Tag Archives: ballet

Learning to Dance at the Swift Sisters School of Dancing

25 Feb

In my mind, every little girl in North Bergen went to the Swift Sisters School of Dancing in Cliffside Park in the 1960s and 1970s and more.    Set in a two -story building on a quiet street, the school was my favorite spot for several years of my life.  To this day, when I am in New Jersey, and drive through Cliffside Park, I still recognize the building on Lawton Avenue, and a memory of those days returns.

To be honest, I was not one of the better dancers.  I only took lessons when I was 6, 7 and 8. But I adored the older girls who went up on their toes!  I loved my carrying case, a Ballet Box,  that had a picture of a young girl dancing in her pink tutu and dance shoes on the outside.  I learned both tap and ballet, taking two classes when I went.  So I needed that case to carry my extra shoes.  To be honest, it looked like the Barbie doll carrying case, but this one had compartments for shoes, instead of dolls.

I liked tap dance better than ballet.  I think I was better at that. But I honestly cannot remember.  What I do remember is that I liked the costumes we wore for tap much better than the ballet costumes.  I hated the stiff tulle that was under the ballerina skirts. But for tap, we had much more comfortable outfits.

 

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In fact, my favorite photo of me from those days was in my tap costume in 1962.   I was seven years old.   I remember my Dad doing an entire photo shoot of me in my costume.  He also took many photos of the show itself. I now have all these photos! I guess he waited a bit to have the film developed, because the show itself was in June.  I know because I still have the program!!!

It is amazing what I found when cleaning out my parent’s home!

What I remember most about dance classes were the Swift sisters themselves.  They were the queens of the building.   I remember that one of them had been a Radio City Rockette! (Anyway I believe that is true!)  This led to my fascination with the Rockettes.  It was around that time (1965) that my Grandma Esther took us to see the movie “That Darn Cat” at Radio City Hall, and to see the Rockettes.   I still watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and am in awe of the Rockettes’ performance.  I only wish I was tall enough and talented enough to join them.

My joy of dancing, led me to enroll my daughter in creative movement classes and ballet classes when she was 5 and 6.  Like me, she was not the best little ballerina. She lasted two years.  I think she might have suffered through it and not enjoyed it that much.  But she loved her little pink tutu leotard.  Designers are so much smarter now, designing outfits where the tutu is actually attached!  Not like in my days of learning to dance.

However, I believe, like me,  she still remembers her first through fifth positions in ballet.  I also am aware of the dance terms, such as barre, grande, plie, pas, petit, pirouette, promenade, and on pointe.  Thank you to my years at the Swift Sisters!

Even though neither of us were the best dancers, we both loved going to see the Nutcracker Ballet each year.  The dance school where my daughter spent two dance years, run by Kathy and Dennis Landsman, always put on a student production of the Nutcracker, and each year we went to see the ballet at the Johnson County Community College.

I must say, although I was not the best dancer in either ballet or tap dance, I received encouragement and lasting memories from my days learning to dance.  For me, the time I spent at the Swift Sisters school gave me a start to loving dance, music and movement.  A joy I have to this day.