If you want to enjoy the magic and artistry of Royal Ballet tomorrow, you’d better show your support for the children of Mrs Postlethwaite’s School of Dance today. One way to do this is to give praise and offerings to Inspirouette, the goddess of budding ballerinas and ballerinos. She is the goddess of the grace-roots of dance. If, during your tender years, you ever dreamed of twirling in a diaphanous costume before an enraptured audience as the divine music holds you all in it’s spell, then Inspirouette has touched your soul at some point. In some traditions she is considered to be one of the nine muses of childhood creativity, along with her sisters, Glitterpenelope, Colouringin, Recordercide, Dressup, Chromadachtyla, Mudpiemeni, Crayolamural and Diyhaircut.
The high priest or priestess of Inspirouette is elected by a ballotté, and the winning candidate is celebrated with a rousing cheer of, “Hip-hip- bourreé!” The incumbent high priest(ess) gets the privilege of driving around in the official sacred car, which is a rather snazzy coupé. Leading the faith is a role that demands great stamina and aplomb. Therefor the post is not held for life. At some point the incumbent will retire and join the council of senior advisors, known as the “Grand Pas”, who are all in the golden age of life.
The vast majority of Inspirouette’s temples pop up once a week in village halls, community centres and all-purpose sports halls. The barre is the back of a chair, you have to be careful not to crash into the folded ping-pong table, and the changing room is a toilet. This may all be far cry from the glamour of Covent Garden, but they still have a fantastic turnout. Her neophytes dress in a strict uniform of leotards, tights, ribboned slippers and a wrap-around cardigan in cold weather (you don’t want to catch the dreaded dancer’s malady, the Baryshni cough). Legwarmers are strictly forbidden as there is no scientific evidence that they work (and, “you’re not one of the cast of Fame”).
A kindly priestess presides over each pop-up temple and teaches her young charges how to move in the faith and the steps to heaven. They are the only known teachers who demand that their pupils give them an Attitude. These priestesses are all members of the regulatory, “International Dance Temple Association”. Once a year, the association will send out a member of the Ballet Police (a Cop Pelia) to oversee the neophyte dancers taking their grades and delibes-erate over their marks. A ceremonial brass bell is rung before each exam to appeal to the goddess to guide the steps of the young dancer. It must work to some extent as, in the end, almost everyone graduates with a 2:2. Whilst most attend their temple purely for the love of dance, occasionally one of the neophytes may show exceptional skill, ambition and dedication and wish to pursue the religious life. Then their priestess must counsel them about the difficult road ahead. That there may be more bar work than barre work, and they may often cry, “Oh debt!” before they get to dance Odette (and even after).
Inspirouette has a handful of dedicated temples around the world, located in the major cultural centres. They usually have grand facades and slightly crumbling interiors. Each temple has a sacred spring in the temple garden known as the Margot Fountain. (The water of the fountain is never imbibed, they get their drinking water from the Saddler’s Wells). The fountain feeds into the temple lake where the sacred swans glide. These swans are kept as a symbolic reminder of the fact that, though they may look gentle and graceful, a Ballet dancer has the requisite strength to break your arm. Easily. Due to the presence of the swans, cats are not allowed in Inspirouette’s temples. It’s strictly ne pas de chats. Inside the temple you will find a series of spacious studios, each with a sprung polished-wood floor, walls of gilt framed mirrors, a piano and a faint whiff of rosin and feet.
One unusual tradition that the worshippers of Inspirouette observe is “Giselle Day”. It is a kind of cross between a Day of the Dead and Rag Week. Great dancers of the past are remembered and honoured, and the students will enjoy a rare feast of Pavlovas and Isodora Duncan Donuts. Once darkness falls, they dress as balletic ghosts and go around the town raising money for charity. It turns out that giving people the Willies can be quite an effective fundraising technique (and no one was better at this hustle than Darcy Bustle). The night usually ends with the dancers craving chips and stopping by a greasy fish dive on their way home.
Inspirouette has inspired many ground-breaking experimental ballets. You may remember the all-male production of Swan Lake. Less well remembered were the cockney ballet-buffa, “Chassé et Dave” (with the infamous Dance of the Rabbits), or the Christmas Ballet, danced entirely by builders, plumbers and electricians, “The Buttcracker”.
Inspirouette is dedicated to my wonderful Mum who celebrated a milestone Birthday this week. She is a passionate lover of Ballet, and spent many years helping young dancers (including me) take their first steps in a local village hall, accompanied by music from her trusty Fidelity HF31 portable record player. A very Happy Birthday to you Mum!
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