to me. And she can talk Pops into helping me, too. I’ll need them if I’m going to convince my parents to either cut me loose or support me completely.

Cindy stops, looks at Alex. -I hate to get into this, but if you’ll ask Anson to come to the studio day after tomorrow, I’ll make time to talk with her.

-Would you? Please?

-You’ve been polishing your fouettés. Why don’t we give her a little demo?

-What if it’s not enough? What if I can’t convince them? If Volly and Dad don’t come around—

-Don’t say it. Don’t even think it.

-I’ll drop out and go to New York on my own.

-You don’t have any idea how—

Alex jerks Cindy around to face her. -I’m fifteen. Where were you when you were my age? In New York. In ballet school. And I’m stuck in this stupid town at this stupid school where nobody understands me. I don’t care about a damn diploma. All I want to do is dance.

Alex’s intensity shakes Cindy. -Whoa, Alex. Summer intensives offer all the training you need for now. And believe it or not, I can still teach you a few things.

-It’s nowhere near enough. This time Alex sees Cindy’s face. -I’m sorry. You are a great teacher and I love you, but, I’m just …



-I know, sweetheart. Believe me, I know. The two of them walk slowly toward Cindy’s car.

-I don’t see how I can go to school and still get in enough studio time. So much to do before the regionals.

-If you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way. I can tell you for sure, talk about dropping out won’t win your parents over.

-I guess. Alex’s shoulders slump. She reaches the passenger side of Cindy’s car, opens the door, and slips inside.

-Take this one step at a time, Cindy says, turning on the engine. -I hardly know Anson, but she seems pretty rational and I know she loves you. Let’s take time to put together a real, concrete plan to present to your parents. Audition for the ABT Summer Intensive. You’ll make the cut, then apply for the YAGP 2016 regionals. When you talk to your parents, take it slow, one thing at a time. That might help your mother and father understand how complicated this process is. Don’t screw up at school, don’t pick a fight with your mother, be the ideal teenager until you’ve had a chance to show them how good you are. Can you hang on for the rest of this school year and half of next year too? Until the regionals next January?

-You know what scares me? I’m afraid I’ll age out. The people who count, they won’t look at me if they think I’m too old to learn. I’m not gonna be fifteen forever.

-No, thank god, you’re not.


October 2014

The next afternoon, Alex heads directly to her grandparent’s house after school. She lets herself in, pauses in the front hall, and calls out, -Hey, Anson. Are you home?

Anson comes out of her office. -I am and I’m ready for a break. This grant proposal is a bear. Want a Coke or something? They walk into the kitchen together. -How was school?

-Don’t ask. Alex gets a Coke out of the refrigerator. Anson buys the retro eight-ounce bottles just for her. -Do you want one?

-Sure. Alex flips both bottles open and hands one to Anson.

-What is it I shouldn’t ask about? Love, life, or suffering?

-Suffering mostly.

-But you want to talk, don’t you?

-Am I so transparent?

-Only to the people who love you.

-Okay. I need you to come to the dance studio tomorrow afternoon. Can you make it?

-Well sure … but—

-There’s more, Alex says. -A couple of YouTubes I want you to watch. From last year’s Youth America Grand Prix competition. It’s not a regular contest. They give some scholarships, but mostly what you get is a number grade. The judges are some of the best professionals in the business. If you get good numbers, the word gets around. Ballet professionals are a tight bunch. When they know the score, literally, they offer auditions to dancers like me.

-Sounds like the big time.

-It is.

-But you’re so young …

Alex takes a deep breath. -I keep explaining to people that dancers start young and peak early. I feel like I’m behind schedule. It’s important for me to get in line now. The YAGP regionals are in the winter of 2016. That only gives me a little over a year to get ready.

Anson takes another swig of Coke. -And then what? she says.

-And then I get an offer from a studio company or maybe even from a major company outright. It’s happened before.

-And this is what you want?

-More than anything.

Anson finishes her Coke and puts the bottle under the sink. -What about school? she says, reaching for Alex’s empty bottle.

-I’ve got to focus on dance and training.

-So what’s your plan? Anson says.

-Holy crap. Finally. Somebody asks me what I want.

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