A purpose to her pointe
Valerie Valentine danced for 27 years with Het Nationale Ballet, has toured the world and was knighted by Queen Beatrix in 1998. Jonette Stabbert speaks to Valerie about her latest endeavour.
We're sitting in her quiet garden in the heart of Amsterdam, and I take a moment to study her.
Valerie's slender body rivals that of a teenager. She looks delicate, but I know better.
Ballet dancers train for years and have enormous physical strength. Valerie also has strength of purpose. And her purpose now is to help sick children.
"I always liked the fact that you can use your position to give something to people who have less, and I think more people could do it. It's not an awful lot of effort, and it's a nice feeling."
Valerie is telling me about Stichting Valentijn, her foundation that has raised money for research for the Duchenne Parent Project.
Duchenne is a lethal genetic disorder that cripples male children. They lose the ability to walk. Problems resulting from impaired heart and respiratory functions often cause them to die in their teens.
"Dance is mastery of your muscles," Valerie tells me. "These are kids who can't walk."
The contrast couldn't be greater.
Children in wheelchairs watched prima ballerina Valentine and other top dancers do their studio run-through in preparation for her gala last year. Their faces showed their excitement and enjoyment. She was dancing for them.
In her illustrious career, Valerie danced for 27 years with Het Nationale Ballet, toured the world, and was knighted by Queen Beatrix in 1998.
In 2000, Valerie's benefit farewell gala was held in Het Koninkljk Theater Carré. All the monies were donated to the Duchenne Parent Project. Everyone involved donated his or her services for free. 'Everyone' included world-renowned names such as Roberta Alexander and Maarten Koningsberger, choreographers, musicians, technicians and theatre staff.
"Of course, galas are exciting and people pay a lot of money to see them, but it's really about the kids and why we're doing it. I loved watching the dancers perform for them and seeing how much they enjoyed it." With quiet ferocity, she adds, "They're young and they are going to die. For now, they were enjoying themselves."
Valerie's father, Dan Valentine, was a famous and well-loved humour columnist for a newspaper in Utah. He always raised money to buy gifts for a special school for mentally retarded children. The gifts included wheelchairs and a swimming pool.
"He did all sorts of things," she says. "As a child, that made a lasting impression on me...He was actually my inspiration, so that's how it started. I learned about giving to people who have less."
Another inspiration was her friendship with the founder of Parent Project in Holland.
"Her child has Duchenne," Valerie says. "I remember when he was two years old and they found out why he wasn't walking. He's now ten and in a wheelchair. I've lived through the whole process with her."
This experience convinced Valerie that she would do some galas to raise money. It led to forming her own foundation, Stichting Valentijn.
So far, Valerie has only raised money for Parent Project, but she plans to choose other children's organisations as beneficiaries of her galas, which are always held on Valentine's Day. The next one will be in 2003.
Her foundation is also trying to arrange short performances in hospitals. The plan is to assemble a small but dynamic cast of performers, including different disciplines - dance, music, acrobatics, juggling, singing, special effects.
"I want a fairy tale but not just for children. It should be available to every patient in the hospital. But I especially want children to enjoy it," she says.
She wants to arrange one programme a year, to be done in a block of performances at different hospitals - Valerie doesn't want to limit herself to just raising money with galas. She wants to have more contact with the people involved with the illnesses.
"I want to make a child laugh, or make them not think about their problem for a half hour. This may not be as challenging artistically, but it's challenging emotionally on a different level. You can't change the world with a gala - but you can make people aware."
© 2001 Jonette Stabbert
Subject: Expat profiles