- Willa Will Dance – Debbie: #72 (29 June 1974) – #85 (28 September 1974)
When the Taylors decide to adopt a child, their daughter Sue convinces them to choose Willa Wilkins. This is not because she likes Willa, it is because she sees Willa as clumsy and untalented and therefore no match for her parents admiration. Sue is the ballet star of the family and is not pleased that Willa wants to become a dancer too. Sue makes nasty comments to Willa when they are by themselves, but her aim isn’t to get rid of Willa, as she believes she can always be the best daughter, when Willa’s her only competition.
Sue pretends to be nice to Willa around other people, while still putting her down, such as asking others not to laugh at Willa because “My sister can’t help being big and ungainly”. While Willa has clumsy tendencies, these words reinforces Willa’s insecurities, making her self conscious and more clumsy. When people aren’t watching Willa dance, she relaxes more and lets the music take over. The ballet teacher sees her and thinks there is hope for she has good rhythm, she just is a late starter and with extra lessons she could become a dancer. Sue isn’t happy to hear this. When Willa wins an essay competition writing about her dream to become a ballerina, she is delighted that it is enough money to cover the extra lessons. She is surprised when Sue seems encouraging, getting her to read the essay in class. The girls have an image of Willa being clumsy, so they snicker at the idea of her being a dancer, which is exactly what Sue suspected would happen. Still it doesn’t stop Willa going for extra lessons. The ballet teacher mentions Mrs Taylor was a ballerina, and Sue uses this as another opportunity to discourage Willa with cruel comments. It does lead Willa to doubt herself, as Sue is slim and pretty like her mother, she wonders where she comes from and if there is any hope for her.
Willa tracks down an old woman, Mrs Larkston who knew her mother. She is disappointed when Mrs Larkston shows her a photo of her plump mother. Sue is pleased though and brings the photo home as a reminder for Willa, that she will never be slim and pretty. Looking at the photo, Willa thinks her mother has a kind smile and would understand who she feels. She accidentally drops the photo breaking the frame. She finds old faded diary pages and a newspaper clipping of a dancer named Lady Tara. She learns from the diary that her mother admired the mysterious Lady Tara and it encourages her to follow her dreams. Sue is there to bring her down whenever she can such as making sure a zipper in costume breaks, baking her a large chocolate cake when Willa’s dieting and pretending Willa needs to be rescued by her when swimming.
Willa is getting tired of being the fat ugly sister. She feels that there is a connection between her and Lady Tara and goes to a reporter to try and track her down. She finds Lady Tara but her dreams of her being a relative are dashed as Lady Tara informs her that her mother was her maid. Lady Tara now owns a dance school and gives Willa a chance to dance for her as she feels she owes it to her mother. Seeing Willa leap around to music Sue doesn’t think she has anything to worry about, but still starts dancing beside her to show Lady Tara that she is so much better than Willa. But Lady Tara doesn’t see it that way, she sees Willa dancing for the joy of it and Sue as mechanical and posed. She offers Willa a place at her school. Willa is delighted and while she will be away during term time, she will be home for holidays. Sue tells Willa she is not happy to see people fussing over her and while she is away at school, she is going to talk her parents out of finalizing the adoption.
Willa is happy at the school as Lady Tara has some unusual ideas of dancing. She doesn’t believe in diets or rules and exercise – just free movement. Meanwhile Sue is not happy when parents consider taking in an intelligent foster girl, while Willa’s at school. She tries to convince Willa to come back and tells her dancing needs discipline, she won’t become a dancer at a school like that. During a show, Sue brings friends along and they laugh at the display, and even Willa has to admit they look ridiculous. After this Sue convinces her to come home.
Willa is happy to be back with family again, even believing Sue wants to be a sister to her. But Sue makes her vow if she wants to be part of the family, she must remain the ugly untalented sister and to never dance again. To keep her family Willa makes the promise, and all is well for a while, as Sue comes out on top of all things she does. She is picked as May Queen at the school and is not happy when Willa gets picked as her attendant and is given dance. She tells Willa that she will have to drop out but Willa refuses she stands up to Sue finally. She thinks Sue’s threats are meaningless as she won’t ask her parents to stop adoption as that would only show the cruel selfish girl she is. Sue upset runs onto street and is hit by traffic, leaving her potentially paralysed. The doctor’s say that she will recover but she has lost all her confidence. Willa decides to be cruel and make Sue mad enough to walk. She takes Sue’s ballet shoes telling her she won’t need them now and dances in front of her, Sue corrects her. She thanks Willa for getting her to walk without her crutches and is ashamed of the things she’s said before.
It’s not an easy recovery for Sue she still has no confidence in her dancing and she begs Willa to come with her. Willa helps going back to class with her practicing with her every day, she even loses some weight. Then when the class have a ballet production,neither girl is up to that standard of the lead but they could get a smaller part. The teacher is tempted to give Willa part of Good Fairy over Sue, but Willa convinces her to give it to Sue as she knows otherwise Sue will never fully recover her confidence and quit dancing for good. This is just what she needs to get over er nerves, and Willa decides she doesn’t want to compete against Sue. A suggestion from her father encourages her to try a different style of dancing – ballroom dancing. She finds she is happy whatever dancing she is doing and after some work wining a junior competition. She does worries that the old jealousy will flare up with Sue, but Sue has changed for the better and Willa has found happiness.
A jealous family member not happy with an addition to the household, a story that is told many times. Like Mistyfan’s recent post on “I’ll Get Rid of Rona!” there are different ways of telling the story to keep it fresher. In this case it’s interesting that Sue doesn’t want to get rid of Willa, as she believes she can control the situation. She is nasty and cruel to Willa but only when she believes she is being outshone, she doesn’t have a problem with Willa as long as she stays plain, clumsy and doesn’t “steal” peoples attention. She is also upfront about this from the start. While there are times she makes sure things go bad for Willa, such as forcing the zipper on her costume, mostly it is a psychological attack on Willa. She keeps putting her down, says cruel and nasty things to her and sometimes tries to make out she says these things so Willa won’t get her hopes crushed like she’s doing her a favour. This knocking of Willa’s confidence makes her more clumsy and self conscious and therefore easier (with a bit of manipulation) for others to see Willa as a joke too.
When Willa finds the old newspaper clipping of a dancer with her mother’s photo, she has hopes that the Lady Tara of the newspaper is a relative to her, she thinks she most have dancing in her blood somewhere. But Lady Tara is not a relative and her mother was not some slim beauty. This also makes a nice change from other stories, there is no genetic reason for Willa’s talent (that we know of). Also while she has raw talent, without practice and discipline it won’t make her a top dancer. While at the end she improves at ballet and maybe one day could have been at Sue’s level given the chance, she is still not ready to take the lead in the ballet production. Surprising as well is she gives up on her ballet dream so not to compete with Sue. While she does find she just wants to dance no matter what and shows talent at ballroom dancing, it is quite the change from all the work she put into ballet. I don’t know if Sue was so deserving of Willa’s kindness, though at least by the end she has put aside her jealousy and hadn’t forced Willa to give up ballet, it was Willa’s choice.
Sue’s recovery takes some time, even when she is out of hospital she lashes out at Willa, although instantly regrets it. When she starts dancing again, finally working together with Willa they begin to build a real sisterly relationship. Willa loves dancing but she shows time and again that having a family is more important to her. She chooses the chance of family over dancing and even when she has the chance to dance on stage she chooses her sister Sue’s happiness over her own. We don’t learn much about Willa’s mother, but what we do learn is that she was very loyal and in a nice scene where we Willa looks at her mother’s photo she thinks that she would have been a good listener. While it doesn’t seem Willa gained her dancing talent from her mother, it does seem she gained those other good qualities from her.