Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Standing Ovation for Lady Leah

One of the first things that Emma learned at Lady Leah Lafargue's School of the Dance in Lake Charles was how to make an incredibly graceful, princess-like curtsy. I can still remember the joy on her face when she demonstrated it for us at home. Though she was only about six, she knew that it was truly beautiful.

Lady Leah, who retired last year, nurtured this little flame of awareness in all her students. One of her methods was to demonstrate some awkward movement or sloppy step and then ask her young dancers, "Was that beautiful!?"

Rather than rake in the easy money by offering classes on all the latest dance fads, she only offered ballet, jazz, and tap. Simultaneous enrollment in ballet classes was required to enroll in either of the latter two. "Ballet is foundational," Lady Leah always said.

Lady Leah epitomized the old guard, one of the last keepers of the Southern code of gentility, which had nothing to do with showy wealth but everything to do with good manners, high standards, and appreciating the best of Western culture.

Like all the proper Southern ladies I've known of her generation, she still pronounced the second syllable of "again" with a long "a". She used the word frequently, because she made the girls "do it again" until they got it right. And they did. You could see at the recital that a good foundation was being laid in even the youngest dancers.

Despite the gentility, when she had to make an important point, she used the necessary language. "Don't show your crotch when you do this! The audience doesn't want to see that. It's UGLY!" she would exclaim. She showed them how to dance attractively without dancing seductively.

Sadly, after six years with Lady Leah, we had to move, and the good ballet schools were all too far from our new home. Ballet gradually receded in importance as Emma reluctantly tried to find other things to fill the void.

She never did. This past year Emma begged to go back to ballet, and I enrolled her in a school that is 30 minutes from home. Emma was stunned by the difference in what she was taught there compared to her former training. She surprised me by articulating clearly the problems, whether in technique, preparation, or the choice of music. Though her ballet was "rusty", she had not forgotten what she had been taught. This summer we are driving fifteen minutes further for her to dance at a different school. She attended the first class yesterday.

So today, I just want to say, "Thank you, Lady Leah! Thank you for pulling back the curtain, turning on the spotlight, and showing your students the good, the true, and the beautiful, through dance."

N.B.: Lady is a family name, not a title. Emma also received excellent training from Lady Leah's daughter, Lady Holly, who continues the dance tradition at Lady Leah Lafargue School of the Dance.


Cay G. said...

Love this, Wendy. This is what I want for my girls.

One of the reasons we switched this year to our current dance instructor...besides my girls loving her...is because she was trained by Lady Leah.

Wendy Haught said...

Hi, Cay!

I'm so glad you liked it. I think most moms are like us and do want this for our girls, the problem is that it is hard to find. Emma and I have learned never to enroll at a ballet school without first attending their recital. It's VERY revealing, sometimes literally!

Cay G. said...

Oh, yeah! Recitals. That's a conversation in itself. Personally, I'm thinking Lady Leah had the right idea...seasonal performances over yearly recitals.

Cheryl said...

I have enjoyed many of your articles, although I haven't posted a comment. Miss you terribly here in Lake Charles. I noticed you are up very early writing your posts. Reminds me of a Sunday brunch, with just a couple pots of coffee. Ah, the good times.

Wendy Haught said...


Lady Leah does have a recital and a Christmas performance. I attended this year's recital with Emma, and it was fabulous. I didn't mention it in my post, but it is a great plus for Lady Leah's students to have the variety of Christmas performances that they do. Most schools, if they have a Christmas performance, present the Nutcracker every single year.

Wendy Haught said...


Good to hear from you! A couple of pots of coffee, a Sunday brunch, yes the good times! They're worth repeating, you know? Although I won't try to keep up with you again in the coffee drinking department.