Sally Trammel, a trainee at Harkness House for Ballet Arts, had pale skin, a heart-shaped face with small features except for large wary eyes. Highly intelligent and keenly observant, she sometimes offered penetrating insights about others, yet was never mean. When she spoke, it was almost a whisper.
Brian Macdonald, director of the Harkness troupe, did not choose Sally so I was able to work with her, and one day we discovered an unusual lift. She lay athwart my arms rotating slowly, like a chicken on a spit. It was smooth yet complex with much subtle twisting, pulling, and pushing. We were practicing it when the studio door jerked open and there stood Macdonald. He watched until we stopped, said, “Interesting,” and left.
“He’s going to steal it,” I said.
“He’ll never figure it out,” said Sally.
She was right because I never saw it in any of his ballets. But without Sally I never got it back so it never appeared in any of mine either.
Sally worked herself to exhaustion, driven by a vision of the dancer she wanted to become, and by fury at her feet, which didn’t quite point. She massaged them nightly, pressing toward a point, until one might one of her arches broke from the pressure of her own hands. She showed up in a cast.
Rebekah Harkness, the school’s patron, moved by the story and informed that Sally would never have classical feet, asked what dance forms did not require them. Told about classical Indian Baratya Natyam, she sent Sally to India to study with Uday Shankar.
Half a year later she reappeared, shockingly beautiful in a pale green silk sari. I grabbed her for my Harkness young audience troupe, and opened with Alarippu, a dance of dedication. One day, warming up backstage, a troupe of fourth graders clattered down the nearby stairs. One boy stopped, stared at Sally, turned to me, “She cute!” and dashed after his class. I gave Sally a “What did I tell you?” smile.
“No, she not,” said Sally softly.
Sally was more than cute. When she appeared on stage in her sari, there was always a gasp followed by a hush.
When Jack Cole came to Harkness House to make a dance for the troupe, Sally took his class and found a dance form she could love as utterly as she’d loved ballet, and for which she had perfect physical gifts. Cole, in turn, recognized a true acolyte. When we’d meet in the faculty dressing room, he’d speak admiringly of her. I hoped I’d see her in one of his musicals, or movies, or in his famed night club act.
I’d left Harkness House by February, 1974, when Jack Cole died. I don’t recall seeing Sally after that. I’ve asked around but others too have lost touch. I often think of her. Unforgettable. Sally Trammel.