Ballet performance outside senior housing raises spirits of residents quarantined by COVID-19

By DANIEL P. FINNEY | Copyright The Des Moines Register

Wednesday night is “Balcony Night” at Summit House, a red brick senior community in the 2800 block of Grand Avenue.

The coronavirus edicts call for people to remain 6 feet apart to prevent the virus from spreading. It’s an especially important rule for elders who are the most vulnerable population.

So instead of gathering in each other’s apartments or various spots around the building, the residents have taken to standing on their balconies on Wednesdays and chit-chatting across the gap.

Jon and Elaine Lindgren decided to up the Balcony Night ante on Wednesday.

They cajoled their granddaughter, 17-year-old Lily Ungs, into performing a ballet routine in the parking lot.

Grandpa suggested the idea to granddaughter as a way for everyone to perk up from the doldrums of coronavirus quarantine.

Lily wasn’t sure she was up for it. Performing on an asphalt parking lot isn’t the same as a proper ballet stage.

“It’s for Grandpa and Grandma,” Ann Ungs remembered saying to her daughter.

“OK, I’ll do it,” Lily replied.

Lily caught dance fever from her older sister, Madeline.

The pair took dance lessons since they were tots and brought their parents and grandparents along with them to uncounted recitals and performances through the years.

“We’ve been to 20 years’ worth of ‘The Nutcracker’ performances,” Jon Lundgren said. “We like to think we have learned a little something about ballet, but that may be overstating it.”

Ballet “is life,” Lily said. “There’s just something about it that makes me so happy.”

Athletes might call the feeling “the zone.” A writer might get into “a groove.”

Lily has no single word for how she feels when her feet hit, her arms flow, her body twists, turns, leaps and lands with precision.

“All I know is that’s the greatest feeling in the world and I want to feel that way every time I dance even though I know it’s not possible,” Lily said.

Lily studied at the prestigious Ballet West Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah, until her school year, like so many others, was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

She is used to a schedule that has her dancing as much as six hours a day. Now, slowed like the world by this relentless virus, doldrums set in.

But Shakespeare said “All the world is a stage” and surely that must include a parking lot outside her grandparents’ apartment.

Shortly before 6:30 p.m., Lily warmed up. Using the backs of parked cars, she ran through her routine stretches.

She wore a white tutu, a silver tiara and pointe shoes — the special footwear for ballet performers that allows them to stand on their toes.

The Summit House residents gathered on their balconies. The folks from the other side of the building made their way over — doing their best to stay 6 feet away from their neighbors per coronavirus protocols.

The music played.

And Lily danced.

With scores of eyes upon her, she twirled and tapped across the rough surface.

She included “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker.”

For a few minutes on a Wednesday evening, a 17-year-old girl made dozens of people stuck in their homes for weeks due to a pandemic feel free and lively.

Maybe they felt a touch of what Lily feels on those days when her moves are perfect.

Lily, ever her own worst critic, told her mother she thought she was terrible. The audience disagreed. They showered her with raucous applause.

The rough surface wrecked her pointe shoes.

One of Lindgren’s neighbors yelled over at him: “Hey Grandpa, you owe her a new pair of shoes.”

“Worth every penny,” Lindgren said.

Register Storyteller Daniel P. Finney grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. He wrote his first story for the Register in 1993 at age 17. He has stacked paragraphs ever since. Reach him at 515-284-8144 or dafinney@dmreg.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsmanone or Facebook at @danielpfinney.

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