I daresay every teacher has one or two (or more) students that has carved a permanent place in his/her heart—the ones that you continue to think about, wondering where they are and how they’re doing. I have a few of my own, but the one that I’ve held most strongly in my thoughts is a girl that I’ll call Casey.
Back in the late 80s, I taught dance at a performing and visual arts magnet middle school in Raleigh, North Carolina. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t there just to teach dance. I was there to make a difference in the children’s lives; I just happened to be using dance to do it. I could tell you lots of stories about the children whose lives were transformed by participating in the arts—dance, drama, music, visual art—but that’s another story for another time. This is Casey’s story.
One day, in the middle of the school year, the guidance counselor came to me and said, “There’s a new girl who has moved here to live with her aunt because they discovered that the girl’s father has been sexually abusing her since she was five, and her mother is too ill to care for her. Evidently, she’s taken a lot of dance in the town she comes from, so I enrolled her in your Jazz III class.”
I’d had a lot of kids with challenges in my classes…kids with learning disabilities, kids with behavioral problems, even a hearing-impaired girl who was also undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. I always found a way to manage, to make things work, like making sure that the hearing-impaired child could always see me so she could read my lips and see me count out the beats with my hands. I hadn’t encountered child abuse yet, but I knew that Casey was a 12-year-old girl who loved to dance. If dance was a place where she could feel safe and normal, we’d just go from there and figure it out along the way.
Casey was a good dancer and a good student. In class, she didn’t seem any different than the other kids. Then one morning, I walked into my office to find Casey curled into a ball on the floor, sobbing, petrified Continue reading
I had a great idea for a new book, although come to think of it, maybe it is just a Facebook post. But it would be called Pre First Draft, and address the way we suit up and show up to be writers, artists, and general tribal-two-stomp creative types.
I think it would begin with an admonition: if you used to love writing, painting, dancing, singing, whatever, but you stopped doing it when you had kids or began a strenuous career, then you have to ask yourself if you are okay about not doing it anymore.
If you always dreamed of writing a novel or a memoir, and you used to love to write, and were pretty good at it, will it break your heart if it turns out you never got around to it? If you wake up one day at eighty, will you feel nonchalant that something always took precedence over a daily commitment to discovering your creative spirit?
If not—if this very thought fills you with regret—then what are you waiting for?
Back in the days when I had writing students, they used to spend half their time explaining to me why it was too hard to get around to writing every day, but how once this or that happens—they retired, or their last kid moved out—they could get to work.
I use to say very nicely, “That’s very nice; but it’s a total crock. Continue reading
The beauty is forever there before us, forever piping to us, and we are forever failing to dance. We could not help but dance if we could see things as they really are. Then we should kiss both hands to Fate and fling our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls into life with a glorious abandonment, an extravagant delighted loyalty, knowing that our wildest enthusiasm cannot more than brush the hem of the real beauty and joy and wonder that are always there.
~Margaret Prescott Montague
pathwriter’s note: I hesitate to attempt to put words to this photo. When I saw it on Facebook earlier today, my response was immediate, a sudden welling up of joy. I know this place. I have been moved to move, just like this little girl. There really are no words…and no words are necessary. This is the gift of dance: it expresses the things that cannot be communicated with mere words.
(There was no credit with the photo, but it is late and I am tired—from teaching three back-to-back ballet classes, oddly enough—so I’ll have to see if I can find out who the photographer is tomorrow. The painting is a portrait of Anna Pavlova by John Lavery.)
I beg your indulgence as I pay tribute to my favorite dancer ever, Gene Kelly. His combination of grace, athleticism, humor and downright joy gave me (still gives me) many hours of pleasure and inspiration. Years ago, when I was filling out a questionnaire at a seminar, one of the questions was “If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be?” I was still dancing at the time, and Gene Kelly was the first name that popped into my head. Of course, in my fantasy, lunch would have been followed by dancing with the “Marlon Brando of Screen Dance”.
Gene Kelly would have been 100 years old today, and, thanks to the magic of film, his dancing will continue to inspire generations to come. I never tire of watching the title number from Singin’ in the Rain. When it’s over…well, the lyrics say it all: “What a glorious feeling—I’m happy again!”
So…who inspires you? Do you need a little dose of that energy today? If it’s a musician/singer, listen to his/her/their music. If it’s an author, make a cup of coffee and spend some time with his/her words. Take it in, soak it up, let it fill you. Then go out and inspire someone else with your own brand of awesomeness. :)
Title page from the book of the same name by Alice Walker.
I know I’m a little biased, having danced for a living for a big chunk of my adult life, but I’ve always thought that the world would be a happier, more peaceful place if everybody danced. It doesn’t matter what kind of dance—swing dance, square dance, hip hop, ballet, tap, jazz—or how “good” you are, there’s a place you go when the music takes over your body. I’ve touched that place, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before or since….joy, pure and simple.
When the inner dancer and the outer dancer become one, dancing can be transcendent… Continue reading