I parked along the side of the street; I had come by this place only once before, over 2 years ago for a book and dancewear sale. Before that visit, the teen dancers — on Fridays and Saturdays anyway — were hearing my playing for over two years. In a pre-Covid world, I was the ballet rehearsal accompanist for the CT Dance school in Fairfield, CT.
In September of 2017, I was teaching piano students at a nearby music school. My name was submitted to the dance school’s artistic director, Moira, as one to possibly play live music; and I can’t remember now who made contact first. I had plenty of accompanying experience, but none with ballet dancers.
Still, Moira at the dance school decided I was worth a try.
I arrived one Saturday to observe the dancers, who were then working with a CD. Literally the night before I first played for a dance class, I decided maybe it’s better to have more than a few songs lined up. I brought along several books. Playing for dance was a learning curve: knowing ballet moves, the music organization, the speed, how to loop music or switch gears on split-second notices. The teacher I worked with most was Moira (the artistic director then)—one of the most accomplished and revered teachers in the region.
On Fridays, I played for one afternoon class under another instructor; on Saturdays, I played for two 90-minute classes in the morning with Moira. On Sunday I had my 2-service church music director job. The weekends were my work week, and Tuesday felt like a Saturday.
The piano at the dance school was a baby grand, old with a very dark finish. The finish by then was “leather” — when the shellac cracks and looks like leather texture. The piano bench was sometimes uncomfortable; and because I was near the loading dock, winters meant I kept my coat on, even with a nearby space heater.
Things went on well enough; I was using my talents, and felt blessed. Fast forward to early 2020.
I was sick from late December 2019 going into the new year, unusual in that my energy was totally drained. A persistent cough refused to go away. A flu-like illness was spreading, and it took an un-typical three weeks for that frustrating cough to finally dissipate. By late February into March, I was hearing about a Sars-Cov-2….this new sickness sounded like a nasty pneumonia that could kill people. “Ah so THAT’s why I felt so drained,” I thought.
And then society’s collective fear accelerated. Having battled this Coronavirus disease, I wasn’t afraid of it—but now everyone and everything was shutting their doors at warp speed. By Thursday, March 12 2020, an email and social media from the dance school cancelled all classes.
A month or two later, another email from the school admitted that Covid effects had strained the school, and hiring a pianist was not in the budget. The letter I received that July sealed the deal: I would not be returning.
Some months later, I was watching an Instagram clip from the school—and realized the piano playing was mine. It seemed like another world–an old life and self I barely recognized anymore.
I saw Moira online, speaking to the dance students. I still had my church music job; after a week of puzzling over piano lessons, resumed online with my piano students. But by the summer of 2020, it was clear life was just not going to be the same. Eventually I worked retail again, and wound up in Fairfield. In my mind’s background noise, I missed Moira—she represented the piece of unresolved Covid trauma. The end of the ballet school job was sudden and surreal, the end of an amicable working relationship with very little warning.
One day in May 2023, someone I knew walked into my workplace. I raised my eyebrows in recognition. “Moira!” It was a nice few minutes of catching up, and I felt it was a closure at last to 2020. Some weeks later, she and her husband made the decision to leave Fairfield after 34 years.
So on Thursday, I stopped by the dance school, and parked along the side of the street.
The small farewell gathering was in the back (the very back) room. It didn’t do Moira near enough justice after her 30 dedicated years of teaching all those kids. I greeted her and munched on the finger foods, although I wasn’t terribly hungry. Moira said she and her husband were leaving in a week. The small get-together was in fact being held right after she taught her final class of adult ballet. She said the piano was out on the loading dock too….and after a short while, I bade her farewell.
And as I walked down the school’s hallway, I paused in the door frame of the large classroom I’d last known in 2020. The lights flicked on, the piano reappeared, the dancers practiced a coda, crossing the entire room. My younger self sat at the baby grand, playing Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky or Bach. Then it faded…..the lights dimmed, the piano was gone, and the students vanished. But there was resolution now. I said a prayer as I walked out to my car, and drove back home.