When I came back to NY, after spending my 8th grade year in San Francisco, I was intent on becoming a professional ballet dancer. Miss Jean's teaching had really helped me believe in myself and I was ready to take on the New York ballet scene - or so I thought. There were a few factors I hadn't considered. One was the fact that I would be forced to attend a hellishly violent Brooklyn high school, where I would be physically and psychologically bullied for my differences (being one of only about 6 White kids in the whole school, extremely short and having an unfashionably large vocabulary). There was also the fact that ballet training, in the ballet capital of the world, was extremely,expensive. My parents were still just making subsistence income, and my babysitting money only paid for one class per week at one of the small Brooklyn studios (an elderly French woman who taught Saturday ballet classes in a church basement). Then there was the fact that my father's mental health was falling apart, as was my parents' marriage. This was no time for me to be focusing on the intricacies of a demanding art form. But there was nothing else I wanted so much...
I auditioned for the High School of Performing Arts, hoping to secure free ballet classes that way, but they didn't accept me. Most of the other students auditioning had been studying since they were small children;I'd only had one year of formal training. I'd made enormously fast progress during that year, but I still didn't have the technical prowess typical of a 14 year old who'd been studying since she was six. When I recieved the letter saying I hadn't made it into Performing Arts, I cried and cried and cried! I thought I'd lost my last hope for continuing with ballet.
Eventually, I found the Neubert Ballet Institute, a very good and serious ballet studio based in Carnegie Hall. As I'd done in San Francisco, I called the studio and inquired about scholarships. They told me they could consider giving me a scholarship but that I would have to prove my aptitude first. If I could study as a paying student for a month, they said, that would give them time to evaluate me and decide. I'm not sure which of my parents asked on my behalf, but my paternal grandmother agreed to pay for one month at Neubert. I found the classes there enormously difficult but I also really loved my main teacher, Mr. Hoff, who had a great intellect and sense of humor. Mr. Hoff "got" me and had a way of helping me understand why some things were harder for me than others (and so begin overcoming the obstacles). It was in Mr. Hoff's classes that I discovered I was an unusually good jumper "for a girl." The hardest, showiest "big jumps" were usually reserved for the male dancers, but Mr. Hoff, when it came time for "big jumps" would always say: "Now the boys...and 'Eva!'" I would tell people, "This is the best way to get high!"
Anyway...they gave me the scholarship and I took classes, after school, five evenings per week, plus two on Saturdays. I had, for the time being, given up on acting and singing. Dancing was everything. It was a cloistered life. I had no friends at my terrifying high school and, 'though I'd hoped to make friends at ballet school (the people there shared my passion, after all) I discovered that the culture of pre-professional ballet training was too competitive to allow for friendships. As they had been for most of my life, my main social networks consisted of adults - my parents' friends. On Sundays, my mother and I would sleep really late and then go to a bagel place across the street for a big brunch, with bagels, lox, cream cheese and whitefish. Sometimes she would inquire, "When are you going to start hating me, like a normal teenager?" I never understood that question. It would take a couple of years for me to understand it...
As my parents' marriage disintegrated further, I began spending more time with my younger brother, John. John was in Middle School (what they had in New York, instead of Junior Highs) and had actually managed to make a few friends at school. John's friends were at our apartment a lot and, eventually, some of them became my friends, too, especially one "friend-who-was-a-girl" (so to distinguish her from a "girlfriend") named Patsy. Patsy, 'though two years younger than I (as my brother is) was very precocious and I felt that we were pretty close to being peers, intellectually. Certainly, she was smarter than any of the kids in my classes at Hell High. Patsy was an aspiring actress, who took classes and auditioned for off-off Broadway plays. She understood about having a life dedicated to art, but she also knew how to have fun. Patsy's father was a magazine publisher, who supported her, Patsy's three sibling and their perpetually soused mother, from afar but in fairly opulent style. The family owned a big brownstone in one of the wealthier parts of Brooklyn, and I started getting invited to some of the parties Patsy hosted there. Her older brother, Nathaniel (a year older than I) asked me to go out with him! I'd never imagined that any boy would be interested in me. We went on a couple of dates and then (amazingly) I dumped him! Nathaniel was egotistical and boring, plus he had tried to pressure me into "going all the way." I knew I wasn't ready for that yet. But anyway...I stayed friends with Patsy, started meeting some other artsy-intellectual teenagers through her and, suddenly, I had a social life.
It was due to Patsy that I first attended the movie that would influence the course of my life, for the next few years, in pivotal ways. One night, Patsy asked me to go with her to the Rocky Horror Picture show at the 8th Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. I was delighted to discover a whole crew of geeks and misfits, all of whom spent nearly every Friday and Saturday night watching (and singing and dancing along to) this amazing movie about the "Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Translyvania" otherwise known as Frank 'n Furter. Soon I became a "Rocky Kid," dressing in costume, dancing the Timewarp during the "floorshow" (audience participation/performance part of the movie) and staying out until 2:00 or 3:00 every Friday and Saturday night with the gang. Amazingly, the "Rocky Kids" thought I was really cool and even sexy. Suddenly, I had boyfriends and girlfriends (not the "just friends" kind) and a whole social scene, where I truly belonged. Most of the Rocky Kids were bisexual, many were trans, and all felt, in some way, rejected by mainstream society (especially adolescent society). I had found the people who would be my chosen family for the next several years, and who would influence my life choices in myriad ways. Meanwhile, 'though I neglected my boring school work (and started to get bad grades, because I simply wasn't bothering to do very much in school) I continued to work hard at my ballet classes and made a lot of progress (despite showing up at my Saturday morning class on three hours' sleep most weeks, after my Friday night "Rocky" revels!)
Eventually, I stopped going to high school entirely. Some of my "Rocky" friends (similarly persecuted in their public schools) had dropped out and taken the GED exam, obtaining their diplomas faster and with less trauma that way. I'd decided to do that, too, 'though, for a time, I was just doing ballet and "Rocky."
Some of the Rocky Kids were actors, and I found that I was becoming intrigued by that aspect of theater again. I still wanted to be a dancer in the long run, but I accepted an invitation to audition for the role of a 13 year old princess (I was 16 at the time) in a play written by my father's friend and room-mate (he had separated from my mother by then, after a stint in a psychiatric hospital). I got the role and spent a couple of very happy months juggling ballet classes, play rehearsals and "Rocky." It was really exciting to work with a company of adult, professional actors. Very different from being in school plays! I worked my butt off, learned my lines really fast, and tried, hard, to give the Director everything he wanted. I started to think that, just maybe, if I didn't make it in the ballet world (there was always the concern that I wasn't and never would be extremely thin) acting might be a pretty good second choice career.
And on that note...I end this installment of my theatrical memoirs. To be continued.
Blessings and well-wishes,