Deirdre Kelly

People Who Told Me No: Thank-you.


I just had lunch with a lovely PR man who wants to help me promote my next book, Ballerina. He asked me about my dance background.  I’m afraid I had not much to tell.

My mother believed that dancing was what you did when the radio is on, so was stinting when it came to dance lessons when I was young. Besides, she didn’t exactly like ballet. her idea of a hoofer was a tap dancer, or a jazz artists, someone more Ann Margret than Ana Pavlova.

Ballet was, for a long time, something I did in my colouring books. From a young age, I had an obsession for ballerinas and used to draw them endlessly, together with flying fish, which also caught my my imagination. Fish who could fly were as fascinating to me as women who could balance on the tips of their toes. The two became intrinsically linked within my imagination.

Flash forward about a decade, and I am a pimply-faced teenager, mad about anything to do with dance. I had an image of Judith Jamison, the Amazonian principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, magnet-ed to the refrigerator — much to my mother’s chagrin. I watched dance movies, especially those with Cyd Charisse, one of my favourite dancers.

I started to write impressionistic poems about dance and then started writing on dance itself. When I was in my final year of high school, the guidance counsellor asked all students about to graduate to tell him their career ambitions. I walked into his office and matter-of-factly said that I would be a dance critic. It made perfect sense: I loved dance; I loved to write. Ergo, I’d be dance critic.

But the pronunciation seemed deeply to offend him. He was a big guy, with a dark mustache, a biker dude in a polyester suit, and he immediately chastised me, saying it was an unrealistic aspiration.  He said that no one would ever take me seriously. “You have to know the topic; people have to trust in your knowledge. ” I recall him saying, his face growing red.  He then told me to march myself down to the library to review the stats on unemployed journalists and he told me to come up with a new game plan. I did what he said. Sort of. I marched, or I should say, stomped, my way into the library — I was that  angry. I asked for the binder on unemployment figures, and once it was in my hands, I suddenly asked myself, What was I doing? I could care less that other people couldn’t find work as writers.  I wasn’t them, and they weren’t me.  And contrary to what he had said,  I did know about dance, and even if I didn’t know everything I was eager to learn. I had the passion and the desire. Nothing and no one was going to stand in my way.  I huffily handed the binder back tot he bewildered librarian. I ‘d show him.

Flash forward another decade: I am the dance critic for Canada’s national newspaper: I am nominated for a coveted National Newspaper Award for my coverage of the National Ballet of Canada; I am also writing for dance Magazine in new York and am a contributor to The International Dictionary of Ballet, published out of London by St. James Press. I am an internationally recognized dance expert.

This might sound like gloating, and it’s not meant to be. But I’d like at this moment to say thank-you, Mr. Schmidt, for telling me no. Because of you, I became more determined than ever to realize my dream. I made something out of my life, and in partnership with the thing I’ve never ceased to love — dance.

I also grew up to see flying fish soaring above the ocean waves, a sight as amazing as I always thought it would be.

May all your visions have wings, as did mine.  



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