River of January: Friday Excerpt


New York, 1931

Early for Helen’s Gambarelli audition at the Roxy, the girl and her mother crowded among throngs of other hopefuls. Mothers pulled distracted daughters through the bedlam, while their girls tried to catch words with each other. All the dancers were dressed in rehearsal skirts, tights, and leotards—toe shoes slung over shoulders, or around necks. A pianist, oblivious to the chaos, loudly played echoing chords from the stage. Reaching for her mother’s hand, Helen, shouldered her way to a pair of empty seats to the right of the center aisle.
For the next three hours the two women witnessed extraordinary dancing. Yet while watching her competition perform their hearts out, Helen remained tranquil. She knew her craft—she knew she could compete. She had continued to train with her dance instructor, Mr. Evans regardless of her other obligations.
“Helen Thompson,” a small male assistant, with a receding hairline, read from a clipboard.
Helen rose, glancing at Bertha with a small smile. A little jittery when she stepped onto the stage, the girl’s dedication and discipline overrode her nerves. She posed, arms up, gracefully curved, head back, chin raised to the right, and she struck her regal beginning position. The pianist struck the opening bars, and her talent, training, and passion combined into graceful execution. Helen presented Stravinsky’s Firebird—the tableau in which the Firebird rejoices over the destruction of the evil Kashchei. Her mastery of fluid motion and grace assured Helen’s selection for a spot as a Gambarelli “Beauty,” and she began rehearsals with a new troupe of ballerinas almost immediately after auditions.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir, River of January, also available on Kindle

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