Dancing at the Clubs with Robert La Fosse

Suzanne’s Blog for 1/11/2023

Blog – Dancing at the Clubs with Robert La Fosse

The rule of thumb for me was to always have food in my room.
Living in a hotel, while nice, is not convenient in the food category. And as a young, energetic dancer, access to food is critical on all levels. While the Empire Hotel was next door to O’Neals’ Restaurant, the cost of eating there every day, (to a dancer on scholarship), was not a part of the program.
I would have bagels and cream cheese in the room with peanut butter and jelly, yogurt, cheese, and one had to have Entenmann’s pastries! Especially the cheese filled coffee cake.

For those of you that are not familiar with Entenmann’s, it is a staple back east. They sold it in practically every store, and it was delicious to a girl on a budget. They made everything from donuts to chocolate brownies.
The energy expenditure of dancers is tremendous, and I was one of the dancers that was an “eater”. As far as I was concerned … Food was fabulous!  
To some dancers it was something evil and one had to step back from the table.

I was not that girl!
I needed energy … and lots of it.

In 1976, we did not yet have the words, anorexia, or bulimia. While it was clear to me that there were girls that seemed too thin, I was stuffing my mouth with anything and everything I could put in it, or any food that was within reaching distance.

There were other dancers that were in a tighter financial challenge than me. And that was hard to imagine. But some dancers (even on scholarship) would literally run out of money and have none left at the end of the month for food.

But at my hotel room, I had … stuff!
In 1976, a rising star at SAB was the amazingly talented and very kind young man, Robert La Fosse.
I believe he was one year older than I was at the time. He was a gorgeous, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Texas boy that always had a smile, was outgoing, extremely talented, and funny.

Since we were both from Texas, and he was on a tighter budget than even me, he would end up at my hotel room for food. While I did not have much, I at least had something.

Robert was gay and not shy about it or hiding that fact in any way.

It is one of the great things about being around the men in my generation of ballet. Most were gay and they were very safe to hang out with.

Robert would run through his money for food and then end up at my room for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a bagel.

Once his money came in, he would take me to O’Neals’ for spinach salad and cheesecake.

We would hit the clubs late at night to go dancing.

It was very fun for me because he was gorgeous and danced brilliantly.
We would dress up, so we would look older, and go out to the clubs.

We would try to act mature, but the truth was that both of us were underage for any club. Somehow, we would get in every time. I think two gorgeous dancers walking in a club were good business for the owners, and they just ignored checking our driver’s licenses back then in New York.
Besides, I did not have a drivers license at 15 years old. I was 5 ft 10 inches in 9th grade and so height wise I could pass for older. Put some extra theater make up on and dress fabulously, and they would let us in.

Often, we would pick the places that had the best dance floors to dance on. And we would go for a weekday time. They were less busy and checked less during the weekdays.
Robert had been in New York longer than me and so he had the lay of the land for the areas.

We would walk in, and even then, you could tell a dead club energy, or a pickup joint.

We would take a chair and go ask the DJ to play good dancing songs rather than drinking songs. The music would come on, and Robert would with great theatrics, asks me to dance.

I would place my hand elegantly in his and as the music hit the perfect spot, I would slowly get up, and walk in a slinky way to the dance floor. At which point, he would take my hand and spin me towards him to start some spontaneous dance.

We were young, dramatic, silly, slightly wild, and intending to get this party started.

It is amazing once some people start dancing, smiling, laughing, and twirling, that others will get up from the bar and join us. Quickly, the floor becomes busier, and people were also laughing. The DJ’s loved us because it made their job more fun and exciting. We would dance until we were dying and sweating. Then we would stop to get a drink of water or a diet coke, and the owner of the club would invariably come up to us and offer us free Italian sparkling wine. (One cannot call it Champagne unless it is from the area of Champagne France).

It was awesome. We would get free “Italian Sparkling Wine” and we agreed to keep dancing and keeping everyone in the club dancing. That way they got more revenue for all the drinks that everyone needed to cool off. The mood in the place changed from a sort of creepy pickup joint … to a party with laughter, fun, dancing, and real conversations.

We would do that each week. Sometimes twice a week if we were not too exhausted.

All of us knew that Robert would become a star.

You can see talent even when they are young.

Robert had that special something. That special glow. That freedom and playful ease of a dancer who felt in control of their body and therefore their reality. There is a type of magnetism that comes out of certain people that is forceful and bright. You cannot keep your eyes off them.

I could always recognize that quality in others and I knew (even young) that it was something special and unique. Something rare and precious.

What he and I shared was a playfulness that was so energetic that we had a hard time containing it.
We needed to get out on the town and cut loose to let some steam off and to have a way to break out of the militaristic control that ballet required.

Many years later when I was performing with the Berlin Ballet in Lincoln Center, I saw that ABT was performing at the same time and that Robert was doing a show one night. (American Ballet Theater grabbed him in 1977 and they were so smart to do that.)
He was with ABT for 9 years and did incredible work.
So that night he was performing, I went to the backstage to leave him a note. Theaters require a backstage pass to be allowed in, and I did not have one for that theater, but I left him a message and told him that I was in town for just one more day and where I was staying.

He was kind enough to leave me another message back at my hotel, that said he was exhausted and swamped but that it put a smile on his face to know that I saw the show. He was sorry that timing was not going to let us connect but that he could really use a peanut butter and jelly bagel!
It made me happy that the two Texans still remembered each other and that we shared those fun moments in the summer of 1976.

Ballet is a giant family. We understand each other in a way that few can really understand us. That connection is timeless and while we may never connect again in those same ways, we are connected in special places that eternally live in the ethers and the magic of those fully lived moments of our youth.

~Suzanne Wagner~


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