by John D. Hubbard
The Staten Island Ballet Company has less than a week before its Manhattan premiere and this is the last rehearsal. The midday sun gushes in the large side windows of the Broadway Dance Center's second floor studio. Pamela Gallagher '91 is stretching at the barre and the sunlight spins her blonde hair golden.
The rest of the company is also limbering up or wrapping a toe, repairing pointe shoes or maybe just watching a couple run through a duet, a '50s tale featuring an amorous bobby socker and her reluctant beau. By the time this rehearsal ends with the dancers gathered around artistic director and company founder Ellen Tharp for final instructions, the sun will have set and Pam Gallagher and the others will have worked for more than four hours, not necessarily long by dance standards, where training is measured in years.
Pam was four when her mother took her to her first lesson and by the time she was in seventh grade the young dancer was accepted at the School of American Ballet. "I was on the path," says Gallagher, but she jumped off. She quit dancing in favor of pursuing a college career. She saw Colgate and fell in love.
"I think I was too young. I didn't want it badly enough," says Gallagher by way of explaining her decision to abandon dancing.
It wasn't a complete abandonment. Pam performed with Colgate Dance Theater, working with instructors Joy Canning and Jane Tavalin Schwartz, and eventually taught in Canning's Hamilton dance studio. It all seemed a perfect balance for the English major.
Gallagher took her degree to American Express, where she worked for two years as an administrative assistant in the business division.
"I didn't think it was possible to dislike working so much," says Pam. "You spend so much time at work, it seems a shame not to do something that at least amuses you."
Unhappy and unwilling to continue, Gallagher reached out to NYU. She was accepted in the two-year modern dance master's program and promptly gave away her business suits and brief case.
"My mom was the only one who didn't think I was out of my mind."
The right feeling
Throughout her schooling Gallagher was also working independently on ballet. The extracurricular activity paid off. She got a job in the corps dancing Giselle with the New Jersey Ballet Company. With only a week to learn the entire second act, Gallagher was a "nervous wreck." She made it through the performance but cried all the way home.
Dancers Pam had met during the rehearsals urged her to audition for the Staten Island Ballet Company's production of The Nutcracker. She was accepted and appeared with the corps in the Party Scene, Snow, Flowers and Mirilton. "It was great. It was the way it was supposed to feel," says Pam, who has been with the company for more than a year now.
A crowded schedule|
Dancing with Staten Island only fills some of the lines in Gallagher's crowded date book. She does part time work with Dun & Bradstreet three days a week, takes ballet classes three times a week, works with a ballet coach every Friday, teaches high school kids at the Hillsboro Dance Academy Thursday nights and spends Sunday afternoons rehearsing with Staten Island.
"I'm almost there," says Pam.
"If I could be dancing more and working a normal job less my life would be perfect." That normal job is important for now. It pays for her classes, coaching and shoes. Pointe shoes, which cost $60 a pair, have the life span of a mayfly, not even lasting two weeks at the height of Nutcracker season.
"Dance becomes part of who you are," says Gallagher. "I was one of those little kids - as soon as I could walk, I learned to dance. It's a love you are born with and it's almost not an option but something you have to do."
The story is roughly the same for most dancers; early dreams followed by a lifelong pursuit. Pam's detour through college is a marked difference. "Colgate gave me a broad background and a greater sensibility to what's out there. A lot of dancers would tell you college is a mistake - those are crucial years - but I wouldn't trade what I got from Colgate for anything."
Pam is married to classmate Tim Mingle but they didn't know each other at Colgate and met instead after graduation. "How I ended up in Summit, New Jersey (Mingle's hometown) is very random," says Pam.
While Tim wasn't sure at first of the wisdom of trading the corporate world for the world of dance, he is now a staunch supporter of the arts and massager of feet. "Tim comes to every single performance - I'm sure he saw all six Nutcrackers last year - and he always sits to the right so I can see him in the audience. As soon as I find him I calm right down," says Pam.
The moments before the company's Manhattan premiere were especially intense, even with Tim sitting in the fourth row of the Danny Kaye Playhouse.
"We spend a lot of energy pretending not to be nervous," says Pam, "but it was nerve-racking. Next time I'll have worked through this." Staten Island will be back at the Danny Kaye Playhouse in May and perhaps the spring audience won't be quite as serious as November's crowd.
"They like the Gershwin and, of course, Ritual, our heavy angst ballet," reports Gallagher. Her own duet with ballet master Robert Messina to Bette Midler's rendition of Chapel of Love (remember, Pam is a June bride), which was warmly received on Staten Island, didn't produce nearly as many smiles among the Manhattanites.
Heading out for the newspapers after the performance, Gallagher felt as if she had arrived. The New York Times was positive though not effusive. The company was deemed, "full of good dancers with an odd but interesting repertory. Pamela was happy to be among a "cheerful corps" performing "a series of pretty, mostly breezy dances."
A beautiful art form
The work continues, the learning goes on. Just the other day while working on pirouettes on point, Pam began to understand the concept of pulling up the thigh muscle on the supporting side which allowed her to perform a triple. "I was so excited I called my sister [Kerry is also a dancer] and said, `Guess what I did today.'"
Ballet can be unforgiving. Injuries, age and bad luck can cut careers short or prevent them from ever developing. Pam spends all her free time dancing and worries about how much working, which pays her dance bills, actually costs her.
"I've put so much into who I am, I don't want to jeopardize this." Pam Gallagher has been working all her life. She knows she was born to dance. The sun has long since set on Broadway but neon and Pam's smile light up Times Square. "I'm almost there."