I believe all of us have people in our life that we think are invincible, or rather we never consider the fact that something could happen to them. And then, when something does, the concept is so hard to grasp that it can consume our thoughts. For some, that person or people may be a relative or a good friend that we grew up with. For me, I have learned over the past week and a half, it was one of my ballet teachers. Mr. Peter Garick.
I learned of his death the Sunday we returned from the lake and it was one of those times when I read and re-read and re-read again the email that was sent to me. It was very vague with only the words that "Peter passed away.". I immediately wanted to know more but information was being withheld because his stepdaughter was overseas in Europe and had yet to learn of his death. As the week went on, many of the dancers from Duluth School of Ballet were communicating through Facebook and we learned that he passed away in his sleep and most likely from a heart attack. He had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure at the end of May and needed to have surgery. He put it off in order to perform in the end of the year performance put on every year by his studio. This year was the performance of "Coral Kingdom". He was 64 and still dancing in the ballets that he choreographed, scored, and wrote himself. I, myself, performed in this production years ago as a sophomore in high school. There were 6 or 7 ballets that were rotated as the performance at the end of the year. All of them with amazing sets, costumes, and dancers. The real deal, not just a "recital". I am so happy that he was able to dance just one weekend before dying. I am also glad for the current students who were able to experience that with him.
I first met Peter when I was 10 years old and decided that I really did want to take ballet. My mom signed me up and I'm not even sure what made her take me over to Duluth School of Ballet in old Duluth. But, it was the best thing she has ever done for me! At the time it was in a tiny little building with only one studio. All I know is that I met Peter and Lisa (his first wife) and immediately fell in love with dance. I remember feeling a tad silly because most of the girls there had taken lessons for years. I was "old", in a class with much younger girls since I had never taken before. Peter and Lisa saw something in me though enough to boost my confidence and keep me there for the next seven years. The school changed locations and moved into an old post office which afforded them with enough space for three studios. I spent approximately 6-8 hours a week there and then when February came each year, I was there an additional two hours a week to start learning the dances for the performance in spring. To say I love it is an understatement. To say that it shaped the person that I am does not do it justice. In those hours, with those people, I became me. I could go into that studio in any type of mood, but I would come out a new person. Middle and high school is a challenging time for most people and ballet gave me the confidence and the outlet that a girl with changing hormones needed!
Peter predominantly taught the older girls which meant I spent a great deal of time with him. At times, he could be grouchy, no doubt. Here he was, a man, surrounded by young women with as I mentioned before lots of changing hormones. But, he tolerated us well, did not put up with much, and instilled in our souls a love for dance. He truly respected the art form and made sure that when we entered that studio, we respected it as well. Not only could he dance, but he could teach it as well. There are few who can do both at their trade. But, he was good at it and he loved it and it was evident.
This past week, the staff at DSB have been in the process of planning a memorial service for this wonderful man who was so loved by so many. The response has been so great that they are holding it at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center where so many of those spring performances happened. The teachers are putting together a program for past and present students to perform some of Peter's favorite pieces. If nothing else, this should tell you how much he is loved!! I pray that the dream he had and realized of owning and directing a ballet studio will continue. I cannot imagine the studio being closed or the vision he put into practice being tarnished. I can hardly imagine how hard it must be for those there at the studio now to carry on. The strength they are mustering must be palpable in that place. It is VERY hard for me to imagine being there without him physically there as well.
I keep asking myself what I am so upset about and why this has shaken me so. I haven't seen him in years and only corresponded by sending him a Christmas card each year. Maybe it is that invincible thing... I am kicking myself for not taking Anna to the performance a couple of weeks ago or sending him an email and letting him know that I would be signing her up for ballet this summer. Just to see him one more time or talk to him and see how he was doing. I have come to the conclusion that the reason I am so upset is that the memories I have of him are part of the happiest memories I have of myself growing up. I love ballet and what it gave me but it wouldn't have been that way had it not been for him. After my last performance senior year, I felt as though there was a hole in me that would never be filled again. As though part of me had died. And, now, that feeling is back. The hole.
I drive past the studio quite often since I last danced there and see the parking lot full of cars and the lights on inside. I know there was so much fun going on in there. It is like I could go back and start right where I left off. And, Peter would welcome me right back. I received a message last night from one of the current teachers, a former student, who is 7 years younger than me, asking if I would come back and dance again for the service. After talking with Justin, I've decided to do it. I may never walk again...but I will dance! Ha. I know it will take lots of strength to walk in there this coming Friday but I also know in some way shape or form (or plie), that he will be there. And, oh, how he will be missed. In the program from my final performance, Peter mentioned my graduation and among other words he stated that "Saturday class will not be the same without you.". Well, Peter, let me just say that the ballet world will not the same without YOU. You will be missed greatly but always remembered.