I only recently learned what a grand jete was.
And that was because my six year old friend, Grace, showed me.
Needless to say, I don't know all that much about ballet. But over the last two years I've begun to educate myself, both directly and indirectly, through the art and work of one ballerina in particular: Jenifer Ringer.
To me, though, she's always been Jenny Fayette, mom of Grace and Luke who became a dear friend. I spent a great deal of time getting to know Jenny and her family when I became the nanny for her two amazing children a couple years ago. I was handed the job from a friend in New York as she packed her bags and left the city for a new adventure and home in Colorado.
I knew a little about Jenny before I met her and her family, but not much—most of my information had come from her spotlight during Sugarplumgate a few years prior. She spoke on Oprah and The Today Show after she'd been called "fat" by a New York Times dance critic following opening night of the Nutcracker. There was an outcry of support from the masses, and she made a few television appearances regarding the topic. She spoke in every interview with such grace and poise, especially considering she'd been very outspoken about her past eating disorders.
Despite the spotlight (because of a successful ballet career, not just this one incident!), from the first time I met her, her graciousness, warmth, and radiance shone bright. Her kindness was evident in every word she spoke. I'd never met anyone quite like her—her genuine smile, her warm words (both of which are a rare find for someone who's been living in New York for over twenty five years), and her constant affirmation were so welcoming. After I began keeping her kids, I realized every bit of that warmth and kindness was real. It was who she was on the inside, not who she portrayed to the world to be.
The longer I've known her, the more I've found something to be true. She's an extraordinary woman who has been given much talent, grace, and beauty, but she has given back even more.
Knowing her as a friend has been such a gift to me. What I naively didn't realize—until I witnessed her farewell performance last Sunday—was that her life, her artistry, and her dance have been a gift to thousands of other people as well. She's inspired everyone: the aspiring dancer, the person struggling with an eating disorder, the avid fan of the ballet, and the girl living in the Big Apple trying to make the most of the difficulties that come in this city. No doubt, the love and admiration in the audience last Sunday were palpable. If I've learned one thing about the ballet in my two years of informal understudy, it's this: Jenifer Ringer is the people's ballerina.
I fought back tears with a lump in my throat for the duration of the performance and especially during her final bow. I'm sad never to have the chance to see her perform onstage again. But even more so, I'm sad for those who have watched her for years with such delight and will never see her perform again. While Jenny's career as a professional dancer came to a close last weekend, she accomplished something many of us may never know. She found something she loved as a very young girl, and she used that gift and talent to inspire others.
And that is the true loss in her farewell. The ballet world has lost in Jenny's retirement what many may have never known existed: someone who pursued a career for the pure joy and beauty it provided for those experiencing it. She is a true, genuine, and lovely-to-the-core ballerina—not only because of her loveliness as a person, but because of the beauty she imparted with a deep, passionate perfection of the art itself.
It was a glorious goodbye. Merde, Jenny, in all that is coming next for you!
[photo via New York City Ballet facebook page]