Blacklisted no more

I started dancing when I was 4. There was a woman named Florence Cowanova who was a friend of Anna Pavlova and settled in Philadelphia to teach girls who in many cases became well-known ballerinas. My mother enrolled me in her school and i remember with only joy the dancing lessons where I wore an aqua organdy tutu and danced with other girls my age on the vast hardwood floor gleaming with the reflection of the light coming in through the floor-to-ceiling wall of windows. I loved listening to the piano accompaniment to our exercises- always beautiful music that fit the steps we were learning. The mothers sat and took notes so that at home they could remind us of 4th position and of plies and tour jetes.

Most of the time, we danced in ballet slippers, but around February of the year I turned 4, my mother took me out to buy me toe shoes. They were beautiful. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. They were pink satin and had wide pink satin ribbons to fasten them around my feet and legs. In the toes, there was a special soft cotton that my toes would rest on when I stood upon them. In those shoes, I felt beautiful.

When my mother would mention to others that I was already dancing on my toes, they would respond with surprise and tell her that usually they don’t recommend toe shoes until age 8 or 10. But my dancing teacher was an expert and so we trusted her.

I never had very beautiful feet. Actually, my feet were rather ugly. But I can’t help thinking that the early exposure to toe shoes might have had something to do with my bunions and hammer toes, both of which are the result of the big toe being pushed toward the center of the foot.

I only bring this up because I am about to tell you the saga of the bunion blacklist. (Anyone who is not into this is excused. I promise my next posting will have nothing to do with bunions.)

Several years ago (in 1999) I went to an orthopedist because I was having problems with my feet. He looked at my feet and said, “you would do well to consider surgery.” He ordered some xrays and gave me a referral to a colleague of his in Lod (a city about twenty minutes from here.) He gave me a referral to a hospital for another doctor to examine me and determine whether I needed surgery. After a few weeks, the day of my appointment at the hospital came and I arrived with all of my xrays and paperwork. After a long wait, I was finally called into the office of the doctor. I put down my paperwork and he asked me to sit on the examining table. He never looked at my chart. He never opened my xrays. He didn’t even ask me to take off my shoes. He said, “Well, do you want surgery?” I said, “Aren’t you supposed to determine whether I need it?” He said, “If you want the surgery we’ll do it.” I really wasn’t understanding the whole point of this appointment. He said, “Well? Do you?” I asked how long it would be from the time of my decision to the surgery and he said about a year. I said, “Well, I guess in that case, I could say yes and then decide later whether I want to go through with it.”

It was as if the full moon had risen and the doctor became a werewolf. “No!” he shouted, “You cannot do that!!! If you make an appointment for surgery, you must have surgery! If you cancel the appointment, you will NEVER have surgery on your bunions in this country!”

Well, that was a while back. I did make the appointment and I did cancel it about 2 months before the projected surgery– mainly because at the time I was having issues with my shoulder. But it was with full knowledge that I might just have doomed myself to being on that infamous Israeli “bunion blacklist.”

A few weeks ago, the lower joint of my second toe on my left foot having grown to epic proportions, I once again went to see an orthopedist. He is an English speaker. He said, “The only answer is surgery.” He told me that he operates at the very same hospital where I canceled my surgery. I told him the story. He looked at me incredulously and said. “[expletive deleted]” (meaning “that’s nonsense”)

I spoke to him yesterday and we have begun the march, so to speak, toward the correction of the damage done so very long ago.

And now we return to topics that are less earthy…..

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  1. I was just searching a name on the internet when Ms. Cowanova popped into my head and I did a search and found this post. I also took lessons w/her. i also have weird feet. Can only wear a certain new balance tennis shoe – I am thinking i should buy about 20 in case they stop making them. Taking lessons there was really very special I think. You know not everyone has their recitals at the Academy of Music. We moved when I was 8 and other ballet schools were nothing like Ms. Cowanova’s. Dumps, lol. My last class the pianist played Hello Dolly for me, because it was my favorite. Thanks for the memory.

  2. Today I revisited “Ivy Hall”…the site of many ballet memories! It has been very many years since my last dance class with Miss Cowanova, but when I entered that famous door, I could almost hear the taping of her cane on the second floor landing. The ballroom is still gorgeous, although I did not get to see the “tap” ballroom. I did, for the first time, see her famous off-limits bedroom, which of course looks nothing like it did when I attended classes there. I had always heard that she put students in toe shoes well before they were actually ready for them. I hope you and your feet are doing better!!

  3. I took lessons from a Madame Florence Cowanova whose dance studio was on Chestnut or Walnut street around 22nd. It was on the second floor of a three story building, as I recall. Does this match you memories?

    My ballet career ended suddenly as a 5/6 year old, when the Madame banished my mother and me after I bit her finger. She was chastising me for something and waving her finger at me – apparently, it was too tempting.

  4. I was researching Miss Cowanova to see if the school was still operating. I happened upon this post. I too took classes at her wonderful, magical school. The school was in a mansion on Lancaster Ave. in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia. I remember driving through the black wrought iron gate to that beautiful home and I remember the dressing area where we would change into our ballet shoes etc. On special holidays she would have some sort of surprise treats and I remember one Washington’s Birthday she had a large muti tiered silver platter loaded with cherry shaped hard candies with the stems. I remember the recitals at the Academy of Music. They were so memorable. I attended there around 1955 and I am not sure how many years I went there. My daughter, we lived in Overbrook, attended classes there around 1982-1983 for a few years and Miss Cowanova was still there but Patsy Kelly did most of the teaching under her supervision. I was always in awe of Miss Cowanova. She was such a famous ballerina and also friends with Pavlova. That time was just so special and I will never forget it. I, as well, started in toe shoes early but never developed the problems you describe.

  5. I recently decided to attend adult ballet classes and thought of Florence Cowanova, did a google search and stumbled upon this post. In fact my mother found a hand written note that Miss Cowanova wrote to me in the 1950’s several months ago. I too have wonderful memories and I doubt there is another dance school out there that could compare past or present. Everything about the experience was elegant, grand, magical and quite serious. I believe the experience gave me a unique confidence that helped me in so any ways throughout the years. I danced until about age 13 and then took private lessons from Patsy Kelly in my late teens. In my next life I will most definitely be a ballerina. So glad I stumbled across this today! Here’s to all of the Cowanova dancers!

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