Ballet in the park

After we moved to Kansas City, money was tight, and entertainment mostly meant walking in the neighborhood.

It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, though. There was a small but free art museum a few blocks away, and a huge museum a few blocks further, that had free-days once a month, when poor folks like Steph and me were allowed to look upon the art.

We occasionally went to discount matinee movies, sneaking snacks in our pockets to save money. Mostly, though, we stayed at home. Home was within our budget.

So it was a definite yes, when we learned that the Kansas City Ballet was giving a free performance at Loose Park. And is that a great name for a park, or what? Stephanie called it Loose Meat Park. It was named after Jacob Loose, co-founder of Sunshine Biscuit Company. (Cheez-Its, anyone?)

I'm not sure but I think free ballet in the park was an annual thing in Kansas City, every summer. From googling around, I guess they don’t do that any more, maybe because of what happened that night.

Stephanie dressed up fancy, and I dressed semi-fancy, and we packed a picnic dinner and came early enough to stroll the grounds and still get a good seat. We ate under a great big cannon, left over from a Civil War battle that took place in that park.

She was in great spirits, and before the dancing started we had a pleasant conversation with a married couple, senior citizens, both wearing very fancy duds for the ballet. “I hope we’ll be that cute after we've grown old together,” Stephanie said when they'd walked away. She never got old, but she never stopped being cute.

Stephanie also enjoyed the Rose Gardens in Loose Park, which was in full bloom and very impressive. There were lots of roses and they were pretty, and I said I'd steal one for Steph, and she said “Don’t you dare,” with a smile. It was a pretnear perfect evening.

No reservations, sit anywhere for the ballet, and since we were early arrivals we picked great seats. I don’t know diddly about ballet, so all I can say is that the dancers danced real nice. They flew up, and came down, and our seats so close to the stage that even over the loudly-amped classical music we could hear the tender clomps and scuffling as dancers feet landed on the stage. Steph and I both heard the pop, too, and then a shout of pain as a dancer went down with a broken leg.

The crowd was hushed and everything stopped, and we all waited while the injured dancer was carried off in a stretcher and then an ambulance. It put a damper on the evening’s mood, of course, but as they say, “The show must go on,” and the dancing resumed shortly thereafter.

More vividly than the pop of the broken leg, I remember waiting for the bus home. We were the only people at the bus stop, and when the bus came we were its best-dressed passengers. Steph noticed that the cars parked at Loose Park had mostly been new and expensive, Lincolns and Cadillacs and BMWs. “The ballet is basically a rich people’s thing,” she said. “We’re the only people going home on the bus, but I’m glad they let us come.”

“That’s better than leaving in an ambulance,” I said, and she gently punched me in the arm. It’s weird, the little moments I remember all these years later. She smiled as she play-punched me.

On the ride home and in our apartment, Steph said what a wonderful evening we’d had, but what a disaster the night had been for that dancer. “A broken leg means he’ll be unable to dance for six or eight weeks. He’ll miss most of the ballet’s season, and I’m not sure there’s sick leave in the Kansas City Ballet. Maybe the Bolshoi, but maybe not here.”

She gave it some serious thought, too. It was a temporary stage, set up on grass in the park, and the stage surface seemed flat to the audience, but perhaps there were slight ups and downs on its floor. She wondered whether the dancers were even being paid for a free performance, and whether the dancer had adequate health insurance.

She mentioned it again at bedtime. Steph was worried about the dancer, and I guess that’s all there is to my story. Maybe it came to mind because it's a warm, late-spring evening here, like that night there. It’s another random happy memory of Steph, and those are my most prized possessions.

I've googled, trying to find out who that dancer was, 19 or 20 years ago, and whether his career rebounded from the accident, but I came up blank. Now I’m sitting here staring at Stephanie's picture, the lady who worried about a dancer whose name we didn't even know.

I wish Steph & I could’ve grown old together, like she said that day. Kinda sucks growing old without her.