Irina and Frank Pal, My Teachers

As a young girl age ten, my first cousin Suzanne took me to my first ballet lesson. Her name is Doctor Suzanne Shelton Buckley, age 66,and she teaches in Southern India. Suzanne Shelton is such as special person. I wanted to be like her when I was young. I looked up to her and her older sister, Doctor Sharon Shelton Coangelo. Suzanne picked me up one hot Summer's day there in Wichita Falls, Texas and took me to a small studio on Grant Street. There was no air conditioning in that large old Buick or Oldsmobile. She brought along Alan, my older cousin who was her younger brother.Suzanne was a writer like our grandmother, Mignon Keza Weaver Barnes. Suzanne wrote for Texas Monthly Magazine of Austin, Texas and was a dance critic there for many years. She has one daughter Thea Buckley of England. I have one daughter also, Mignon Morgan who is also a gifted dancer and writer. My daughter has taught Irish Folk dancing which she learned while in Ireland studying some of our ancestor's heritage. We had the names in our family of Reid and Reed.

After the lesson, she took us out for orange juice while we sat in that car. It was so hot and I was so tired I could not believe Ballet was such a hard thing to do. She kept saying isn't this orange juice good? She said Ballet dancers cannot drink soft drinks but they can eat all they want to and never gain weight. This was in 1963. That fall I started taking lessons from a couple of wonderful people but they could hardly speak English.

No student is above his or her teacher.
Irina Kladivova and her husband Frankisek Karhanek were immigrants to America after World War Two. They became American citizens after the community helped them learn to speak English. She was from Czechoslovakia and he was from Russia. They changed their name to Pal when they were legal Americans.

I danced with many dancers though the years with them as our instructors. There were five studios established for practice. My cousin Suzanne Shelton would come back to Wichita Falls from her studies at the University of Texas, Austin and dance with us. She usually came in the Summer time. I remember dancing in many productions. Many men danced in the royal courts in long ago history. Suzanne was one of their best dancers.

Irina and Frank came into First Christian Church where I was a member and Doctor Emeritus Brent Stratton played music while the troupe danced to sacred music. Frank and Irina were very strict and worked hard with each student to help them be the best they could be. They used hands on. Irina had been a prima ballerina or principle dancer in Russia and all over Europe. Frank was her lover and best friend. She would take my feet and move them into exactly the right positions. She told the truth about what was good and what was not for young bodies. Being on toe shoes too young can break your ankles was one thing I remember. No you will have to wait and wait I did for about four years.She told me their homes were destroyed. People were stealing fur coats from broken bombed out windows. She proudly said we were cold too but we did not steal anything. She was tiny and powerful. These American women act like a baby she would say.

Frankisek painted large oil paintings when he was not teaching and worked in construction building the buildings we practiced in. One was an old home. We always had to have wooden floors that gave and supported large people jumping all over the place. Frank is what we called him and he was very fond of me. Once he even became overjoyed and kissed me on the lips and hugged me. He gave me so many surprises. One year, he let me do two solos. I was never great but I did teach ballet over the many years since they taught me so much. I have only had a few ballet teachers. They were the best. Each year when we had a recital, Frank and Irina would speak Russian to each other and write and speak out each part.
They even had our costumes made in many different homes by special women who would fit us and it took several fittings to get the right fit. We wore special costumes made of the best materials. There was Mrs. Sawyer who played live piano music for us to practice with. She was a very special red haired lady. We had strict standards for our hair, makeup and care of the shoes. We learned special things such as thanking your teacher after each lesson for helping us. If we were late to practice we got a very dirty look. Then after the lesson we had to apologize.

Frank and Irina taught beginning to advanced Ballet. America is richer in the Arts because of these two special people. My music teacher has written so much unpublished music that is classical and sacred. I do hope someone will help him publish them. He taught me how to read music, sing and play the piano. I still do these things today. I play and dance with a natural talent. I believe these people and natural talents are very much G-d given.
Ballet teaches discipline. Ballet teaches so many things. I only wish my teachers were here today so I could hug them and whisper thank you again. I hope to dance with them in Heaven someday. I also hope to do more research into their lives and write more about them for they were like parents to me.
Russian Royal Ballet Today