Books helped her create magical `whole village'

Dancer: Maria Broom's passion for dance influenced her childhood reading

Reading Life

August 08, 1999|By Nancy Knisley | Nancy Knisley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Maria Broom remembers the magical moment when she knew, with absolute certainty, what she wanted to be when she grew up: a dancer.

She was 6, and her mother had taken her to the Lyric Theatre to see what Broom describes as a "grand, traditional ballet" with a full company of dancers. Even now, more than 40 years later, her voice reflects the awe and excitement she felt watching the performance.

She remembers "a whole village of people created on stage," the beautiful costumes, and scenery that included forests and houses, a day scene, a night scene. Most especially, she remembers the dancers.

"As soon as I saw those dancers," Broom says. "I knew these were my people. I knew this is what I wanted to do." She has been dancing since -- as student, performer and teacher.

Broom's passion for dance carried over to her girlhood reading, and she recalls spending a lot of time in the library looking for books about dance, fiction and nonfiction.

"Reading stirs dreams of what you want to do and be," she says. As a young reader, she would hunt for books with pictures of dancers or "storybooks about shy little girls who went on to become ballerinas."

Her favorite was "Kiki Dances" by Charlotte Steiner. She liked all the Madeline books as well as "The Five Chinese Brothers," a traditional folk tale about brothers who each possessed a supernatural talent.

As she grew older, her interest in dance kept her reading. She took up biographies of dancers such as Isadora Duncan or people in theater. Somewhat sadly, she remembers, she couldn't read about the lives of her "idols" -- black dancers such as Pearl Primus, Katherine Dunham and Judith Jamison -- because "biographies of black dancers weren't available then."

Except for a book about Sammy Davis Jr.'s early days as a dancer "everything was white," she says. It wasn't until black literature become more widely available that Broom was able to read about Alvin Ailey and the other black dancers she admired.

Because at one time she wanted to be a nurse as well as a dancer, she read Sue Barton books, a series that followed a young nurse's career adventures.

Broom, 49, says she learned to read either before or in kindergarten. And although she read a lot, she said she didn't live up to her mother's expectations for reading. Her mother, a kindergarten teacher who filled the home with children's books, "was a great reader," as were Broom's three elder brothers, who read much more than she did, she says.

Broom, who majored in elementary education at Morgan State, teaches storytelling at the Baltimore School for the Arts and at Park School. She makes frequent appearances throughout the area as "The Gypsy Dance Bringer," teaching history, geography, and social studies through her performances of ethnic dances from Africa, Asia and the South Pacific.

Despite her busy schedule, Broom makes time for reading. She says she always has "a whole stack of books" sitting on her table and will re-read her favorites.

She names "Possessing the Secrets of Joy" by Alice Walker, "What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day" by Pearl Cleage, "The Clowns of God" by Morris West, and Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon," a retelling of the King Arthur legend from the perspective of the female characters. She also likes Marianne Williamson's spiritual books.

Broom says reading opens up the universe to a child. "When you discover, `I can read,' the sky is the limit. You can read about anything. You can put yourself anywhere. No one can take that away from you."

To a child who is struggling with reading, she advises: "No matter how long it takes, just keep trying. No matter when it clicks, it's the magic moment."

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