Meet My Nonna

Jul 15, 2021

Dancer, I’d like to introduce you to my Italian grandma, Nonna.

She may have left this world on my birthday one year ago, but her memory is fiercely alive; her impact on this earth still reverberating. It would have been impossible for me to write this book without her influence on my life, so I thought it was time you “met” her.

Nonna came from immigrant parents, was raised in Detroit and became the matriarch of our big Italian family.

She had the ability to make everyone feel as if they were “her favorite.” She loved people despite their weaknesses, faults (however glaring), and mistakes. She opened her mouth with wisdom, wit and perspective. She turned up her nose at pre-shredded cheese, garlic powder (why? When you have access to fresh?), and disloyalty of any kind. She taught me how to dress a salad, make homemade pasta, let garlic and olive oil “just sit” together for a while, and how to listen to what you know is important rather than the noise that may otherwise distract.

In what would turn out to be my last phone conversation with her she said, “Gina, you sure are hard on yourself.” And then, with the finality of two plus two is four, “I wouldn’t change a hair on your head.” Nonna always knew what to say. In one sentence, she addressed one of my life-long struggles (perfectionism). I consider this sentence a gift I will always think back on.

Failing kidneys. Hospital stay. Family gathered. Time is dwindling.

“Gina, my Gina.” She said to me on one of her last lucid moments, her eyes beaming with love.

On my way out of her hospital room for the last time, I climbed up into bed with her. I laid my head on her chest, listening to her heartbeat and feeling the warmth of her skin. I told her that we would make cannoli shells and pasta together in heaven. I told her how hard it was to say goodbye, but that it was okay for her to go Home.

It felt inconceivable that she would no longer host every Christmas dinner, 4th of July cookout and cheer my career on from the sidelines.

My heart was broken. My heart was full. My heart will never forget her face, her crooked-with-time fingers, her ability to prepare a meal, offer a sage word of advice, uplift and provide clarifying perspective.

Perhaps you have a Nonna or Nanna or Gram or Mima of your own and can relate to this special source of wisdom. If you do, I’d love to hear about her! Send me your stories at [email protected].

Regardless of if you have a Nonna or not, I’d like to share mine with you.

Lesson number one: “I wouldn’t change a hair on your head.”

Dancer, you are perfect where you are, at whatever stage your are at in your journey. Sometimes is takes a wise person with an outside-the-danceworld perspective to remind us of this fact. I bathe my mental health in this sentence. It helps bring me back to a space of love rather than fear.

I hope you have enjoyed “meeting” my Nonna. You will be hearing more of her wisdom in the coming months on this blog and in my book.


Gina (& Nonna)

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