Mary Tyler Moore on the Joys of Dancing

Actress Mary Tyler Moore has died at the age of 80. Although she was best known for her iconic role on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Moore was also a trained dancer and dreamed of making it into a career. In her 2009 memoir, Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes, Moore wrote about how dance gave her strength and stability:

Dance, especially the training for it, is a big part of me. It shapes the discipline I’ve brought to my work as an actress, initiated my belief in the adage “No pain, no gain,” and generally provided a home that’s never changed. No matter what fears assaulted me, as person, actress, or dancer, dance was constantly giving me the familiar steps I needed to grow.

Dance has been my constant best friend.

During the seven years of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I arranged to have three portable ballet barres brought to the soundstage along with a huge mirror on wheels for class. It was a daily lunchtime event, presided over by a woman who’d been my teacher for some twenty years, Sallie Whalen. Music was provided by a classical pianist hired to accompany us on an upright that rolled to our spot in front of the newsroom.

There were usually eight to ten of us—Georgia Engel, Valerie Harper, Beverly Sanders, who played Rayette the waitress on the series, me, and several others who’d once worked as dancers and were now spending their days driving car pools or working as actresses. There were a few young dancers who’d join us from time to time, and when it was over they loved to sit at our dinosaur feet and listen.

It was a touchstone for all of us—sharing the class with its all-too-familiar panting and groaning or sitting on the floor afterward applying bandages to our new blisters.

It was a sisterhood of sorts, not about feminism, but about the nearly religious connection that is ballet class.

I’m often asked where my strength comes from to accept diabetes and its impingement on my life. I do believe ballet gave me that ability. But it’s sad to note that within the successful actress writing this book beats the heart of a failed dancer.

So as I gave up the dream of being a world-famous dancer and became, much to my surprise, a world-famous actress, I clung to dance for pleasure, for structure, and for adventure. Dance took me to places I would never have been privileged to enter without it, and to meet people I revered—and do to this day.

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