"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Former dancer looks back on the steps of her varied life

By on October 25, 2017 in Arts with 0 Comments

Laraine Burrell: Our Grand Finale could be the start of a writing career.

By Susan Lagsdin

Laraine Burrell, who took a major step moving solo to Wenatchee in January, is invigorated by her law position at Jefferson, Daniels, Sonn & Aylward and eager to involve herself in the community.

And she finds the size of the town, the friendly relationships and the walking path reminiscent of her childhood home in England. “And my woodstove! It’s the first one I’ve had for many years,” she said.

Dramatic transitions distinguish the lives of many artists, but the story of Laraine’s life shows a particularly affirming link between sadness and success.

It was 1995. Working out on the treadmill was a standard practice for members of the dance troupe of the long-running “Hello Hollywood Hello” but something went very wrong that day. With one huge misstep Laraine’s ankle was ruined — the tendons dis-attached from bone and pain shot up her leg. Help was immediate, but recovery was excruciatingly slow.

When she fell, Laraine (then only 38) knew that her previous night’s dance performance with its camaraderie, vivid costumes, bright lights and applause would be the very last one of a long successful career that started in earnest when she was five.

She’d taken dance lessons as many little English girls do, but unlike the many, at 16 was accepted into the London Academy of Dance. After graduation she started touring, performing nightly on cruise ships and theater stages and in major nightclubs around the world. She did it all, singing, acting and especially dancing: ballet, Latin rhythms, swing, ballroom, jazz, spectacular stage shows, even a “tap rap” composition.

And then, the accident. There she was in the States, in Las Vegas. In rehab, out of work after 12 years in a sell-out show, with a new house and big mortgage, a son grown and ready to leave home, and suddenly her husband (also her full-time adagio dance partner) waltzed out the door and out of her life.

Most people would fall and not get up with a quadruple-threat round of bad luck like that.

It was a time for collapse or re-invention, and Laraine made a decision that propelled her life upward.

She decided to become a lawyer.

Working hard and poor for eight years and still feeling the physical pain of her dance injuries, she garnered not one but three college degrees and on completion was employed as an intellectual properties attorney at worldwide legal firm Greenberg Traurig.

Life was good (its tangible symbol her first silver Jaguar convertible).

But then, the world tipped once more. A long visit home to England to visit her father, who was ill, was shortened by his much-too-sudden death. On the 10-hour flight back to America, after the eulogy and the family farewells, Laraine had an epiphany.

She achieved what she had because of her father’s life and sacrifices, and felt she’d squandered the time she could have spent with him at the end. “I had no time to tell him how I loved him, how he was my hero.”

She owed her father the gift of remembrance. So, over the next eight years, while continuing to practice law, she wrote her recently-published book Our Grand Finale.

The book jacket summarizes it as “an exploration of both the author’s and her father’s unusual life experiences, and the reminder that ‘later’ doesn’t always come.”

It is a memoir, her life intertwined with that of her father, who rose from poverty to become a naval officer and a recipient of the Victoria Cross for service to his country. Not educated as a narrative writer, Laraine depended on her considerable professional skills and a passion for the project to complete and publish the book, which came off the press in October.

She found that writing the book, as rigorous as the work was, gave her hope that she could write more.

Now 60 and settled freshly into her Wenatchee home, Laraine hopes to keep honing her skills, perhaps attempting fiction novels. Our Grand Finale cleansed her conscience of the lost years she’d spent far away from home; now she’s ready to move on.

She said, “I have so many potential books I want to write – I fear I’ll run out of time!”

New town, new job, new outlook, new art — what more could a creative person hope for?

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