At last, young Karen meets Gilberto, her dance teacher. He will become her friend for life and a mentor. In this scene, he offers her first lesson. Here is a snapshot of me in real life, dancing with Al Gilbert, the real Gilberto. He taught Annette Funicello and many others who became stars, and he created a dance instruction system still in use today.
Scene 2: Meeting Gilberto
Three days later, and at last the day arrived. Karen could not wait to meet Gilberto! On came her leotard and tights, and out the bedroom door she flew. In the car, she and Mama felt as if they were soaring through the sky on their way to his dance studio, even though it was only five minutes away. Mama parked, and Karen jumped out of the car, reached for her new dance case, and slammed the door behind her. She was ready.
She limped ahead of Mama toward the building, her mind whirling in anticipation. For the first time, someone will help make my body strong, straight, and healthy. It won’t be easy for me, but I will dance!
Karen remembered her manners and held the door open for Mama. Inside, a glossy black desk sat under a huge picture window with long white drapes. Sleek, black chairs upholstered in a subtle zigzag herringbone pattern filled the waiting area. Everything about the room said style and grace.
The woman behind the desk stood. She was about five feet tall, pale, a little heavy, and wore a peasant blouse with a full cotton skirt decorated with rickrack. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a French twist, like dancers wore, and her blue eyes twinkled with kindness.
“You must be Karen and Katie.”
Mama smiled. “That’s right. I’m Katie, and this is my daughter, Karen.”
“My name is Miss Devine. Please call me Angie. We’re not formal, here. Gilberto will be right out to meet you—and he likes to be called Gilberto, though Gil is good, too. Just don’t call him Mr. Albert. He hates that.”
“Thanks. We will remember. And it’s so good to meet you. I always liked when we talked on the phone. It’s nice to meet you in person.”
With a bounce in his step and a gleam in his eyes, Gilberto bustled out of his office behind the reception area and around the desk. He was a handsome Italian with a Roman nose and a full head of black hair swept back from his high forehead. Karen looked up at him. At five feet ten inches, he towered over her and Mama. His smile radiated kindness and wisdom. This was the teacher Pegasus envisioned for her. This was her teacher. She knew this in her heart.
“Hello! You must be Karen! And you must be Mrs. Katie Hearshstein, the lovely Karen’s mother with whom I had such a delightful telephone conversation.”
Just like Mama had said, he talked to both of them with respect. He did not talk down, like most of the dance instructors.
He spoke with a heavy New York accent, and his chestnut-brown eyes sparkled as he bent forward to take Mama’s hand. She offered it, but he did not shake it. He lifted it and he kissed it. Mama giggled.
He smiled at Karen. “Would you like to get your very first dance lesson?”
Karen looked to Mama, who smiled with approval. “Go ahead, my Krana Layala. I will wait for you here.”
This was precisely what Karen wanted. She jumped up and let Gilberto cup her little hand in his and lead her through the lobby and down a hallway. Photographs of ballet dancers on their toes and tap dancers in top hats lined the walls. She was enchanted and followed him into the studio.
Original text ©2023 by Karen Lynn-Chlup. All rights reserved.