I am happy to present my Ten Lords a Leaping ornament, or as I am secretly calling it… “Oh My Lord!”
This year’s ornament is inspired by the dance icon of my youth. Many girls grow up admiring a principal ballerina. I grew up fascinated by a principal dancer. I was lucky enough to have one of each living just across the street from my childhood home in College Park, GA.
Nancy and Gil were a brother and sister duo born to dance. Their mother Jo was a school teacher by day and supportive dance mom on afternoons and weekends. She was a widow with a talent for celebrating her children’s gifts. By the time I was in the second grade, Nancy and Gil had already made their way into the Nutcracker with the Atlanta Ballet. If you don’t know anything about the Southeastern United States, this was a very big deal. The creme de la creme of ballet.
Each year, Jo would invite all the kids in the neighborhood to see Nancy and Gil perform in the Nutcracker at the Fox Theater and attend a celebratory dinner afterward at her house. We would all get dressed up and in return for being on our best behavior, Jo would make us feel like real patrons of the arts. Her decorated homemade sugar cookies in the shapes of the various characters from the Nutcracker were our special treat. From watching Gil’s grand jete as one of Drosselmeyer’s dolls to eating a sweet and crunchy replica of Nancy’s perfectly executed pirouettes, to hearing the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra bring Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score to life, this was always a magical day from beginning to end.
Jo also knew how to keep her dashing duo grounded. Nancy and Gil had chores, homework, and rules just like any other kid. World class dancers or not, there was work to be done. The chore I had my eye on most was Gil’s. He had to mow the grass every other week, and my best friend Stephanie and I were his ever faithful spectators. At seven years old, we knew a choice view when we saw one. At the first sputter of the lawn mower, we’d glissade to our respective phones immediately to get the other on the line. If by chance the phone was busy, whoever heard the motor first would pas de bourrée to the other’s house three doors down. We didn’t have Youtube, Roblox or cable. This was the prime entertainment of our day.
Gil was also a star football player at his high school, up until he had to choose between his two pursuits. This young man was an athlete, full stop. And much like when Lebron James is on a basketball court, gravity was taking a lunch break while Gil was on stage. Watching him jump could take your breath away. Watching him mow the grass was just about as thrilling.
My brother and I were sitting at the kitchen table one afternoon when the phone rang. “He’s mowing the grass naked.” Stephanie shouted from the other end of the line. The phone vibrated with her excitement. “What?” I shouted back at her. “Meet me behind the bushes.” she demanded and hung up. I ran out the door to the bushes in my front yard with a clear line of sight to the action. I could see Stephanie high tailing it from her house to mine. We sat out of breath hiding behind the bushes too scared to even look. I had goosebumps from the thought of taking a peek. Finally, we looked. There he was, shirtless and glistening. But he wasn’t actually nude. Paired with his bare chest, he’d opted for some skin-colored tights, which was just as exciting from our perspective. He had probably just gotten back from rehearsal and didn’t bother changing. Hallelujah. Remember the scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” when Phoebe Cates exits the pool wet in her bikini while the Cars song “Moving in Stereo” was playing? This was the second grade equivalent for two girls who had just recently discovered their sexual preference, set to the soundtrack of a lawn mower and giggles in chorus. I remember thinking, “Oh… My… Lord!”
By the time I was in high school, Gil was dancing with American Ballet Theater and Mikhail Baryshikov. When ABT came to perform at the Fox Theater, Jo once again hosted all the kids from the neighborhood to go see Gil’s historical performance with Baryshnikov. I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov dance live in person.
Gil was the real deal. He danced with American Ballet Theatre for 17 years. He performed with the Twyla Tharp Dance Company, Baryshnikov and Company, and Nureyev and Friends… just to name a few. During his career with ABT, he was recognized as both an accomplished virtuoso and one of the company’s most popular performers. He also worked with numerous noted choreographers, including Agnes de Mille, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris, Jerome Robbins and Merce Cunningham.
I loved dancing, and probably arts in general, as a result of all this early exposure to ballet. However, ballet was a short-lived dream for me and my Amazonian figure. I took ballet from 1st grade until 8th grade, dancing on point in many fun recitals. I remember the day I quit. I was dancing with the Dorris Russell’s Dance Company in Fairburn, GA. Dorris had been a Rockette in New York in her youth and she just couldn’t muster the nerve to tell me, “This isn’t gonna happen for you.” At fourteen years old, I towered over my peers standing five foot eleven inches tall. No self respecting ballet teacher looks a teen of this scale in the eye and says, “You got this!” When I stood on point that day, the male dancer in our class could stand straight up under my armpits without bending his neck. That was the day I decided to pursue my many other talents. Sweet petite Stephanie went on to dance throughout college and beyond.
Nancy, Gil’s equally talented sister, danced her way in another direction. She went on to become a very successful lawyer in Washington, D.C. I loved her too. Nancy was breathtakingly beautiful and elegant. She was always kind to me, passing down her old costumes and tutus when I was in primary school (because I was almost as big as she was when I was in 2nd grade and she was in high school). I treasured those costumes for many years. My mom would take the hems out a bit so I could love and wear them long after I should have.
I still love ballet, and am known to dance with my daughter Stella when no one is looking. My “Oh My Lord” 2021 ornament is dedicated to ballet, defying gravity, and the beauty of one of the best in flight. It’s also a nod to the day I identified my sexuality, thanks to a dance belt, a sculpted derriere, and a near perfect specimen of the male form. Oh My Lord!!!
Watch this video of Gil in action here. He enters the stage first.If you enjoyed this story, please consider sharing with others. Thanks so much for reading! xoxo LL