A Too-True Story...
by Dean Speer
Before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), anytime I wanted my Washington State students to audition for Canadian ballet schools in order to be considered for their Summer programs, we had to go to Canada for these auditions, as Canadian ballet schools were not allowed to audition in the states. This has changed now with many schools coming to the USA to audition potential talent. But earlier, I’d go up with students and a chaperoning mum to either Victoria or Vancouver, sometimes making it a long day trip, sometimes a fun overnighter with perhaps high tea at Victoria’s Empress Hotel.
A colleague would frequently hold these auditions in her Victoria studio and it was a great excuse to not only socialize but to compare notes and to talk shop.
At the time, Canada also had about as many manufacturing companies producing costumes for dance school recitals as we had men on the moon – very few and far between. Gina’s mums had been the primary producers of their recital costumes, cheerfully designing and sewing over the years, but you can only do this for only so long and they had begun to forage about for alternatives. Enter stage right, me and my US “connections.”
Gina wanted to try using a couple US dance costume companies as a trial balloon and, due to import complications of the day, asked me if it would be all right if she had 100 tutu “bands” shipped to me and could I please bring them up on my next trip? Being the nice guy that I am, of course, I said “yes.”
So here I am carpooling with a friend to Vancouver loaded with two giant, cardboard boxes of tutus, going through Canadian customs – at midnight. I was then to take the bus from Vancouver and then the long ferry ride to Victoria.
We pulled the car over into the special inspection section, where two very big, burly and bald-headed customs inspectors went through the boxes. Holding up in the air, one pink tutu band with his hand which was probably not much smaller than the tutu, he asked what has become one of the greatest lines in ballet lore: “What are these and what are they used for?” I was briefly tempted to reply that they were circlets to go around his naked head, but thought better of it, giving him the straight answer that they were tutus for little girls to wear over their leotards at their dance school recital. We got off easy, having to pay only $100 in duty – which we had been prepared to do all along.
Balancing these two enormous boxes onto the bus and then on the ferry was trickier than balancing dueling ballerinas but managed to make it all the way to Vancouver Island without a hitch until I was trying to get off the exit ramp from the boat with a box in each arm and my dance duffle bag swinging in between when one box went flying into the air – fortunately not into the drink, but near where there was a car waiting to pick me up.
As I expressed my appreciation to this volunteer father for giving me a lift into Victoria – and for packing away the piles of imported tulle, he started handing me Canadian currency – great big wads of cash. As I was already a bit silly and punchy by then, I was equally tempted to quip, “For what you want, Sir, it’s going to be a whole lot more money!” thinking of some kind of clandestine transaction from an Oscar-winning action movie, but as it turns out, the dance school parents had gotten together to pool donations to pay my fee and expenses.
In the deal, they got to keep their tutus– and I got to keep my passport.