‘After the Applause Stops’
January 13, 2018
"Who are you when you no longer do what you've been doing for years?"
That is the subtitle to former San Francisco Ballet principal ballerina and Gardnerville author Sally Bailey Jasperson's 2017 book, "After the Applause Stops."
The book is a tautly written volume, which, though slim, is packed with insights into the onstage, offstage and later life of a professional dancer.
Jasperson pitched nine questions to seven retired SFB dancers to determine how different people found satisfaction in their lives after performing for, in some cases, many decades. The lives of the former dancers are varied: One is studying psychology; another is a ballet master; and another, a ballet teacher.
“Ballet is a narrow and a rarified atmosphere, but there is so much you miss out on. I was so thankful I got all the way out when I did. My grandmother complained when artists would hang on too long. She always said, ‘Let it go. Do it and do it well, do it as well as you can, and then stop.’”
— Sally Jasperson
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Among the questions Jasperson asked are, "What made you stop performing?" and "What was the first thing you did right after you stopped?"
"Who are you if you are not a dancer?" may stir readers to examine their own postworking lives (you can substitute teacher, engineer, police officer, salesperson or whatever your profession for dancer.)
"I was surprised that many never got out of ballet — only three of us (did)," Jasperson said. The other four are still connected to dance in some fashion. "The world has a lot to offer," she added. "Ballet is a narrow and a rarified atmosphere, but there is so much you miss out on. I was so thankful I got all the way out when I did."
Jasperson's own story makes up the first chapter.
She was a principal dancer with the company from 1947 to 1967. She performed her first solo at 16 and her first "Swan Lake" at 19, originated the role of Eve in the much-talked-about, and some said scandalous, "Original Sin" in the early 1960s, and regularly portrayed the Sugar Plum Fairy in "The Nutcracker."
Remembering the dictates of her grandmother, a concert pianist, Jasperson decided to quit dancing while she was ahead, at age 35. "My grandmother complained when artists would hang on too long," Jasperson said. "She always said. 'Let it go. Do it and do it well, do it as well as you can, and then stop.'"
"I knew that as an athlete, you don't get better after you are over 35, and for me," Jasperson added, "because of pride as much as anything, before you start going downhill, stop. There are all these other things that you can do and work for at an older age."
In "After the Applause Stops" Jasperson describes her elation at giving her last performance, writing: "I suddenly felt young again, much younger than I'd felt these last few years." Following a trip to New York and the World's Fair in Montreal, she found herself for the first time looking for a job. "I didn't seem very employable," she wrote, "though at least I could type."
The Ballet Guild hired her to be its first office manager. After demonstrating her skill at managing accounts, she became the Guild's bookkeeper. Looking to gain new experiences and knowledge, Jasperson joined the Sierra Club and became active in the World Affairs Council. Just before age 40, she married lawyer Bob Jasperson, and they had 34 years together.
At age 44, another new experience broadened her world: her son, Ted, was born in 1977; he now is with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. She enjoyed working with her son's school and youth athletics, making time for her stepchildren and teaching ballet at a community center.
Bob Jasperson, legal counsel for Save the Redwoods for 35 years, helped to expand her knowledge through camping trips to unique natural areas. "My husband gave me a wonderful education in natural history," she said.
Her bookkeeping job led to an interest in computers, and Jasperson worked in the San Francisco financial district for 10 years and had her own computer/bookkeeping business.
Jasperson began to write before her marriage, and with help from writer Renee Renouf and editor-mentor Melda Ludlow, produced articles for regional magazines. She edited "Letters from the Maestro: Enrico Cecchetti to Gisella Caccialanza." Caccialanza, a friend, translated the letters from the Italian.
A busy mother, she stopped writing at the birth of her son, but 20 years later published "Striving for Beauty," a vivid account of her life with the San Francisco Ballet, her first marriage, the ballet company's tours of the world for the U.S. State Department, descriptions of her major roles and juicy ballet gossip, subtitled "A Memoir of the Christensen Brothers' San Francisco Ballet." It is available at the Douglas County Public Library.
Jasperson moved to Gardnerville in 2007 to be near her son and his wife, Krissy. She lived in her own place until Ted and Krissy built an 800-square-foot mother-in-law unit complete with bath and kitchen, for her. She shares good times—and the main house laundry room—with the family, which includes Kora Jo, 5, and Kenton, nearing 1-1/2, also known as Bubba.
"We cooperate with each other," Jasperson said of her living arrangement, adding with a grandmother's laugh, "I fold lots of laundry. I can't lift the baby, but I can fold his laundry. Every day (the kids) ask me, 'Can we come to your side and visit?'"
Early on, Jasperson volunteered with community groups to she could meet new people. She still does. As a Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center volunteer, she has met many descendants of early Valley families. She is a member of the Friends of the Douglas County Public Library board, Douglas County Democratic Women, the library book club and Main Street Gardnerville.
She exercises once a week at the Douglas County senior center and stays for lunch with a group of friends.
"When at lunch I would mention the book and talk about who you are when you are no longer doing the things you've done for years, all of the men at the table responded. They all had stories," Jasperson said. The question of "who are you?" can be asked of people retired from any profession, she said.
Although she no longer drives, Jasperson goes to meetings and is active in events. Friends, DART and fellow volunteers pick her up and take her home.
"I manage to get around. I feel good. I do get tired; I take naps. I'm 85 now," she said. "I want to keep busy. I've had a wonderful life, and there are still things I want to do."