Many little girls dream of becoming ballerinas. They picture themselves in tutus pirouetting across the stage, pointing their toes in ballet slippers and gracefully leaping through the air. This, too, was the girlhood dream of dancer Anna Pavlova, whose memoir Pages of My Life provides the text for I Dreamed I Was a Ballerina. For Pavlova, the images of her childhood were not simply a passing fancy; they guided her throughout her career. Pavlova not only became a dancer; she developed into one of the most important prima ballerinas in the world and, until her death in 1931, performed on more than 4,000 stages.
In this charmingly poignant story, Pavlova shares with us the series of events that ignited her passion to become a dancer. The child of a poor but loving mother, Pavlova rarely had the chance to appreciate the finer elements of culture. One day, however, her mother saved up enough money to take her to see the ballet Sleeping Beauty. Pavlova was awestruck by the orchestra and mesmerized by the beautiful dancers. When, afterward, her mother asked if she wanted to dance like the performers they'd seen, Anna replied that one day she would dance upon the stage of that very theater. Thus began her dream of becoming a ballerina, a difficult goal that because of her weak feet and scrawny body would take many years and true dedication to achieve. In her use of fluid language and vivid descriptions of that first performance, we see that Pavlova not only adored her occupation, she lived and breathed it. Beautiful paintings by French Impressionist Edgar Degas underscore his love for the ballet as well. Through his classic depictions of ballerinas at work, it is easy to understand why both he and Pavlova were so inspired.
I Dreamed I Was a Ballerina emphasizes the importance of childhood aspirations. No one's dreams should be taken lightly. You never know when the poor little girl who longs to don a tutu and toe shoes will become a prima ballerina.
Heidi Henneman is a freelance writer in New York City.