unsung sol

When I was a little girl my mother sent me to ballet classes. I can’t remember whether I lasted a full year or just one term, all I know is my mother yanked me out of ballet and sent me to elocution lessons instead. The rationale being that I had grown too tall to be a ballerina; it wasn’t until years later it dawned on me that it was because I showed a remarkable lack of talent and was always tearing holes in those expensive pink tights.


Still, I remain fascinated by the ballet world and the intriguing people who inhabited it, such as the Great Russian Impresario Sol Hurok whose crowning achievement was to bring the Bolshoi Ballet to New York.


“Impresarios are expected to live and talk big and Hurok plays the role with gusto. Almost every day he lunches at New York’s expensive Pavillon restaurant where between forkfuls of boeuf a la mode, he utters melancholy pronouncements on the state of the world.

Violinist Efram Zimbalist was Sol’s first big time Attraction. Later he signed up Anna Pavlova, Artur Rubinstein, Andres Segovia and many more famous names to be part of Hurok Attractions (agents merely have clients, impresarios have Attractions).

Like any impresario worth his gold topped cane, he has had to deal with crises. In 1922 he heard with horror that one of his stars, Isadora Duncan, had bared her bosom and denounced her Boston audience for false puritanism. He had to race over and explain her combination of eccentricities and talent to the offended mayor before he ran her out of town. He also helped shovel out snowbound ballerinas, returned hotel towels stolen by a basso, built stages on a day’s notice and reconciled a pair of Russian choreographers who were about to wage a pistol duel in Central Park.


It was in 1929 that he first tried to bring the Bolshoi Ballet to America but it took 30 years to make that dream come true. After countless attempts the Russian government agreed but only if he first toured the Moiseyev Dancers, a much less famous troupe. He did so with great success but was stalled again by a demand that he also present the obscure, 53 strong Beryozka Folk Dancers. Only after they proved just as successful was he permitted to present the Bolshoi Ballet at last.

Moiseyev Dancers

After four years I was allowed to stop elocution classes on the proviso I took up Irish dancing instead. Apparently,  neither my height, ineptitude nor torn stockings were any impediment to jigging

and yes, I did wear costumes like these depicted on the cookies found here

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 7:45 am  Comments (43)  
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  1. your mother was *mean* to send you to electrocution class.
    you should have bared your bosum and called her a false puritan.
    i wouldn’t have dug her out of the snow.
    i would have kept the hotel towels and the complimentary room shampoo.
    and for my last meal, i would have eaten rubber, because it doesn’t conduct electricity.
    at least, electrocution permits you to dance while you’re sitting down.

    • Oh Sera, I just love your comments, they always make me smile

  2. She hanked you from elocution classes too. You a bad public speaker??

    • I can give a speech when called upon 😉

  3. Parents! I longed for elocution lessons and was condemned to the piano with zilch talent.
    After Irish dancing do you have difficulty raising your arms?

    • No, I was better at a reel than a hornpipe, you can raise an arm in the reel

  4. Efram Zimbalist? His son Efram Zimbalist Jr. was an actor who played Inspector Lou Erskine in an old TV show called The FBI.

    • I remember that EZ, I didn’t know who his father was until now though

  5. Then there was old Stephanie Zimbalist in Remington Steele…

    You’ve always had a nice ‘turnout’ NM, esp on fridays.

    Lovely to see you today as always, thanks for popping by to welcome the new hound. Looking forward to Bordeaux!

    The King

    • oh me too – big time! Especially now that we’ve got that train trip locked in and our designated roles organised…. xx

  6. I’d like a dress like those cookies.

    • I’d just like some cookies. Or chocolate. Or better still, cookies AND chocolate!

      And a glass of Cointreau

  7. I’ll take an Irish jig over a ballet any day of the week, especially if it were played on a squeezebox….

  8. ok ok I’ll do a dance. Now just stop squeezing my box!

  9. Nice story Nursie, and btw I admire the effort you put into these!!

    This piece reminded me of my brush with greatness. For reasons I don’t remember, my dad was an aquintance of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and I met him a couple of times when I was about 8 or 9 years old. It was during this same time that my dad took me to a lunch at the house of Ethel Waters, the famous black gospel singer. She made a fried chicken dinner and hugged me big. I guess I peaked early.

    • Thanks for the appreciation FJ, I’m flattered that my research triggered such interesting memories for you

  10. I was shoved into ballet classes at eight or so, for no goddam reason I can recall; it may have been the last faltering effort to squelch my true calling as a general moose and bruiser. I hated every minute of it and praised Providence when I broke my arm just in time to not be signed up for a second semester.

    In fact I avoid anything to do with dance. Overreaction, I suppose, but it just irritates me. It always seems to me as if it’s pissing on the gift of language.

    But the pictures of Captain Kirk and Gollum alone were worth the price of admission.

  11. “…he utters melancholy pronouncements on the state of the world

    i need to be an impressario. i can shovel snow, i deal with arrogant divas on a daily basis, and have no problem putting up with second-rate acts if it will get me top talent down the road. really want to put “Research Impressario” on my business card. might have to do that…

    • Hey, I’ve been uttering melancholy pronouncements on the state of the world for years. I’ve been Impressarioing for years and didn’t know it.

  12. This reminds me of my brief career as a violinist came to an abrupt end. My parents never had the heart to say I wasn’t very good at it, but my friend’s three-year-old had no problem. He showed his displeasure by throwing the violin down a flight of stairs.

  13. Three words. Two left feet. Me, not you 🙂

  14. I do not subscribe to the whole “too tall to dance” theory. It is more restrictive than the back seat of Volkswagen Beetles.

    Fival Eighteeninches

  15. I used to date an Irish dancer. Excellent legs.

  16. In 1922, James Michael Curley was the mayor of Boston. Curley was a bluff, colorful guy; any offense he took to Isadora Duncan was probably because he wasn’t there when she took her shirt off! Here’s Curley giving the BPOE Eleven O’Clock toast in 1924:

    • Curley appeared at the Harvard University commencement ceremony in 1935 in his role as Governor wearing silk stockings, knee britches, a powdered wig, and a three-cornered hat with flowing plume. When University marshals objected to his costume, the story goes, Curley whipped out a copy of the Statutes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony which prescribed proper dress for the occasion and claimed that he was the only person at the ceremony properly dressed

      I found that quote above at wikipedia – hmmm… colourful indeed

  17. If you were to wear expensive pink tights now would you allow me the honors of tearing holes in them?

    • Absolutely not!

      • Snort! A stocking-tearer. Always best to negotiate that one before playing!

      • hey, it was worth a shot.

  18. Ah, the ballet company of my home town is under threat from decreased funding. I shall be balleting a lot.

    PS I was expelled from ballet school.

    • Oh, do tell why!

      • Yes please! Do tell Dolce…..

      • Give me a day or two, and I’ll blog it. haha. All of 5, and they could tell I wasn’t cut out for ballet.

  19. Tried to get my daughter into ballet but she has no interest in it.

    • I hated everything my parents forced me into

  20. My 7-yr. old daughter never took ballet but tried-out for the Connecticut Ballet’s “Nutcracker Suite”. She made it as one of the “Meeces” (no dancing required). My favorite ballet dancer was Jennifer Beales’ double in “Flashdance”, during the club scenes. You could really show some corset in those moves, NM. — Your posts are absolutely fascinating!

  21. Sorry you tore stockings . . . you coulda been a contender!

  22. The only thing in the world worse than a puritan is a false puritan. I hate hypocrites.

  23. Impressario – that’s a great career path I should suggest to my school students!

  24. I found myself muttering ‘melancholy pronouncements on the state of the world’ between stuffing my mouth full of picnic food on the weekend, but i didn’t it pull it off like ‘ole Sol did, b/c apparently I came off sounding all *negetive*….

  25. We do have false puritanism here and it remains alive and well unfortunately.

    No video of you doing some of these dances from yesteryear?

  26. I can’t Irish dance for crap, but once I drank a lot of Guiness.

  27. and by “guiness” I mean “Guinness”

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