In Memoriam: Joyce Seaborne Bader

She was a prima ballerina, in her carriage and sense of the dramatic. Not to say that she was a drama queen — she had a lovely sense of humour and a generous heart — but everything I know about florid overdone stage bows, I learned from that woman. Révérence, the curtsy that traditionally ends a ballet class, was a grand affair with her, as you made your bows to the audience, those in the center, those stage left, those stage right, those poor souls up in the balcony who spent their hard-earned savings on tickets to see art, a gesture to the conductor, the gracious acceptance of flowers from the younger girl who ran out on stage to give them to you, breaking off a bud to present to your partner — it could go on for minutes at a time.

Many teachers turn a blind eye or actively encourage their students in anorexic behavior, eternally pursuing the insanely thin body now considered desirable in classical ballet. When a fellow dancer my age kept talking about how she needed to lose five more pounds, Joyce and her daughter Lyndette took her aside and told her point-blank she needed to gain weight — that she would dance better with a healthy body than a skinny one.

Joyce and Lyndette kept me in ballet for another seven years after I had left my old studio with the intention of quitting entirely.

And after I graduated from high school, after I went away to college, I would come back and attend the daytime adult class my mother had started taking. I still do. And I remember one incident particularly, that encapsulates the kind of teacher Joyce was.

I had only just mastered the fouetté before I stopped dancing regularly, but I had always loved it. After the adult class ended, when everyone else was heading for the dressing room, I would go into the center of the floor, start myself with a pirouette, and then do fouettés until I fell off my leg. Which generally took only three or four turns at best, because I was never on my center enough to stay up.

One day, after Joyce watched me do this for a few moments, she told me that I was turning my palms down when I opened my arms. “You’ve got to turn them up,” she said.

The direction of my palms was the least of my problems; I just didn’t have the glutes any more to keep my working leg high enough, not to mention I’d always been crap at spotting and now my hair was long enough that I had to keep it in a braid instead of a bun, which shot my center all to hell. But whatever.

Fifth position. Tendu, place, pirouette —

Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.

Oh, I fell off my leg eventually. But I was on, three hundred percent better than I’d been before she made the comment about my hands.

Lyndette’s the one who broke me of the atrocious habits left by the neglect of my old studio. I owe my still-excellent feet to her. Joyce, though, had that special gift for seeing the one tiny thing you never thought had anything to do with your problems, but in truth was the key to them. Palms down took my energy into the ground; palms up centered me, straightened my spine, lifted my ribcage, and brought everything into line.

She was an inspired teacher and a wonderful woman. She fought off breast cancer twice, encephalitis, countless other health problems that would have dropped a lesser woman ten times over. I don’t know how old she was when she died today — it used to be that even her daughter did not know — and I’m sad for the way her health and mind deteriorated after she could no longer teach even the adult class. Ballet was her life, and when it went away, so did she. But I will always tell the story of the day she turned my palms up and made it all work, and I will always remember her with love.

0 Responses to “In Memoriam: Joyce Seaborne Bader”

  1. janni

    She sounds lovely.

  2. jimhines

    That’s a beautiful remembrance. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. wldhrsjen3

    Oh! I didn’t know you are a ballerina! I danced for years and only reluctantly quit when I graduated college and moved to my husband’s small farm town (no ballet studio worthy of the name.) I still have dreams of being on my toes…my muscles still remember the hours of practice and the yearning for perfection.

    I miss it something fierce.

    Your teacher sounds like a wonderful person and an inspiration. I’m sorry to hear she has passed away. (hugs)

    • Marie Brennan

      I never had the body or the drive to aim for a professional career, but it definitely left its mark. And I did jazz and modern lyrical, too, after I got to their studio, but ballet for thirteen years.

  4. mrissa

    Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.

    (And now I go off to write a quick note to a teacher of mine….)

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s always good to let them know how much you appreciate them.

      Honestly, I’m relieved it’s finally over; her health has been deteriorating badly for years, including Alzheimer’s. Joyce has been gone for a while. But I will miss her, and so will many others.

      • mrissa

        The long good-bye of Alzheimer’s is generally not any easier than shorter good-byes with some other diseases. I’m glad there’s peace now.

  5. kendokamel

    I’m very sorry to hear that. She sounds like a wonderful inspiration.

  6. amysisson

    What a lovely post. Thank you.

    I wasn’t familiar with the ballet term you mentioned, so I followed the link. 32 consecutive such terms?! Wow.

    We have season tix to the Houston Ballet this year, and I feel like we’re beginning to really know the company. We’ve seen two dancers promoted to principal, and the retirement dance and later tribute to Lauren Anderson, and I admit that my eyes were not dry on any of those occasions. We’re starting to feel like it’s our ballet company, and we’re enjoying it so much.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, I linked it because I figured few people would have any idea what I meant. Normally when I tell that story, I can use hand motions to show what I mean, but here I turned to the internet. (I figure the jargon of the experience itself is impenetrable enough on its own.)

  7. juushika

    That was beautiful. And from the sound of it—so was she.

    • Marie Brennan

      My mother used to say that when she’s eighty, she wants legs as good as Joyce’s still were. (She was in her mid-eighties by now, I think — not sure.)

  8. kwaller

    What a beautiful memorial.

  9. tltrent

    Really beautiful. I’d wondered when I met you if you danced; you have the lovely carriage of a dancer. 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      <g> You can’t do it for thirteen years and not have something stick. Though I’m not as good as I used to be.

      My mother laughed a while back when I came to the adult class. I sat down on the floor, stretched for a while, stood up, went to the barre — and the minute I put my hand on it, she swears I got two inches taller. That environment just makes all the old reflexes kick in.

  10. ksumnersmith

    Oh, I’m so sorry. But thank you, this is a beautiful memorial.

    • Marie Brennan

      As I said above, it’s for the best; her mind and health had deteriorated badly in the last few years. But we will miss her.

  11. sacredchao23

    Hi, this is Jude from ICFA. That’s a lovely memorial and I don’t intend to distract from it. But I did want to drop you a line letting you know that it was nice to actually have more of a conversation with you this year. I thought I’d also tell you that I’m friending you. I’m sorry for your loss, but glad that you had those experiences when you did.

    • Marie Brennan

      I am, too.

      And now everybody who was wondering why there’s a giant chapter of dancing in Doppelganger knows the reason. <g>

      I enjoyed chatting more at ICFA, too. There seems to be a generalized pattern of meeting someone at a con several years running and building up from “oh, hi, here’s who I am” to “hey, when I go to Con X I’ll get to see Person Y!” It’s one of the things I love about it.

  12. shveta_thakrar

    This is a lovely, lovely tribute.

  13. Marie Brennan

    What a name! <g> She sounds like she ought to have been some terrifying ex-prima from the Kirov or something.

    I think it helped that my studio also has teachers for jazz, tap, and modern lyrical, all of which have different (and less radical) body ideals from classical ballet. It helps students keep perspective.

  14. unforth

    We never forget those that inspired us to try just harder, to fix our mistakes, to try again. My condolences, and thanks for sharing.

    • Marie Brennan

      And she never stopped doing it. My serious ballet days were years behind me when she corrected my fouettés, but to her that was no reason not to give the correction.

  15. Marie Brennan

    Yes, like that. The lovely body and carriage that never goes away, the encouragement they give to everyone they teach. Some ballerinas may be shrewish drama queens, but we were fortunate enough to know the ones who were lovely people instead.

  16. moonartemis76

    I always love that story when you tell it. I am sad that such a beautiful soul has passed but so grateful that you knew her. My very sincere condolences…

  17. moonandserpent

    *hug*

    I don’t say this often enough, but I really like you.

  18. Anonymous

    TO MY FRIEND

    YES JOYCE WAS ALL OF WHAT EVERYONE SAID ABOUT HER AND MORE SHE WAS A GRAND LADY DEVOTED WIFE MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER/ BUT TO ME SHE WAS MY DEAR FRIEND. WHEN SHE WAS OUT AMOUNG FRIENDS AND STUDENTS SHE WAS THE PRIMA BALLERINA WITH GRACE THAT CAME NATURALLY. BUT WHEN SHE CAME HOME SHE WAS JOYCIE TO ME WHEN I WOULD BE THERE AT HOME WITH HER. SHE WAS LIKE A LITTLE GIRL SHE AND I TOGETHER. LAUGHING WATCHING TELEVISION EATING ICE CREEAM AND GOING TO SLEEP ON THE BED AFTER LAUGHING OUR SELF SILLY. I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER ONE DAY THAT I WAS THERE WITH HER I ASK HER TO EXCERISES WITH ME DOING THE EXCERISE GIVEN TO ME AFTER DOING ABOUT THREE OF THE MOVES SHE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID “I DON’T KNOW WHO TAUGHT YOU THESE MOVES BUT THEY SHOULD GO BACK TO SCHOOL” AFTER I CONVIENCED HER THAT I DID THESE EXCERISES IN REHAB, AFTER SHE HEARD THAT WE JUST LAUGHED AGAIN. I MISS YOU JOYCE.JOYCE AND I WERE FRIENDS FROM THE TIME THAT I MOVED TO TEXAS I HAVE WORKED FOR ELLIOTT FROM 1982 UNTIL I BECAME ILL IN 2004. I ALSO WILL NEVER FORGET WHAT THE NURSE THAT WAS ORENTATING ME TO THE OR/ THAT WNEN JOYCE CALLS YOU ALWAYS GET HIM TO COME TO THE PHONE
    SHE HAD A STORY BOOK LIFE AND MARRIGE. I AM SO PROUD TO HAVE HAD JOYCE AS MY DEAR FRIEND REST IN PEACE MY FRIEND LOVE YOUR FRIEND BARBSCOL 4;01 AM 4-11-08

  19. Anonymous

    I too was a student of Joyce

    I have been away from Dallas for over 20 years. I had contacted Joyce a few times in that period. One of those times was to thank her for giving me the career I have had and still have. She was one of the most wonderful people I have ever known in my lifetime. I was preparing my resume today for a teaching position at a local Univeristy and saw her name and thought I would check the web for her. I am sad that she passed away over 4 years ago and I had no idea. She will always remain my inspriation and in my heart, I talk of her often when I am teaching. Love you Joyce and know you are once again dancing like the angel you always were.

  20. Marie Brennan

    Re: Memories

    Thank you so much for stopping by. I love the fact that so many of Joyce’s former students have found this post and spoken up with their own memories.

  21. Anonymous

    Excellent stuff!

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