Monday, September 15, 2008

Entertainment: Backward Glances (3)

Topic: The Ballet Dancer 1872

The ballet seems at last to have found a home in New York, and to have become one of the permanent institutions of the great city. There are several hundred girls and women in New York who earn their living by dancing in the ballets of the various theatres. The ballet-girl is a dancer, and loves dancing as an art.

The ballet girl rises about eight o'clock in the morning, and is off to rehearsal by nine. A duller, more dreary sight than a rehearsal of a ballet by daylight, and in plain dress, cannot be imagined. The theatre is dark and gloomy, the stage not much lighter, and everything is in confusion. There is a smell of escaping gas in all parts of the building. Scattered about the stage are a number of girls and women in half skirts, with fleshings on their legs, and some of them with woolen hose drawn over the fleshings to keep them warm. They are terribly jaded and hollow eyed, and they seem incapable of being interested in anything. A very different set from the smiling, graceful hours of the evening before. At a given signal the music begins, and the girls commence a series of capers which seem utterly ridiculous. It is downright hard work for the girls, however; and those who are not engaged in leaping, or pirouetting, or wriggling, are leaning against the scenery and panting with fatigue. The leader of the ballet storms and swears at them, and is made frantic by every little mistake. The rehearsal occupies several hours. If there is a matinee that day, it is kept up until it is time for the girls to dress for that performance. Between the close of the matinee, and the opening of the evening performance, there is not much time for the tired girls to rest.

Upon assembling for the evening performance, the girls are dressed by a practical costumer, whose business it is to see that each one wears her costume properly. This arranged, they pass down to the painter's room, where their cheeks, ears, and nostrils are "touched up" by an artist. Their hair is dressed by another artist, and every defect of face and figure is overcome as far as is possible. Thus adorned, the dull and jaded girl of the morning becomes, under the magical influence of the footlights, a dazzling sprite, and the object of the admiration of the half-grown boys and brainless men who crowd the front rows of orchestra seats. (29)

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