Sad news came today — Anne Allen died Aug. 5. Anne was a dance teacher in Columbia, MD, and a gifted dancer in her day, the real thing. Her daughter, Cathleen, was a good friend in high school. I can’t remember why my friend Dana and I wandered into her ballet class at the community center. I had to be self-aware enough, at 15, to know that I had no talent. Somehow, Anne recruited me to play the Comet can in her whimsical take on the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which featured many name-brand cleansers. The Comet can required only strength and the ability to count; I had the former, if not a consistent grasp of the latter. I stole this experience and gave it to Tess Monaghan in Baltimore Blues.
My senior year, the school musical was Carousel. This was a fraught experience for me. I wanted to be Carrie, but lost the part to another girl with a much better voice. Later, she missed rehearsals for a swimming competition and she was told that I would go on in her place if she missed a certain rehearsal. She missed it, the director relented. Meanwhile, the original choreographer for the show had no use for me. But she was replaced by Anne midway through. Anne called me at home and asked me to join the chorus because “You will work hard and do what I tell you to do.” I was — and am — a big girl, but Anne was determined that one of my classmates, David Boyd, would lift me during “June is Busting Out All Over.” She told him: “You’ll have some biceps when this is over.” I’m sure he did.
Anne was a complicated person and I am too much of a fringe character in her life to do her justice. But it’s not a bad thing, when one is a teenager, to meet someone who tells you that working hard can compensate for a lack of talent.
Anyone else have such a mentor?