People getting crazy around books, and a time capsule of 1950’s ballet outfits.

Speaking of pick-up lines in that other post got me remembering the Best Line Ever, which was totally wasted on me a few years ago in a used bookstore:
Dude came up and said, “Can I help you find anything?”
And I was all, “No thanks, I’m just looking,”
And he said, “Looking good.”
And I was like, “What… Oh! Ha! Oh, you’re smooth.”
Would’ve been smoother if he’d peeped my wedding ring first. Such a shame to waste that magic.
There was another time in another bookstore, not quite a pick-up line:
Dude came up and told me I looked exactly like Winona Ryder, and that he respects her because, “she is the Robert De Niro of our generation,” and then shook my hand and walked away.
Thing 1: I resemble Winona Ryder in that we are both female, and
Thing 2: The Robert De Niro of our generation. What does that even mean? And
Thing 3: Was the handshake meant to be congratulatory? Nice Work on the Ryder/De Niro-ness?
Maybe people just get crazy around books.
Back in highschool my BFF had a job at the nice quiet respectable public library, where she was constantly having to fend off date requests, meanwhile I was a lifeguard at the local pool, a job that requires a bathing suit, and all I got was Fear And Respect.
Anyway what was the point?
Oh right, bookstores, new ballet book!

Well not new, used. Same bookstore as the Looking Good pick-up, in fact.
No new come-ons to report from this trip.
The book is Ballet for Beginners by Nancy Draper and Margaret F. Atkinson, copyright 1951 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Beginners in this case means your usual beginners. Little kids not adults. What I love most about this book is how the photographs show us a ballet world before ballet clothing became an industry.
For example, check out this photograph by Fred Lyon:

Two girls are wearing what are probably home-made cotton leotards, or maybe two-piece combos, one paired with a blouse. One girl is wearing a dress and socks, poor thing must’ve forgotten her dance bag that day. Two girls are wearing regular old shorts, like the not stretchy kind, like the kind of thing they might also wear for playing outside. And then on the facing page there’s a sweet two-piece circle skirt and crop-top get-up. That girl must’ve felt like a queen.
I don’t have proof of this at hand right now, but seems like by the 1970’s photos show ballet classes looking much more uniform in uniform, although still a fair amount of handmade, and then by the 1990’s, forget it, is all store bought.
So this book is a neat time capsule.


About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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14 Responses to People getting crazy around books, and a time capsule of 1950’s ballet outfits.

  1. Reminds me of this photo of a ballet class in Russia during WWII:

  2. d1a2n3e4 says:

    Interesting pick-up lines. ;)
    And an astute observation about what being in the vicinity of lots-of-books can do to a person.

    When I first started ballet classes back in the early 60s of the last century we all also wore shorts or skirts or whatever. By the late 60s I think I had a leotard, tights and slippers instead of socks.

  3. guyenne says:

    I don’t recall pictures, but there’s at least one good description of the dance frocks they need to wear for class in the Noel Streatfeild shoes books. It may be in both Ballet Shoes and Theatre Shoes – but I’m recalling yards and yards of organdy for at least one of the dresses. I think the latest date I remember in those is the 1940s.

    This page on gymnastics leotards has some neat historical pictures – looks like it was the stretchy fabric revolution of the 1960s+ that got us where we are today (as well as the changes in general women’s fashion regarding coverage).

    • Rebecca says:

      All the Streatfeild books have great clothes details.
      Theatre Shoes (originally Curtain Up) has new wartime students being stumped by a huge long pre-war uniform list (white tarlatan dresses for ballet, blue rompers for tap, black russian-style overalls for drama…).
      After a humiliating audition dancing in their school shorts, the heroines end up wearing their ‘bathing dresses’ for ballet – one classmate wears tunics made from her mother’s old silk nightdress. Their drama overalls are made out of blackout curtain material with belts and buttons handed down from graduating students.

      Her scathing critiques in Dancing Shoes (originally Wintle’s Wonders) and Gemma Alone of the frilly dresses worn to make child performers appear younger are fascinating too – an inversion of the made-up grown-up child stars today perhaps?

  4. Katy says:

    I’ve got a book called ‘How to Dress Dancers’by Mary Kent Harrison originally published in 1974 which gives you draughting inductions for leotards, knitting patterns for crossovers and full body tights and all sorts of good stuff!

  5. Ray says:

    This is a great reference to see what was worn at the barre in the past. We’ve come a long way from wearing tap shorts (now used as lingerie) in before WWII to pop cultural fashions like the off-shoulder Flashdance sweaters.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Oh I love this! And you and your blog! Seriously, I’ve devoured the archives (I decided that 6 hours of sleep was sufficient so I could keep reading). I’m 24 and I have been back at ballet regularly for the past 2 months for the first time since I took it when I was very little and a semester in college. The traditions, the history, the pictures, the stories are all sucking me back in. And I wish I had a Smirnoff.

  7. Suzanne says:

    I realise this isn’t directly related to this post, but I recently bought Classical Ballet Technique by Gretchen Warren after reading your posts about it (and waiting for a good price on Amazon…) and I’m so glad I did! I am enthralled! Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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