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Interview with: Lauren Anderson
Interviewed by: Linda Lorelle
Date: October 31, 2007
LL: It is Wednesday, October 31, 2007. We are here interviewing Lauren Anderson at the Houston Ballet for the Mayor's Oral History Project. I am Linda Lorelle and I am very proud to be interviewing you because, as you said girl, you are just a black ballerina. You are a black ballerina. And what does that mean?
LA: Well, actually, to me, it just means I am just a dancer. Of course, I am a woman and I am African-American. And I am a ballerina. In that order.
LL: You are also a Houstonian.
LA: A native Houstonian. Oh boy, am I proud of that. A native Houstonian. I was born in Hermann Hospital, February 19, 1965 - a rainy Friday evening. Main Street and Fannin were ablaze with my mom and dad going to the hospital because I was coming.
LL: Tell me about growing up in Houston. What are your earliest memories of the city?
LA: Oh, the city? O.K., Mecom Fountain, Astroworld. I know, Houston's babysitter - Astroworld, and everyone's first job.
LL: Did you date at Astroworld?
LA: Let me tell you, I was the queen of the season pass. Once it came out, I had one. I mean, you know, like every year I had one and we would wait for that . . . there was always the sale at Kroger for $29.99 instead of $40 for the season pass, so we would always get one. And my friend, Karen Sharp, down the street - I will never forget - she would go, "It's 10 o'clock. Do you think you want to go to Astroworld today?" "Yes, just for a couple of hours. I want to ride the Greased Lightning." So, she would call and I would say, "O.K., if your dad drops off, my mom will pick up." We would do it like that. And we would go for 2 hours. We had a season pass. And come back. And then, off we would go at 6, because the thing was you have to go after 2 because it is hot. It is hot and muggy here in Houston, Texas.
LL: Yes, it is.
LA: So, we would go after 6 and get home at, like, 11 or something like that. The Astrodome. I will never forget watching Nolan Ryan pitch, putting K's on that thing. I was one of those people that put K's up there.
LL: Were you really? I always wondered who did that!
LA: My mom loves baseball, so I just remember sitting high up and looking down and watching him release his arm and not see anything and seeing powder in the glove. You know, it was like the ball was so fast, you never saw it. I remember looking down on that. Oh, it was fabulous. I mean, those are the days. But what I really remember is what people do not do anymore - drink from a water hose. And the ice cream truck coming down the street on a Saturday. And playing kickball in the streets. You do not see that as much anymore but that is what I remember.
LL: What part of Houston did you grow up in?
LA: Well, O.K., a lot of my activities have been in Third Ward, from church, school, relatives, visiting relatives, but the Brentwood Area, South Main, Hiram Clarke is where most of my life was lived. But since I have left home, I have danced with the Houston Ballet since day 1, so I either lived like in Montrose or River Oaks area.
LL: So, what schools did you go to growing up?
LA: O.K., Bunny Land Academy when it was on Blodgett and Innis back in the day. And I always said that I was going to open a dance school where Bunny Land was because, of course, by the time I was old enough to do that, it would not be there anymore. But I think TSU bought that lot so that is not happening. And then, when I left private school, Will Rogers which was on Weslayan where the HISD administration building used to be but it is not there any more. Now, it is on a . . .
LL: Yes, it has moved.
LA: It has moved. Anyway, and then, Lanier, which is now a middle school. Then, it was a junior high. And Lamar Senior High.
LL: And when you think back on your school years, is there anything in particular that stands out?
LA: Jamails on Kirby. I used to walk down . . . because I used to leave school, walk down Kirby, go to Jamails, get a snack, and walk to the Houston Ballet which was also on Kirby. But when I first joined Houston Ballet, it was down on West Gray where Joseph Banks used to be, the now demolished _______. So, that is the first place I went. And then, Houston Ballet moved to Colquitt. It is now where, well, then it was Evan Thayer (sp?), now it is a museum gallery thing. But Radio Music Theater is right there. That is where Houston Ballet was. I used to park my royal blue Trans Am right there on the corner of the school. Funny! Now, Houston Ballet is here, so I was already out of school by the time that came around.
LL: Tell me about your parents. I know they were both in education so tell me what they did and how growing up in a house with two educators helped shape and mold who you are today.
LA: My parents are amazing. I want to be like them when I grow up, really, I mean, because they have it together, both of them. My dad was instrumental in helping HSPVA get off the ground. He was the assistant principal there the first 17 years of its existence.
LL: Can I just say I think HSPVA is the most incredible program.
LA: It rocks!
LL: Oh my goodness!
LA: I always wanted to go there. I wanted to go to the happenings they had. I always wanted to go there. My dad said, "If you want to be in the Houston Ballet, you have to take classes at the Houston Ballet and be seen at the Houston Ballet." So, HSPVA, at that time, with Houston Ballet, did not coincide because there was a grade that you needed at Christmas time, that was a big part of your grade and at Christmas time, if you wanted to be in the Houston Ballet, you needed to be in Nutcracker. So, it did not work. So, I did not go there, I went to Lamar.
LL: O.K., so finish telling me about your parents.
LA: Anyway, and so, my dad has been very supportive. My dad has a tenor voice that will make you cry, it is so wonderful.
LA: But he was very instrumental in my discipline. I was a well-disciplined only child, I will put it that way. Spoiled, kind of. Not rotten, but well-disciplined, spoiled only child. And my mother was a music teacher. She teaches young kids music. And she is amazing because at one time, she taught 30 students private lessons in her home. Is that insane? She is Wonder Woman. She is like Wonder Woman without a cape. And she like modeled. She is amazing. So, I have two parents -- a lot of love, a lot of hugs, a lot of work, which is really good. I mean, I am glad that they did . . . everything they did, I am glad they did it. And now that I have a son, I find myself saying the same things: There is not a handbook. I thought there was a handbook. "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." I am like, no, it just happens.
LL: Whose voice is that coming out of my mouth? Whose words are these? Oh my goodness, that is pretty amazing. So, tell me when you started your love affair with ballet. Have you always wanted to be a ballerina?
LA: No, I was going to be like the first Yo-Yo Ma. I wanted to play the violin. I did play the violin actually and I was very good. My love affair was with the theater. My mother was very good . . . if her girlfriends did not go and daddy would not go, I would go with her and she took me to the opera, the Alley, the symphony. And then, the ballet came to town. I do not think it was Houston Ballet's first Nutcracker because I think I was in Houston Ballet's first Nutcracker. But I do not know what I saw, I do not remember. All I know is I was singing when I left and doing my Fred Astaire . . . Jones Hall, the first place I danced. I will never forget going through that stage door on Texas.
LL: What was that like?
LA: Well, it was amazing. It had a certain smell and that smell of Jones Hall reminds me of Christmas. It is really strange but when I smell Jones Hall, because everything I did in there was at Christmas, for the first 10 years of my dancing education . . . because what is wonderful about the Houston Ballet is even as a child, you get to perform with the company. So, at 7, I fell in love with the ballet at 6. At 6-1/2, I was in Houston Ballet studios September 1972. By December, I was on the stage jumping out from behind a giant skirt licking a lollipop, handing it to Clara and waving to the audience. Hamming it up. And that was the first and last time I was not nervous. Because ever since then, I have been a wreck before I go on stage.
LL: So, you were not nervous that day?
LA: That one time. That one time was the only time I have gone on stage not nervous.
LL: So, why did the nerves kick in?
LA: Because I know the severity of that level. Because I care, I love it, I want it to be really good - I want to only make the audience feel whatever it is I am feeling, and you are so vulnerable. I mean, when you go on stage, it is like you cut yourself open and saying, here I am, because it is a live show and you are giving. You are just giving. And you can only be vulnerable when you are giving. You are completely open. Because when you give, you are exposing everything. You are giving your heart.
LL: So, when you walked into the Houston Ballet when you were just a little girl, did you see any other little girls who looked like you?
LA: No, but I did not know that until I saw one that did look like me.
LL: And when was that? And who was that?
LA: Joy Huckabee, who is a good friend of mine actually. She walked into the studio and I was like, oh, there is another black chick! But I did not realize there was not until I saw one and then I did not realize there were not really black ballerinas until I went to Jones Hall and saw Dancer of Harlem. They came in the 1970s. And then, I was like, I want to be the firebird. But then, when I became the firebird, I was like, this is hard. This is way too hard. Why did I want to be the firebird? One thing I have to say: no matter what they say about Texas and Houston, America's black ballerina resides here. I have had a love affair with Houston audiences since I was 7 years old. So, I do not know what they say about us Texans but I think people just enjoy . . . I think Texans have big hearts. Houstonians just love to enjoy things. I think we just like to party, and I do not mean like drinking partying, I mean, just to have a good time. We are so into, every time we can have a festival or something, blocking off Allen Parkway. I am like, I have got to get to the theater, what festival is going on now? Or there is some cultural thing or the international thing or the rodeo or the . . .
LL: So, you think because Houston is such a . . .
LA: The Houston Proud thing. I mean, it is great. It is a party town.
LL: So, do you feel that you were more accepted as a black ballerina because of the diversity and the city itself more so than you would have been in another city?
LA: Fort Worth had an issue until I started dancing. They were like, oh, a black _______. Whatever.
LL: So, did you feel a different vibe from the audience there?
LA: Oh, absolutely. The warmest house in the world is the Wortham. The warmest stage and the warmest house. It is like a hug. That sounds weird. I know that sounds weird.
LL: No, it is beautiful.
LA: I mean, it is great. I will say, I am a wreck . . . I hear like, da da da dum bum bum bum . . . and I am going, da da da . . . then once I get on the stage, then it is like, O.K., let's do this, let's play, I am home, we are in the sandbox, let's go.
LL: What do you say, now that you are in the schools and you are the ambassador, ambassadress, I guess for . . . is that a word? I just made up a word?
LL: You are an ambassador for the Houston Ballet and you are representing Houston Ballet in all your beauty and all your glory - what is the message that you are trying to get to the kids that you are talking to in Houston today about this art form called ballet?
LA: I am you and you are me, and you better because every model that comes out after the last one is better than the one before. And those kids are like ________ is younger than me, so I just let them know: you have got 4 times a chance more than I did to get whatever it is you want. Passion is the key. Passion is the key, and this is a passionate place. I mean, I got it. I've got all kinds of passions in all kinds of ways. My favorite thing now going to school is I thought I loved performing . . . I love performing, I love performing. There is nothing like going into schools and letting kids see how much there is out there and what there is out there. I take my own infomercial, I call it my infomercial - kind of what I have done and everything, and then they are like, wow . . . I say, "I am not here to recruit dancers. I am here to let you know I am you and you are me. I look just like Ms. Johnson or Ms. Taylor or Ms. Washington, whoever. Don't believe the hype that you are only as good as your last show, you are only as good as the last thing you have done. But whatever it is, you can do it here." I mean, there is just a lot of opportunity. There is no way, from the Medical Center to gosh, in engineering because I always ask the kids, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and I get everything from soccer player to pediatrician. And all that can be done here. You can become really good. We have got the best soccer team in the world, thank you very much. We have got the best medical center in the world. O.K. So work it out. There is no excuse.
LL: You are also a huge sports fan, I understand.
LA: Oh man! And let me tell you - our Texans are doing really good this year.
LL: Yes, they are.
LA: And our Rockets looked fabulous last night. I was very proud of them.
LL: Do you go to the games a lot?
LA: Well, I used to before I had more time. Believe it or not, now that I am retired, I do not have any time.
LL: "Retired?" That is kind of an interesting word because you are as busy as ever, you just are not dancing every day.
LA: Well, yes. Busier than ever and teaching somebody something every day, which is great. It is nice to see a kid get bitten by the dance bug or the theater bug. And now, we are doing things to let them know that you do not just have to dance in the theaters, you do not just have to be on stage. There are so many more jobs behind the stage than in front of the stage, on the stage. Because everyone is not going to make it.
LL: You mentioned your retirement.
LA: Oh, yes, we did mention my retirement, didn't we?
LL: Yes, we did. We did talk about that, and we are going to talk about it a little bit more. I was in the audience the night of your last performance.
LA: I just got goose bumps.
LL: Me, too.
LA: That was amazing.
LL: Tell me, what was that night like? What was it?
LA: I asked you if you were going to make me cry and you said no. O.K., wonderful. Relief. I was so happy. I mean, there was one point when I went, in a tu-tu, all right? I got to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy. Now, the Sugar Plum Fairy and I have had a long relationship. We are now going on 25 years. And I will never forget the one year I walked into the green room and this little girl says, "Mommy, mommy, look, the Sugar Plum Fairy is chocolate." Poor woman, she was like, "I am so sorry." This child thinks I am candy! I have done my job, it is O.K. And so now, I am like the chocolate sugar plum fairy. "Oh, mommy, that is the Sugar Plum Fairy." Everyone goes, "Weren't you in the Nutcracker that one year?" and I go, "Yes, that one year, I was" . . .
LL: That one year x 25, right?
LA: Thirty-six years.
LL: Thirty-six years?
LA: This will be my . . . oh, no, I won't be in the Nutcracker ______ I am doing the Nutcracker 36 years. I was like am I, am I not, am I, am I not? I seem to not be able to stay away.
LL: That last night, the curtain call went on and on and on.
LA: Easily 12 minutes.
LA: I was like, ya'll go home! I am hungry! I want to eat. Because I was so nervous, I could not really eat before. I ate a little bit but I was so nervous. I did what I always do: I had rehearsals, I went to Birra Poretti's, I came to my room, I slept, I got up from a dead sleep, brushed the teeth, washed the face, started the makeup, became the Sugar Plum Fairy, danced, green room for 45 minutes, and I was like, I am hungry. There was this 20 minute ovation that was amazing.
LL: Before you went on stage, did you allow yourself to think?
LA: Oh, I stood in the middle of the stage before the curtain . . . when the curtain was up. I think on the stage was dark and no one was there but the curtain was up. I just sat there and I just looked at the audience and like really looked at it. It was like the first time I really looked at everything. I was just saying, during the performance, when I was actually performing, I actually looked and not just danced. I like looked at things. I mean, it was weird. I saw the audience coming for the first time because I do not ever see . . . I see some glasses and some silver hair sometimes and I see the exit signs but I do not really see the audience, I do not really hear applause. I mean, I know it is kind of happening because I know that there is some sound but I do not really . . . I did not hear applause that night until the gold stuff started falling.
LL: Yes. Well, you know, everybody in the audience including moi, we were all crying.
LA: I was a mess.
LL: My daughter looked at me and she said, "Mommy, why are you crying?" I said, "Sweetie, it is a happy moment. It is happy tears."
LA: And I almost lost it as well and then I went, no - you are going to be happy and enjoy this. This is not . . . I mean, I could not believe I actually stood there and I just kind of went . . . like I was at a football game. It was great. It was like, I've done it! It was neat. And Sheila Jackson Lee sent me a letter saying, "Oh, I am sorry I cannot make it" and da da da, and sent me flowers and a gift.
LL: And all of a sudden, there she was.
LA: She walks on the stage with a ______ of roses.
LL: That was a good surprise.
LA: It was awesome. And a proclamation. And then, Ben Stevenson.
LL: Tell me about Ben. You and Ben have an amazing relationship.
LA: He is my uncle, he is my friend, he is my director, he is my mentor, he is my teacher, he is dance. He can create dancers from dirt. Like, there is a speck of dirt on the ground, he can squish it together and make it go in the first position, and then he can breathe life into it. It is amazing. He made dance fun for me. I was going to quit the year before he came.
LL: Do you remember your first meeting with him?
LA: No, I remember my first class, and laughing in class, when ballet class was like . . .
LL: It is not a place where you laugh.
LA: It is like church. And it is my sanctuary. The studio is my sanctuary. But, for me, it was . . . do you know how a kid thinks of church? That is how I thought of ballet class until like center practice where we got to jump and do more. He made it harder work that kind of meant something. There was, you know, "Feel the lightness in your arms. Don't just put your arms out, feel the lightness in your arms." So, all of a sudden, you go . . . He goes, "Yes. See that lift that happens naturally? That is it." And then, there was positive reinforcement, you know, because in classical, in the arts, the way you get better is being told how bad it is. "No, no, no, that is not it. No, no, no, no." But then, it was "That's it! That's it! Now, that is good! The arms were bad but that is good," you know, like that. And I find myself teaching like that. We are definitely products of our environment and I will tell you, there is nothing like growing up in Houston. Everybody comes back. Everybody comes back. All my friends have come back. Like, the reunion -- I had a 20th, 25th, I do not remember, some big number -- and all my friends left and came back. It was strange.
LL: Did they say why they came back?
LA: Well, they said because this was home. I mean, I found that interesting. And Ben thought this was home. I mean, he was from London but . . . he says, "Well, I was born in London but I am from Houston." I loved that. Oh, that was neat.
LL: Have you ever wanted to live anywhere else? Did you ever think of joining another ballet company?
LA: Yes, but I would have to live here.
LL: This is it for you?
LA: I cannot live anywhere else. People are not nice everywhere. People are not . . . even though when I am in New York, I speak to everybody and make them speak to me. They kind of go, "Oh, hi, how are you?" But I think that is because of my environment. I cannot think of where else I would want to live. Italy, maybe, because they are actually pretty nice there. South America. I like that. But I never really thought of living anywhere . . .
LL: What do you think Houston Ballet means to the city of Houston? How has it contributed? You have seen it grow and change through the years.
LA: Yes, because I remember when it was kind of like a little regional company and now, it is like number 4 or 5 in the nation and it is a world-class company. Wow! Well, I think the arts . . . our Theater District is pretty awesome and powerful, actually. Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, the Alley, the Symphony. We have everything. There are only like 3 or 4 cities in the United States that have it all, and we are one of them. So, I think we are just an addition to the . . . just another spoke on that Theater District wheel. And now, we have got, how many theaters downtown? I remember when it was Jones Hall and the Music Hall or the Coliseum, something like that, because we used to have wrestling in the Colosseum.
LL: That was before I came to Houston.
LA: Oh my goodness!
LA: I remember that. Yes. Andre the Giant. Yes, because a guy from I.W. Marks would turn his head and he would have this like jewelry on and then he would turn his head back and that was like one of the commercials during wrestling. I remember that.
LL: It is all coming back to you now.
LA: It is all coming back to me now. It is. And the Music Hall was where the Circus was, I think. The Circus was in one of those places but theater for me was Jones Hall. And the Alley. And then, also we got the Wortham. Now, we have the Hobby Center which is amazing. I mean, I was like whoa!
LL: What is your favorite stage?
LA: The Wortham. The Wortham stage, Brown Theater. I have broken that puppy in. I know where to jump. I know where all the bouncy, bouncy spots are. For any future ballet dancers, let me tell you - on the center just 2 feet in front of center center, and on stage right, second wing, you trampoline. I have broken it in with Swan Lake, Giselle, all the ballets I had to jump around in forever. Well, yes, because since Tony Randall went forward in the Wortham opening night, first the curtain went up, Tony Randall sitting on what they call the dancers wagon and it goes forward, he is just lounging, and Diahann Carroll sang and Houston Ballet did this and the Opera did that. It was great. It was woo-hoo. It was fun. Now, I am going to talk about Diahann Carroll because she sang New York, New York. Why she came up in Houston singing New York, New York, I don't know! But maybe she thought it was like getting to be like Broadway. So, I think it was like a backdoor compliment, I do not know, but I was like . . .
LL: Did you say anything to her?
LA: Oh, absolutely not! I was just the ballet dancer on the side. No. Because it was awesome for me. That whole thing was awesome. I was there at the beginning. I was at the beginning of something.
LL: Do you remember when you first walked on that stage? What was the role? What was the ballet?
LA: Well, the first thing I danced on that stage was . . . we did Etudes which was a ballet about ballet class. There were the black girls and white girls, not colored but black tu-tus and white tu-tus. And I remember that is the first thing we danced on that stage because that is what we danced the opening night, the big gala opening. So, that is the first thing I danced on that stage. Boy, what a ride, what a ride!
LL: Do you go to performances now? Do you sit in the audience and watch or do you watch from back stage?
LA: There is a booth out front and it is called the dancer's booth. It is like a booth where you cannot really see in but you can see out. I sit there. When I was dancing, any time I was not on stage, I was in the audience. I go but I am so nervous.
LL: You are nervous as a spectator?
LA: Well, yes. I want it to be so good. I have to learn how to just sit back and enjoy the show. I am counting, I am dancing. And I try not to move my head because that is really annoying to have someone doing that. So, I go . . . I am dancing and jumping. I am like, yes! Then, I am like at a football game. Woo!
LL: It is passion is what it is.
LL: Where do you see Houston Ballet in the next 5, 10 years?
LA: They can only go up. I mean, it is like, O.K., we have changed, we have our regime, changing of the guard, a whole new thing going on. Stanton Welch is here now. And you think - I was with Ben for 20 something years, you know. Stanton comes in. I am like, O.K., I can do something new. This is the Houston Ballet. I mean, this is my blood, sweat and tears in here and I live this place. And the change was a good change because, I mean, if you are going to change, you might as well go all out. But it has changed and grown and gotten better. I mean, all it can do is get better. And it is an infant in the dance world, really, when you think of all the other companies that are of the same caliber. It is the youngest one.
LL: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years? I mean, I know you are teaching . . .
LA: Doing what I am doing right now.
LL: Do you want to continue teaching?
LA: Outreach. But I call it for real outreach. I go from one end of the Houston metropolitan area which includes Alief and Spring Branch, everything, to 5th, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 12th Ward, whatever. I go everywhere. Everywhere. If there is a square open on my calendar, Kate Lummis (sp?) and I will fill it in. I have seen about 8,000 kids in the past 8 months or so. And I am not just going in and saying, ha-ha, this is what I do, but we want them to run around the education outreach department. That means, like see studio A and see ______ and see all the different things that we have so that we can really open the hearts and minds of these kids because our kids are going the wrong way, I think. And I think some of the things that we are trying to do to help our youth are good but I want to do something different, because everything is not working. And everything does not work for everybody. It is a known fact that the arts organizes the mind. And they are all into test scores. O.K., fine. It improves test scores because kids are at school because they want to do their after school program or they want to see this or they want to do that. So, if we can keep them in the classroom, that is number one. So, if we can bring arts back into the schools, maybe that will do it. Keep some attendance. I have this afterschool program and the girls that are . . . well, we have an afterschool program and the girls that are in this program, their attendance is much better because they want to come to their 3:30, 4:30 with Ms. Anderson or with the Houston Ballet, whatever. And I have a son that is 4 and I really do not want him walking through any more metal detectors that are out there right now. I do not want there to be a need for that. So, I am thinking if we can start young and get them appreciating some other things besides whatever it is . . . the little dots that they are watching on the screen . . . and there is nothing wrong with watching television and the computer but, I mean, we just need to redirect. Go outside and play a little more. Be active. Learn something new in a different way. And the imagination is being stifled, I think. And there is nothing like a kid's imagination, and just to see children light up. It is so wonderful. I mean, it feels good for . . . I am getting something out of it, too. I feel great. And it makes me . . . it is my way to contribute to society. I mean, all I did was dance. I got on stage and did something I loved to do and got a check for it. And Houston let me do that. They said, oh please, we are coming back, bravo, whatever, you know, which is great, but I need to contribute to society in some kind of way for real. I mean, if there are 5 occupations, 5 things that we need to keep to survive, dance ain't one of them. That is something we will do but we need someone to grow some food, someone to take the trash away, we need doctors, we need some kind of like spiritual leadership in whatever kind -- butterflies, God, Allah, whatever, whoever it is -- and teachers. Those are necessary to survive as a pack because we are pack animals as a pack. We need that. Dance is not in there. Ballet, dance instructing, tu-tu maintenance, toe wear. It is not there. And I think that what I was really put here to do is what I am doing now, and that is to teach. Everyone in my family is a teacher. So, way back in Africa, wherever we are from, our clan must have been the teachers of the bunch, because everyone is a teacher. And now, that is what I am doing. And I love that more than performing. There is nothing like enlightening a child's life and seeing them get excited about something. So, you know, I hate to toot my horn but I am having a great time.
LL: Well, how lucky is your son to have you for a mom, with so much passion.
LA: Well, his daddy is pretty fabulous, too.
LL: Well, to have such fabulous parents. Tell me about Lawrence.
LA: To tell you about Lawrence, I have to tell you about Kyle. Kyle Turner's jazz saxophone - he is wonderful. He grew up in Houston, a native Houstonian, which is great, and both of our families are so . . . we had to make sure we weren't related because our families . . . like, my dad was his ________. I mean, we just keep finding out how many people we know in our families. So, we got married. We have a son. Now, Kyle's family are musicians, teachers and musicians. O.K., my son is a drummer. He is 4. He is a drummer. And he has been drumming since he was 2 because Grandpa bought him a drum kit. Well, this child is like . . . I am like, O.K., now, am I just this doting mom who thinks her kid is special, Kyle? Or, he goes, "Well, if he is not this good at about 3 or 4, he is not going to be a drummer." His brother is a drummer, his uncle is a drummer, his cousin is a drummer, his grandpa is a drummer. I mean, he has got it.
LL: It is in his blood.
LA: And when they said that, I did not believe it. It is in his DNA. It is in his blood. It is there. In his musicality and everything, it is amazing. So, right here at Houston Ballet, there are creative movement classes. So, of course, I sign him up because he is 4 and he gets to jump around, jump through hoops, clap rhythms. He said, "Mommy, I do not want to dance. I am a drummer. And a fireman." So, I am like, "O.K., baby, well, take the dance clothes off, put your shorts on and we will go the park." So, that is what we did. He does not want to dance. He is a drummer.
LL: And that obviously does not bother you in the least?
LA: Are you kidding? Do you know how hard this is? Dancing is not easy. And if he is not really, really good, I do not want him to dance either. It is heartbreaking because when you want to dance, you really want to dance. So, I mean, I never knew there were so many people who wanted to dance. People come to me, "Oh, God, I just want to dance so badly and I am so happy you are doing it." I am like, "Well, just get in class and dance." Well, they do but they want to dance on the stage. And everyone can't. There are so few jobs. But there are other things you can always do in the theater.
LL: And that is what you are helping to teach the kids as you go to the schools?
LA: I always say, "If you like to draw," and of course, 90% of the kids raise their hands, "the scenery, every bit of scenery that you see was drawn on a piece of paper before it was ever produced. Everything, all the thoughts, all the stories, they are written out. Everything is written out before it even gets to the stage. So, there is a place for you in the theater. There is a place for you here. There is a place for you everywhere. You just have to find your niche. That is my kind of theme for them.
LA: That was a long segment.
LL: Well, that is O.K. We are not quite finished yet. I think I have hit most of everything. Let's talk a little bit more about, not so much the terminology in ballet, but take me back to the time when you went from the corps to being a principal, and for people who do not understand what that means, explain it.
LA: O.K., there are ranks. There is apprentice, quarter ballet, soloist and principal. But now, we are in a new age - we have like demi soloist and first soloist and all kinds of stuff. So, there are in betweens. There is like peanut butter and jelly. But I am not there, I am old school, so we are just going to stick with those. I was asked to be an apprentice when I auditioned. I have done 2 auditions in my entire life. One was for SAB, School of American Ballet. It is the school of the New York City Ballet in New York. And the Houston Ballet. Well, I did my SAB audition. I did not get cut. I made it to the end. I got 2 letters saying don't come, don't come for the summer course, don't come for the year, don't visit your friends in New York, don't even come in the tri-state area, don't do it.
LL: Are you serious?
LA: Yes. That is O.K. I got over that. It took a while but I got over it.
LL: How old were you when that happened?
LA: 13, 14.
LL: Well, wait a minute - that must have been devastating.
LA: Yes, just like I asked Ben Stevenson, the very person that hired me, if I should pursue a career in classical dance . . . he went, "Well, you have a nice singing voice and you have a great personality. Musical theater might be your thing." That was more devastating because I was like, I want to be a ballerina. And then, he said, "But keep doing ballet, keep taking ballet because that is a good avenue." Like, a jazz dancer cannot become a ballet dancer but a ballet dancer can become a jazz dancer. Does that make sense?
LA: But the funny thing about it: I come back like shortly thereafter and I get like the role. My first role in the Academy was Alice in Wonderland. Now, that is the whitest white girl in the world! She is, I mean, and she is the only character that is ever described. She is fair complected. Caucasian. Blond hair. Really white. Blue dress. White apron. White socks. Black patent leather shoes. Do I fit the mold? Oh, blue-eyed! Do I fit this mold? No. There is no mold in art. Ben says, "The only color is the paint on the canvas." I was like, go Ben! But you had better get that ballet body together if you want to be a ballerina.
LL: I was just going to go there next because I know what you went through to create the ballet body because you did not have the traditional ballerina's body.
LA: Most people don't.
LL: Most people don't so what did you do?
LA: Everyone thinks, oh, well, she is . . . no, most people don't. The first thing I did was I was working . . . I was very strong and very muscular. I was very strong. I could jump as high as the boys. Anything you could do, I could do better - that type of thing. And, of course, it is the 1970s, so I was really into it. So, I was working improperly, really. I mean, I was working kind of . . . but I also did Pilates and changed my diet. I was not going to eat less because eating is one of my favorite things to do. We are in Texas - we got some good food down here! All right. So, I just ate like my Bluebell Homemade Vanilla in the morning because in the evening or in the afternoon because I was going to dance, and I became a vegetarian that ate seafood. Now, I was that weight for 16 years until I got pregnant. My head spun around 3 times, I was like "Meat!" So, I have been eating meat ever since, you know. But that was that. I think it had a lot to do with the way I worked and my diet. I dropped like 5 muscle weight pounds just by not eating so many of the doggone steaks and hamburgers.
LL: So, Bluebell in the morning?
LA: Well, yes, I still do . . .
LL: Do you still do Bluebell in the morning?
LA: Well, because I am not dancing as much, you know. And there are these little things called . . . my body has changed a bit.
LL: Has it changed a lot since you . . .
LA: Since I had a baby! I am like, O.K., there is an alien inside of me. I am like, I am going to go that way, my body is like . . . I am like, no, I want to go that way . . . O.K., so we had to work that out. That was my first . . .
LL: That was a big challenge, coming back to dance after having Lawrence?
LA: That was a speed bump. Old and pregnant! Well, old for ballet because the average age a woman retires - 29, the average for a guy is 26. And, at that time, I was like 39, 40.
LL: Why do you think you were able to dance as long as you were?
LA: I am abundantly blessed! And good training. We have very, very, very good training. Houston Ballet Academy has some of the best training in the country. I have taught everywhere. Everyone is too far back, no one is relaxing in your heels - I know you do not know what I am talking about, but it is not very natural. It is very forced. And you have to . . .
LL: And that leads to injury?
LA: Oh, absolutely. Tension. Shoving. Pressing. It is a strain. For your body to do what it needs to do, you need to be natural, relaxed. And that is what I learned at the Houston Ballet. All this stuff is real hard from here down but the rest has to be . . .
LL: O.K., back to the 2 auditions. SAB, O.K., and they were nasty to you in New York so you do not like them.
LA: Well, the audition took place at the Houston Ballet Academy. They came here. But it was for the New York school, for the summer course.
LL: And they said don't come?
LA: They said uh-uh. So, O.K. [end of side 1]
The funny thing is this: My dad said to me, "Lauren, you are about to graduate from high school." No, "You have just graduated from high school. You have 1 year to get into that company. I am not going to spend your college education money flying you all over the world to go audition. You have 1 year. If not, you go to school. You can major in dance."
LL: Were your parents supportive of your desires to become a ballerina?
LA: Absolutely. Can you imagine how many Nutcrackers they had to drive me to? How many classes they had to drive me to? And my parents did not come back stage until Cleopatra which was in 2000 or something.
LL: Really? Why is that?
LA: For what? My mom did because they did have parents come and chaperone the kids back in the day. My dad was like, what am I going to come backstage for? I do not belong backstage. I mean, they trusted Houston Ballet with me basically and all the teachers taught at PVA, all the pianists played at PVA, so it was not like . . . you know, my dad knew them before I knew them.
LL: You just mentioned Cleopatra.
LA: Oh, what a gift! When a choreographer has you in mind for ballet, he is going to do a ballet on you, going to do a piece on you, it is the biggest compliment. And I was fortunate enough to have Ben Stevenson. Well, how did we get . . . that was a gift. He was ambassador for Houston also. The star of Houston Ballet was Houston Ballet, which was neat. I mean, you know. And he loved us like we were all his kids. He loved us hard and tough, which was good. It was the best thing he could have done. Probably the reason why I am not so messed up is because of Ben and my family. And he has mellowed in the way they have kind of . . . because ballet, on one wall is a mirror -- you are freaked out about everything. When you are an adolescent, it is like your hardest times -- that is when you are really developing into the answer, and everything is crazy in your world. Hormonally. Mentally. I mean, you know, then you have to come into this and do this which is pressure. I mean, it is not . . . I mean, there is psychosis! Another thing I wanted to do was be a dance psychologist. I did not want to be a psychiatrist because I did not want to do organic chemistry. I cannot handle . . . so, I said psychologist. But I think the gift of what is going on here is really big because now we have got other things going on in Houston Ballet -- there are like college programs and other things besides just dancing on our toes and charging a lot of money for tickets.
LL: Two things. First, I want you to talk to me a little bit more about dancing the role of Cleopatra and what that was like to get away from . . .
LA: I had to get away from that a minute because I was going . . .
LL: I know you did . . .
LA: You said you were not going to make me cry!
LL: I am sorry, honey, I did not mean to make you cry. It is just that I know that Cleopatra means so much to you and you are so identified with the role. It was created for you.
LA: Yes, I have a talisman that I wear all the time. I always wear it. Ben Stevenson gave me this. And it is wonderful because it is a funny store actually. I hate snakes. I hate snakes. And Ben goes, "Oh, well, Lauren, here." He came in the rehearsal dance, threw down this rubber snake, and I was like "Ah!" I was like standing on the chair on pointe, you know. I have a deep voice. I was like, "Ah!" So, he said, "What?" I said, "I cannot stand snakes, Ben. Get that out of here." He goes, "It is a rubber snake." I was like, "No!" He goes, "Well, here is a wooden one," and that was even worse because it . . . he said, "Well, honey, you have got to get over that. Do you know how Cleopatra died?" I said, "Yes, she killed herself with an asp." He said, "Do you know what that is?" I said, "No." He goes, "Baby, it is a snake!" "Well, Ben, we have got a problem." He goes, "No, you have a problem. You have to get on with the snake thing." He goes, "No, it will be O.K. Don't worry about it. Don't worry about it. ______ will be fine." So, one month later, he hands me a box. He always brought gifts. He hands me a box. And I like interesting, weird things. I open it up and I went, oh, and I dropped it. I was like, "How neat. Oh my God, it is a snake!" So, it sat in the box on my dresser for about 2 or 3 months before I could even . . . then it got out of the box and kind of just . . . and I finally touched it and put it on and I was O.K. I still had an issue with that snake at the end of the ballet though. And once I got past the issue of the snake, it was O.K. Great story. We are in Sathers Wells, London (sp?) opening night. The snake is wooden. So, I have to take it out of the basket. And, you know, the whole drum roll. I am going to just do it. So, you could hear a pin drop. I took the snake out, I kill myself with it, and I let it drop, and the key is to bring it back so that the tail goes over your legs so it looks like it slithers away. Well, the throne is wooden, the snake is wooden and the floor is wooden. Sathers Wells is smaller than the Wortham, so we had to condense some of the things. So, the stuff that is on the side is not there. The snake proceeds to slither away and boom, on the floor.
LL: With a thud!
LA: And I am going . . . and dying! I cannot react real quick. So anyway, me and snakes. But Cleopatra was very special. To have someone create a role for you, to create a ballet with you in mind now. He spent 2 point whatever million. At this point, ballets are becoming full length, like the 10 commandments. That was really big at MGM or whatever. So, it is like that. To create a full length ballet is like that for the ballet world. So now, we have what I call the combo platter where we have 2 other companies chipping in and somebody directs it and they do costumes - all 3 companies buy costumes and scenery. But the director has it. And they have the rights to it and they can just . . . so, it was major. It was a major event. It was like a drag queen's dream -- 7 costume changes. Incredible outfits, to happen on stage, like you have seen me become Cleopatra.
LL: I remember that, yes.
LA: Like, from the Sleeping Maiden to becoming . . . it was wonderful. It was wonderful. What a ride! What a ride!
LL: What a ride! What a ride! You said before that Houston Ballet has gone from being a small regional company to being world-class. Take us a little bit through the historical steps that made that possible. Who are some of the people and what are some of the events that happen to make that transition?
LA: O.K., here we go. I do not know who was here in the very, very beginning but someone from Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo started. That is kind of how it got formed here. I do not know how. I think they broke up and the company got formed here. Now, the first director which is the second director of the company, Nina Apova (sp?), I will never forget - I just remember this woman screaming in some language I did not understand. I later found out it was Russian. I know the first little black girl in the school was Debbie Allen. Yes, fame, I'm gonna live forever.
LA: And then, James Clowser (sp?). So then, the studio moves to West Gray. James Clowser. Some things happen. They get like a ______ band in the ballet, then they got like a rock band. I cannot think of the band. It was popular. So then, that kind of comes in. So, it gets a little bit more notoriety, I think, from some of the press around the nation. Then, there is an interim time. In comes Ben Stevenson from the Royal Ballet and Joanna Seroni (sp?) or Chironi or Seroni, was our executive director. I remember that. That is when the touring happened and that is when Houston Ballet kind of got on the map, I think. Well then, 27 years of ______ making ballets. I mean, how many companies . . . because he was in Washington and then Chicago but he did it here which is nice that we got him. And then, the board crew and the company went on tours. Then, there was this thing when literally after Nixon in China, it was Ben Stevenson in China. He kept going to Beijing and coming back. He was ambassador for Houston and the United States, really, there. And then, there was the International Ballet competitions. If you walked down the hallways, you would see tons of certificates from the International Ballet competitions that we have won and gone to, and people have medaled. We took 6 dancers and everyone medaled, everyone placed. I got like Miss Congeniality or something. I got like a special jury award. But see, ______, I was a principal dancer so I was just dancing. I was not competing. I was dancing, having a good time. I do not think you can really compete in art. I do not find competition in art. I find competition in like ability. I think you can compete in like your actual ability to do stuff and in what you bring to it. On a non-professional level, I think, is better than professional. But anyway, that is the politics _______.
LL: You mentioned being a principal dancer again and I do not know if we ever got to that - to complete that question of how you went from apprentice to quarter ballet . . .
LA: I auditioned for Houston Ballet and I get offered an apprenticeship, which I never did but I got offered an apprenticeship and you have the summer course. So, I did the summer course and Ben Stevenson, in all of his wit and humor, came to me and said, "Well, you were dreadful this summer. I thought you would have worked much harder. You seem uninterested." I worked as hard as I have ever worked in my entire life that summer. So, I was just like, there is nothing I can do to please this man, you know. He says, "So, I am going to offer you a corps contract with the ballet. So now, I have gone from apprentice to corps and never really did apprentice. So, I got in that year. August 30, 1983, I signed my first contract with the Houston Ballet. It was the first job I ever had. I am still working with them, just in a different job. Anyway, so I danced my first Sugar Plum Fairy the next year. Dreadful. Actually, it was pretty good, I guess, but now that I look back, I go, what was I doing? I learned how to learn choreography which was hard for me at first. I can remember nothing. I came in one day going I have it, at the end of the day; the next day comes and I am like . . .
LL: What was that?
LA: Yes. But I learned how to learn choreography. Then, in 1987, 3 years later, I was promoted to soloist. It was pretty exciting. That is when we could actually have a ______ in our program and I always wanted to be the first African American female in the Houston Ballet, but that was Sandra Organ because she got the lead before I did. Now, she has the Sandra Organ Dance Company right here in Houston.
LL: That is right.
LA: SODC! So then, Sandra says to me, "Well, on my bio, should I put it?" I said, "If you don't put you are the first African American female, I am going to kill you," because I wanted it to be me. So, she did, which is neat. And then, I got promoted to principal 4 years later and found out I was America's black ballerina, which I thought there were more but obviously not.
LL: So, you were the first principal for a major ballet company?
LA: No. I was the first principal dancer in the Houston Ballet.
LL: The first African American female principal dancer in the Houston Ballet?
LA: That is what I was.
LL: That is what you were?
LA: That is what I was. Whatever that was, that is what I was. I am still her.
LL: Yes, you are still her and you always will be. So, the phrase, "America's black ballerina" . . .
LA: I found out about that later because at an interview with the New York Times or something, they said, "Well, there are no other black ballerinas in a major ballet company." "I am like, well, what are you calling major? There are a whole company full of dancers _______." "We are talking like the top 5. New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, San Francisco Ballet, Boston and Houston." I am like, oh, O.K., then I guess not.
LL: That would make me a diva then, would it not?
LA: Well, no, not a diva. No. I am just pretty much this black chick that dances and gets __________.
LL: No, I did not mean it like that.
LA: No, but, I mean, I was not thinking of it that way. I think of it more that way now.
LL: Oh, now you are a diva?
LA: _______. No, I am a mom and that is . . . if I had not done that, I would not have completed my circle. If I had not done that mom thing . . . and I am glad I did it while I was dancing, too.
LL: Really? Why?
LA: Well, it made me realize that there is no trauma, just drama. There is nothing . . . like, that is nothing. Let's try a 1 year old with asthma, you know, and breathing treatments. Let's try that. Let's try kids that can't breathe. This child needs me. O.K., yes, I need to dance. O.K., great. Oh, yes, O.K., 5, 6, 7, 8. Gotta go. Gotta get the kid. It was just . . . my priorities were . . . the importance of the little things -- all that little stuff, don't sweat the small stuff. It made me not sweat the small stuff and realize that there are many more important things than just, oh no, my ribbon came off. Well, sew it back on! You know, it is like that. I mean, it was not that petty but I am just saying, it was like that. So, I became a principal dancer and that was fabulous. That was fabulous because then, it is like that fairy tale came true. I never, ever thought I would ever get to do what I have come to do. I mean, I have danced . . . it is easier to say where I have not danced. The North and South Pole, Greenland, Iceland, Africa and Australia. I have been everywhere else. Japan. I have pretty much kind of danced . . . it is wonderful to say that.
LL: So, you have seen the world and you have been able to see it while you are doing what you love to do.
LA: Yes, and then, so then I got the wild hair to go hike the Andes for 10 days or go deep sea fishing in Cabo San Lucas, which I love to do, by the way.
LL: Deep sea fishing?
LA: Oh man, I stick my foot on the back of the boat. The guy goes, "No, you are going to fly in." Yeah, right honey! There is a big woman trapped in this little body. I put my foot on the back of that boat and I go . . . 20 minutes ________. And I bring back my mahi mahi and tuna. It is wonderful. That is fun. Now, I have got the baby, or the little boy, the big boy.
LL: O.K., deep sea fishing. So, let's go with that. What other hobbies? What other things do you love to do?
LA: There is always the computer. Well now, I have to actually work on the computer, so it is not so . . . I have enjoyed traveling. I had a wonderful time when I hiked the Andes for a bit. I never thought I would ever do it. I was shaking hands with God. It was just . . . mama, pellets.
LL: Pellets. The nice word.
LA: Cactus and rocks at 17,000 feet in Potosi, Bolivia, which was amazing. I saw the total eclipse. Hiked around. And then, of course, after doing all that, like hiking and stuff, 2 months later, I am down in Santiago, Chili in like a 5-star hotel gala for whatever. It is nice. Life has been good. I love traveling. I think that is one thing that I am going to make sure . . . my husband is very well-traveled. He was on tour with Luther Vandross a bit, so they were over in London. They did like Wimbley Stadium or something. And he has traveled all over. He has been to Africa. I have not. He has played in Africa. So, that is one thing our son will get: he will get to travel. His very first birthday - this was great - I am like we are doing Cinderella. I said, "Honey, I have made a decision. I do not think I am going to do Cinderella because there is a performance on Lawrence's first birthday. He is only going to have 1 first birthday." My son's name is Lawrence. "He is only going to have 1 first birthday. I am not going to be Cinderella." He goes, "You go be Cinderella. You love doing Cinderella." I said, "Yes, but I want to see my child have his first birthday." He goes, "I will cut his hair, we will get on a plane and we will be there." I am like, O.K. So, I come off stage. I mean, I told people about this - the Guild in Cincinnati or Cleveland. Cleveland. I have a cake for him to destroy. He's got like plastic everywhere. And, of course, I've got a neat baby but that is O.K. I am expecting that there be cake everywhere. No. We have 2 shows that day and everyone generally after the first show, we are rushing to get back to the hotel to rest, to eat before the next show. Everyone stuck around because they wanted to see Lawrence and his first birthday. It was so sweet. And Cinderella comes on stage and there is her Prince Charming and her baby. And it was wonderful. So, his first birthday, Lawrence had his first plane ride to mommy.
LL: To see mommy in Cinderella.
LA: That is right. It was great.
LL: That is wonderful. O.K., we were talking about America's black ballerina and I am sure that was probably around the same time that you got a lot of national press; you know, People Magazine, A&E, this and that.
LA: The cover of Dance Magazine, which is like our Sports Illustrated.
LL: So, what was that like?
LA: That was amazing. I go to New York -- oh, this is great. This is when I felt like a real ballerina -- I go to New York for like 16 hours for a photo shoot, to hopefully get the cover. Now, we have somebody from the New York City Ballet, someone from the American Ballet Theater and me. Those are the 3 people that could possibly get the cover. So, I go to New York and I am in front of the cameras for 5 or 6 hours dancing. She goes, "O.K., now, we have your apple juice, we have your banana." I said, "What do I need this for?" She goes, "Oh, well, you will need some nourishment." I said, "Nourishment?" She goes, "Well, yes, darling. Between costumes." So, I go and I put on Don Quixote and I dance. It is like 1 hour and I am going, soon this will be over. "O.K., great. Next costume." She goes, "Oh, and by the way, eat that apple and that banana sitting there." I am like, "O.K." So, I eat that and I am like wooh, fruit sugar. And I am back. The next thing, I am dragging at the end of that. She goes, "O.K., next costume." She goes, "Oh, there is some apple juice." I am like, "O.K." I am like wooh. I realize it is dark outside. She goes, "O.K., your flight is in a couple of hours. We are done." I was like whoa! I realized I had been dancing in front of the camera for 5 or 6 hours. And then, I had like a mink coat and I bought this dress on the street right before I had gotten there because you know how people . . . she goes, "That dress is great. Why don't you keep your shoes on" . . . but it was great because I got the cover.
LL: Which costume was the cover?
LA: Don Quixote. The blue, purple, pink, red number. And I was going, you know, just real me.
LL: So, what did you think when you started getting all this national press?
LA: Well, I mean, the thing is I am still me. I still go to Wal-Mart. I am like, we are going to the movies. I am still doing the same stuff I do. So, I think it is neat but, you think about this: you have got to go on a plane and go places. You get on a place and go somewhere, your feet get fat and you have to shove them in some pointe shoes! It is not fun. But I had a good time. I had a good time. I had a wonderful partner who was great. Carlos Acosta, who loves Houston and loves Houston Ballet.
LL: Houston loves Carlos, too.
LA: Oh, man, we had a great time, yes. And when he first got to London, he goes, "Ees no like Houston" [Spanish accent] "or like Cuba. The people are happy and it is sunny. It is rainy and the people are miserable." It is funny. It was good. Now, he is doing very well, too, by the way.
LL: Radio. You do radio. Tell me about your radio career. What is this?
LA: Hold up . . . I would get up early. I am not a morning person. Now, can you imagine this voice in the morning? I am like trying to put some tenor back in my voice here, right? In the morning, I am like this [low voice]. So, I am doing football picks on 104 KRBE. O.K., I think another station, like 101, had the University of Houston coach, football coach giving love advice. O.K., so they say, let's have a ballerina do football picks. Now, Janie Parker, Houston Ballet's first prima ballerina had retired. So, they said, "Well, Janie retired. Well, there is this new girl, Lauren Anderson. Let's ask her." Well, they did not know that I used to sit at home . . . I mean, Luv Ya Blue, the whole 9, you know. I love football. Sundays, I am watching football. Not so much now. Now, it is more like Thomas the Tank. So, they said, "Well, would you do this?" I said, "I would love to." So, I get on and I go, O.K. Well, now we have Greenbay and so and so. This is going to be a great game because Favre is doing this and this. They are like . . . then, I am like 90% or 85% or something the first year. So, they are like, "O.K., wait a minute. This is unheard of." So, I did this for about 3 or 4 years. It was Lauren's Friday Fearless Football Forecast. And all of a sudden, you hear, da, da, da .... Good morning. And at the end, I would say, "Well, you know what I always say: whether it is football or ballet, keep on your toes!" You know, that was one of the catch phrases. Well, then _______ starts doing a thing called Her Way, I think. NFL films, I think her way or something. And they were going to come and do a whole documentary or whatever. I get pregnant. So, you know, they are not going to video a pumpkin dancing. Well, that's O.K. Lawrence came on stage with me before he was born. He has been in Cinderella. He has been in Manot (sp?). He has been in the Nutcracker. He has been in about 3 or 4 ballets.
LL: How long did you dance before you . . .
LA: I was an idiot. I danced until my 5th month. That was crazy.
LL: Are you serious? Did your doctors advise you not to do that?
LA: No, they said, "You are O.K." I had to have a Cesarean. It was a planned Cesarean because I had had tumors before and so, we knew when it was coming. Well, when it was supposed to come. You know, if I ever had another kid, I would never do that again. I knew the name, the time, the date, everything. I mean, I just did not know what he was going to look like. But anyway, so, I got to like month 6 or month 7 and they were like, "O.K., stay out of the studio because you are going to have this baby and you cannot have this baby yet. The baby is not ready." So, I had to kind of tone it down. But I still taught ballet class. I taught ballet class until like 1 month before.
LL: How did you reach the decision to retire? When did you start thinking about it? Did you just kind of know?
LA: Well, I had been thinking about it for about 3 or 4 years. I mean, I knew it was coming. I was approaching 40. But Ben left and that is when I got pregnant. I was pouting and I got pregnant. That is not what they say . . . that is not how you get pregnant, but I promise you, that is how you get pregnant. You pout, you get pregnant! And then, I do not know, it just came to me like an epiphany. I was in the hallway and Stanton walks up to me, "Do you need me?" and I said, "No." And I went, "Yes, I do. I turned around and told him I wanted to retire." It was just like that. Then, I walked out and went . . . I am retiring! I mean, it was like, oh.
LL: So, it was time. You knew it was . . .
LA: Oh, it was probably before time.
LL: Tired? Needed to do something different?
LA: I could not imagine doing anything else but . . . man, when he said, "We are opening up a job for you in outreach, you were so good in St. Louis with the kids in between the show, you make ballet approachable on the radio and people have seen" . . . I mean, you know, I want everyone to be able to think that he can come to the ballet. Well, you see on 101 when those shock jocks, Stevens and Pruitt were on? We used to go on then. They would say, "Oh, the real dancers are here," you know, and we would come on. They were so good. Actually, they did a lot for Houston. They did a lot for kids. I mean, they were kind of jerky on the radio but they were really nice guys actually. And we had a great time going there. And it was neat because we had a different audience. We did a ballet called Rooster and it was to the Rolling Stones. And they were a rock station. So, that is how that happened. And so, I had gone to so many different stations and so many different ethnicities, from Latino stations to country, and kind of brought everyone . . . "Come on down to the Wortham. It is a good place to be. It is a family . . . the family can go. Don't have to find a babysitter." You know, that is everything. So, I guess they thought I would be good in outreach. And I am so happy that he thought that because that is exactly what I wanted to do afterwards when I thought about retiring.
LL: You have talked a lot about Houston being such a warm and opening and welcoming city. What would you say to people who are thinking about relocating to Houston but they are not quite sure if this is the place where they want to live?
LA: Come on down. Houses are low right now. It is a good time to buy a house. That is another thing. There are some great places to live. I mean, now that I have seemed to venture often outside of the loop, I mean, outside of that other loop . . .
LL: There is a world outside the loop.
LA: Well, we've got 3 loops.
LL: Who knew?
LA: I am, like, there is Loop 610, there is Beltway 8, and Highway 6. Isn't that a loop?
LL: No, Highway 6 is not a loop but there is the Grand Parkway.
LA: Oh, Grand Parkway. Maybe that is it. That is the one after Beltway 8?
LA: O.K., Highway 6 is in between?
LL: Kind of.
LA: Well, there is a whole lot I did not know about Houston, how far it went. Houston spreads out far and wide. Skip Manhattan and give me that country side! I am sorry! _______. I just thought, I am like wow. So, it is really neat. And there are a lot of nice places to live. And some of the not so nice places are becoming nice. I mean, we are jujjin' it up. Downtown used to be a ghost town. When we danced the Nutcracker, we could get pizza at Birra Poretti's or go to Longhorn Cafe and get a hamburger or something like that. That was it. Now, you can go downtown and not leave. They have like a grocery store downtown and like gas stations and everything.
LL: So, you have really seen the city completely . . .
LA: Let me tell you, it is like crowded downtown, like a downtown is supposed to be, not just like . . .
LL: Not people who go there to work and then leave and it is deserted?
LA: No, why leave? You can eat, listen to music. You can listen to music on the street. You can listen to music in the clubs. I mean, you can do everything. Fabulous restaurants. I would be a fat cow if I did not dance! I would.
LL: You seem to have so much pride in the city and so much love for the city.
LA: Honey, if anybody is Houston proud, I am Houston proud. I have been here for 42 years. I do not want to live anywhere else. I am not moving. Well, unless my husband . . . unless we have to kind of relocate but I do not want to. I would be back a lot. My daddy is here. My mama is here. Everybody is here.
LL: How would you describe the spirit of Houston? You are looking at it?
LA: We are great fans of our teams, even when our teams are sucking. I mean, when we are doing awfully, we are like just . . . that is O.K., next time. We are like that. Man, that was a bad season. We will get them next season. Trade him, get him, great. O.K., come on, let's do it, let's do it. And we are there, supportive and ready to go. And that is a good thing. I mean, like WNBA just walked up in here and stomped all over everybody in the beginning. That was great. Our first soccer team . . . you know. We have, what, the 8th wonder of the world was what, the Dome? Or the 10th wonder or the 12th wonder, whatever. The next wonder after the last wonder, it was our wonder, you know? I mean, you know, then we've got this thing that goes jhjh . . . there is a train that goes around it, the baseball thing. And then, Ruggles is right down there, right down there, you can go to Ruggles. You can go to a baseball game and go to Ruggles. And go, oh, look, got it. Where else but Houston? Come on! It is neat. It is the bomb. It is the bomb.
LL: I think we have pretty much covered it. Is there anything else that you want to say that you have not had a chance to say?
LA: What else could I want to say? Frenchy's is an institution in Third Ward Houston, O.K.? You know, LA has its chicken waffles and whatever, it doesn't matter. The Cruzos and their chicken wings - I do not know what they did. I was a kid, I was 5, 6, sitting at her kitchen table eating. My parents said, "You need to sell this food." So, I remember when I thought I was possibly pregnant, after church, we would go to Frenchy's, drive through. Carl orders his thing, you know. And I normally get Frenchy Fries and a cobbler because I am going to go home and have a piece of fish. I went, "Ohh, can I have a 3 piece all dark no pepper?" He is like, "Yo, right. O.K." "Baby, I want a 3 piece all dark no pepper now." He went, "O.K." I am like, wow, I had better get a pregnancy test! I am not feeling sick. Something is wrong. I was a virgin for like 16 years. I know.
LL: And Frenchy's was the first piece of meat in 16 years?
LA: Girl! And what a piece of meat to have! I was like, O.K., I am ready to go to Frenchy's right now. I am ready. Come on. Let's go. I will buy. Come on, girl, I'll buy.
LL: O.K., you are on!