3 New York City Ballet Dancers Who Were There From the Start

She asked for some pliés. “I did two pliés, and she said, ‘Forget it,’” Walczak said. “‘She will never dance. She has no talent.’ And I was destroyed. For two days, I cried. My parents didn’t know what to do with me. And then I said, No. I’m going to dance.”

At around 14, she auditioned for the School of American Ballet and got in, later performing with Ballet Society, a subscription-based company formed in 1946, in Balanchine’s “The Spellbound Child.” She was insistent on another point, too: “I just really was not his cup of tea.”

She referred to herself as “one of the numbers.” She never auditioned. “He knew that I was a very fast learner,” she said. “He knew he could always count on me. That no matter what happened, I would learn it. I’d get through it. And I think that was the main thing he respected about me. And I think he saw that I loved to dance.”

Walczak was also a sharp observer. (With the dancer Una Kai, she wrote “Balanchine the Teacher,” a jewel of a book examining the fundamentals that shaped the company’s first generation.) “What made him zero in on a dancer was not only the physical, the technical, the height, the look, whatever — and Suzanne Farrell’s the perfect example of it,” she said, referring to Balanchine’s muse of the 1960s and ’70s. “It’s the intangible, uncontrollable timing of her body.”

Walczak, who works with dancers and also designs veils and headpieces for brides, left the company in 1960, realizing that she wasn’t going to go any further. Coming offstage in “Scotch Symphony,” she met Balanchine in the wings. “He said, ‘You know, dear, you are very good dancer, but the ones that are coming are going to be better,’” Walczak said. “So he told me, you know, Hey, this is it. Time to go.” She knew he was right, but it was hard. “My doctor said I had what is called a walking nervous breakdown,” she said. “I cried all the time for a long time.”

She didn’t want to teach. She didn’t want to have anything to do with ballet. But then she changed her mind. With ballet and with Balanchine, she gained more than she lost. “I guess because I was always in love with dance,” she said, “after I got over the hurt, the fact that I experienced in my body — that movement, that timing. That’s a treasure.”

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