For those of us fortunate to have studied tap, jazz, or ballet with her, we learned far more than just steps and technique. We learned self-confidence and built self-esteem. Her eternal refrain, "Chin up, shoulders back, tummy in, and bottom tucked under," is imprinted on each of us. And that instruction applies to every aspect of life, not just how our bodies stood as we held first position at the barre. Most importantly, she taught resiliency, strength, and devotion for what she believed in. We would see her every Sunday morning at the early service at church, in the pew across from ours. She was always there, perfectly coiffed and quietly demure. She never promoted or discussed her faith; she lived and demonstrated it throughout her life. Miss Ann organized and represented the Debutante Cotillion, which served much more than its traditional purpose as the first official coming out of young girls to society. It symbolized all that was proper and refined for young women as we graduated high school and embarked upon adult life. At that time, it was not merely a societal gateway for the rich and powerful, but a virtual stage, upon which we young girls would learn how to demonstrate kindness and carry ourselves into the world.
Miss Ann's legacy extends far beyond dance class. It can be found in the countless young girls, now women, who embraced the lessons she taught and are now passing them on to their own little girls. Her ripple effect will be felt for generations.
I SAVED THIS SEAT FOR YOU
What person may be teaching you lessons beyond the scope of their official role in your life?
What example are you setting for the younger people who cross your path?
What is grace to you?
Grace is a divine strength.
—Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!
The best mirror is an old friend.
As the date of my high school reunion grew closer, a blanket of insecurity shrouded whatever curiosity was hiding under the covers. Even the thought of going to the reunion was dreadful. Though my high school and college years, for the most part, were rich in experience and plein de vie, there was still the realization that I had pursued a different path than the majority of my class. Most people who would be in attendance had gone on to marry and have children, even grandchildren. I had not. Despite my choice, I was afraid I would be shown little empathy and excluded from a newly created clique of middle-aged couples. Yet at the urging of my friends, I decided to go.
My parents were out of town on the weekend that I came back to attend the reunion. Never before had I stayed in our family home alone, which brought up unexpected nostalgia and an empty space for rambling thoughts. It was too quiet, and childhood memories made the air heavy in every room, especially my bedroom. As I tried on the outfits I had brought with me, seeking the most flattering one for the first night of the weekend (to hide the twenty pounds I had gained since high school), I began to recite mantras to ready myself for what was to come. I decided on a long, flowing skirt and matching top with a cinched-in waist, fastened a few necklaces around my neck, ran a brush through my hair, and was out the door. As I drove up to the hotel, perspiration beaded on my temples, and the hollow in my stomach grew more vacuous. After sitting in the car outside for a few minutes to steady my nerves, I inhaled deeply, opened the door, and walked up the concrete steps to the entrance. Mustering my inner you-can-do-this attitude, I walked alone into the ballroom.
"Oh, my gosh, Kristin, it is so good to see you! You haven't changed a bit," came an enthusiastic voice from behind the check-in table.
I have often wondered if it is a good thing to have not changed a bit since high school. I mean haven't we all hopefully changed and improved over the years?
"Oh, thank you. It is so good to see you too!"
"Did you not bring your husband?" my well-meaning classmate asked. "We would have loved to have met him."
We were less than two seconds into the High School Musical adventure, and I had already been doused with the cold-water question.
"Oh, no, I have not married. Yet."
Though I am certain most of my classmates were genuinely interested in learning about their husbands and wives, the rest of the night for me played out like a bad game of Jeopardy! where the answer was: "What is happiness as a single woman?" Of course, I felt compelled to tack on "yet" every time I said I was not married, to help soften the reality that I was almost 40 years old and had never been married—yet.