WILLIAMSBURG — From Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to Principal Dancer of The Joffrey Ballet to Ballet Mistress, Williamsburg resident Rochelle Zide-Booth shares her journey in her new book, “Have Tutu, Will Travel: The Dancing Years,” which was released in August.
Zide-Booth started studying ballet when she was just three years old and signed on with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when she was sixteen. Her dancing career continued for 11 years before an accident at the age of 27 cut short her performing career.
“I never had injuries, I just had accidents,” Zide-Booth explained. “I took them to be a sign from God that it was time to change.”
For example, Zide-Booth had suffered a broken leg during her time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. When she recovered, she found Bob Joffrey of The Joffrey Ballet. After attending his classes, he asked her to join his company, where she danced as a principal dancer for four years before an accident detached her retinas in her eyes.
Following, she branched out into several things, including “Have Tutu, Will Travel,” where she and her partner would travel around the country with a big tutu box, dancing with symphony orchestras.
Then, she had her last accident where she ruptured her Achilles tendon.
“I was sitting on the floor looking at this hole in my foot and I went ‘OK god, no more dancing. I got it’,” Zide-Booth recalled. “I didn’t want to, I mean I loved what I was doing, but I didn’t really have time to mourn about it. I went to the hospital and I had surgery. While I was in the hospital I got a letter from Joffery along with a bouquet of flowers saying ‘Do not go home from the hospital, come directly from the studio and be my Ballet Mistress until you can dance again.'”
Unfortunately, she never did dance again, but it was the beginning of a new career — teaching and staging ballets all over the world.
Out of her performances, Zide-Booth said her favorite was a “La fille mal gardée” for the Joffrey Ballet. She wasn’t supposed to be performing, however, the girl who had the part got sick the night before the tour.
“Joffrey called me and told me to come to the studio at ten o’clock at night. So I went to the studio figuring he was going to teach me the ballet because I didn’t know the ballet. And what I did was I stood for three hours while I was being fitted for a costume,” she said.
“The first performance was amazing because I had no business being able to do it at all,” she continued. “It’s an hour-long ballet and I’m on stage for 57 minutes. My mother is on stage in the beginning, and as soon as I come on I never get off. I loved it.”
In the book, she talks about her journey and the ballet scene of the 1950s. However, she still stages ballets to this day, and will do so in Pittsburgh in the spring.
And she gives advice to those who want to dance ballet.
“Go and take classes, but don’t go to a competition school,” she advises. “Ask them what they’re doing and see if you can watch a class. You want a class where the teacher is correcting you, things that will help you be better and not just say get your legs higher, let me see a bigger split. Because that’s not what ballet is about. At least it wasn’t in my day.”
Zide-Booth’s book can be purchased on Amazon.
“People don’t tend to realize how hard a dancer’s life is,” she said. “I think a lot of people on stage see us and think, oh, look at that, they’re having a good time. But in the book, I tell things like what the day was like. I’ve been told by people [at Brookdale] that they’ve learned a lot about what ballet is about.”