Reasons to Dance

But I'm Not Dead Yet

Category: beauty

Once a Rockette

I sold my soul. Once. For cherrywood cabinets. Well, there may have been a few other times, but that’s another story. When I was four years old I stepped into a ballet class at Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio. It was the first time I’d stepped anywhere without leg braces. And the first time I felt beautiful. A moment to be defined by grace, instead of a walking mistake. Beauty. It’s hard to resist.

life through cracks

Even at four years old it’s transforming to glimpse who you might be. When I took off the black and white, metal reinforced saddle shoes and put on beautiful, soft, pink ballet slippers, I exchanged “special” for a remarkable life of rapture, pain, unrest, confidence, self-doubt, strength and music. A life waiting silently, but not patiently, in the loud souls of hard, unforgiving saddles.

If my mother hadn’t taken me inside that little pink studio with the gold “spotting” stars, I wonder if I would have had a lifetime of waiting on the outside of beauty? But, she took a chance, a risk, and did take me inside, and so the legs that were broken to begin with, straightened out and grew up and gave me a chance.

I was able to dance long enough to wear out my crooked legs. I danced in movies, on TV, and on some spectacular stages. For a moment, I was a Rockette. When that moment ended, I got married, had two daughters and moved to the desert. Which seemed like a good idea at the time. I want that sentence engraved on my headstone “Well, it seemed like a good idea…at the time.”
We moved to Chandler, Arizona to raise our beautiful girls in a nice neighborhood we could almost afford. We couldn’t afford an insecure house in any neighborhood in Los Angeles where we were currently living and working and acting and dancing very little. One day, house shopping in neighborhoods that were identical on the outside, we came upon a home that had the-most-beautiful-cherrywood-cabinets on the inside. I could not resist their beauty. So, we bought it.

Apparently, cherrywood cabinets also make me feel beautiful. I’ve been keeping my soul in those cabinets. Right next to the giant coffee mugs. And the memory of the soul freeing first day at Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio. 

I just never planned to be a wife, or a mother, or live in a suburb. I was under the misguided impression that I was special. I mean, dancers are at least, pretty. I thought I would always have somewhere exciting to go. Chandler, Arizona was not the first place that came to mind, but here I am. A wife. A mother. Living in a sea of stucco.

We have lived in this suburb for 15 years now. The once beautiful cabinets are starting to show their wear and tear. They creak. They don’t shut all the way. They used to be shiny with a deep rich hue. Just like us. They need to be refinished. Just like us. When the objects we traded in our souls for start to lose their value, what happens to us? Do we have the same chance for refinishing? I was refinished once when I was four years old. Ballet gave me a chance to change my story. Does refinishing truly mean- finishing again? To make beautiful – again? At the end of the story, can we still change our ending? Can ballet still save the day?

I made an important decision that lifetime ago to leave the comfort of Charlotte Crowley’s Dancette Studio and become a dancer in New York City, and another to marry my husband, and to become a mother. I can’t say that I made any of these decisions with intelligent forethought. But, if I hadn’t first made the decision to follow the intense tugging in my soul to dance – I know absolutely that I would suck at the life I now lead. And I do still dance, although stiffly and sometimes while sitting.

If my mother hadn’t taken me out of my corrective shoes and allowed me the freedom to dance, I truly feel I would never have known…anything. I know very little, but I know I lived a dream.  I know I searched beyond the dream to find someone who loves me no matter who I am or who I will become, and who loves saying he’s married to someone who was once a Rockette.

And all of it sounded like a good idea at the time.

She Said Yes





Photo: She said yes! Flash mob for Elmer Garcia to propose to  his beautiful Christine. With Zachary Robertin, Hannah Burns, Ellen Wolff's elbow,   Kimi Cunningham, Jeff Clevenger, Lauren Kotrozo, Keith Burns, Breanna Tomko, Phillip Giandiletti, Julianne, and a few more! Thank you dancers!Love seems to be the best reason to dance. And it didn’t even cross my mind until I met Elmer. Elmer. who wanted a flash mob to propose to his longtime girlfriend, Christine, because she loves dancing. She doesn’t dance, but she loves to see people dancing. It makes her happy and touches her heart and because Christine makes Elmer happy and touches his heart, he wanted to give her some dancing.
Along with his proposal.

So through many, many steps Elmer found me and I was able to help him say to Christine, “You’ve been my everything and you’ve been my world for a long time.Will you marry me?”  Even though what he’d planned to say was, “You’ve been my everything and you’ve been my world for a long time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Together we have had so many amazing moments and accomplished so much. I cannot think of anyone better to spend the rest of my life with.  Today, here and now, I would like to make sure we last forever.  Christine Marie Clauss, will you marry me?” 

But, he couldn’t get that out. The supportive cheering from the crowd over-took the words.

As a choreographer, I usually have to delay the start of rehearsals waiting for performers to arrive from the five other places they needed to be or pry the dancers off the floor to painfully begin the process of  “working” on a dance. But, with this project the dancers arrived early and began to rehearse before I even got there. Dancing full out every time and asking to run it over and over. It was precious and so much giddy fun.

When our art is not just for ourselves, but to express a higher purpose, the joy is increased exponentially.

So, I think it’s saying yes to love.And trusting that you are equally loved by that person enough to get down on one knee. To humble yourself before the love of your life, plus your family who flew in, and a pack of dancing strangers…it makes me cry every time I think about it.

Photo

On August 5th, at 7:00 pm, the families and friends were hidden on the Hooter’s balcony across the street. Elmer and Christine were casually walking down Mill Avenue in Tempe on their way to dinner. The dancers nervously awaited inconspicuously near the corner of Mill and 5th Avenue’s. I was nearly catatonic with fear that the music wouldn’t be loud enough, that the dancers would forget the steps they’d so carefully rehearsed, that I wouldn’t get Elmer’s message when he bent down to tie his shoe and surreptitiously text me “Go.”And that Christine wouldn’t be thrilled.

I got the text, the dancers mostly remembered, when Elmer jumped in to dance with us on the lyrics “It’s like I waited my whole life for this one night – it’s gonna be me and you forever – forever on the dance floor” Christine cautioned him not to jump in to the dance because he didn’t know it, and when Elmer dropped to his knee, she put her hands to her face, thrilled.

The stunned Christine said yes, and all of our worlds got that much better because we got to be a part of the beginning of theirs. 

I asked Keith, my husband of almost 20 years, to dance in the flash mob. I needed one more guy. He obliged out of a sense of duty to me. And then he cried when he danced, he cried when he watched the video and yesterday he brought me flowers. He very rarely does any of these things, but Elmer and Christine reminded him that love is beautiful. A carefully answered “yes” can reach beyond the moment.

Photo
Forever.
Keith had this to say:  “Watch this for the rare magic that music, dance, and surprise can create – and watch it for the beauty of the human spirit. Goodness is here.”

http://vimeo.com/72612241

He Came to Dance

He’s 19-years-old. He’s danced for four years. He’s funny. He loves to dance like Beyonce. In his largely non-verbal world he says the word “dance” more than any other.
Nathaniel* had a solo in the Hamilton High Dance Concert this year. This is the concert just for graduating seniors. A short evening of frantic, thrown together dances by technically amazing dancers that don’t get enough rehearsal time because too much is piled on and expected of graduating seniors in the last days of public school. Every senior gets a solo if they choreograph one and want it enough.
Nathaniel wanted it enough.
Mr. “D” the high-school-dance-teacher-sent-from-heaven choreographed Nathaniel’s solo.
Several senior company dancers guided him onto the dark stage with flashlights. This took about 5 minutes. During which time the occasional audience member yelled “Go Nathaniel!”

I wasn’t really paying much attention at this point. Not knowing what I was witnessing I was thinking about the work I was ignoring by coming to the concert, checking my phone, wondering about the choice to begin a dance with a 5-minute flashlight entrance in the dark. 

When the lights got to full, he was up stage center with his back to us, perfectly still. Two counts of eight went by in complete stillness. His hips started moving to the beat before he did a careful and precise pivot turn. He’s very tall and wiry – with a mustache. Wearing a black t-shirt under a red, open, button-down shirt, black pants and jazz shoes he danced to the song, “Beautiful, Beautiful.” 

He was beyond focused. He was in the moment. This moment. Not in five other moments. Not thinking about the work he was missing, finals, SAT’s, college choices, volunteer hours, AP exams, the prom, what comes next or how he looked. He perfectly executed several chaine’s, piqué’s, chasse’s, saute’s in arabesque and a perfect single pirouette, frequently clapping along to the beat. There may have even been a side leap. Nathaniel had enough time to rehearse his dance. Nathaniel is special, so nothing too much was expected of him in his final days of public school. He listened to the music and danced one step at a time.

What could happen in our lives if we could give complete focus to one thing at a time? If we could believe that we were enough to just be one person? Do able-bodied adults have the ability to squelch self-imposed to-do lists and impossible standards? If we focus hard enough can we let go of who we think we need to be?

I want to take the time to clap along with the beat, hear the beautiful music and dance one step at a time, but my brain rarely lets me relax long enough to do that.

Along with most of the audience, I held my breath and watched him through tears. The audience went crazy when he finished. High school audiences are loud in general, but this was deafening. 

Two more dancers helped to guide him back offstage.

On school days my daughter, Hannah, walks Nathaniel to dance class and helps him dance across the floor. We’re lucky to have arts education in public high schools here. Hannah is part of the dance program and a “peer facilitator” for one of the special needs classes. Nathaniel is in that class. Both of these programs are a gift to her and to the thousands of students who come through this school. Literally, thousands. I don’t know how the teachers and the administrators do it. I know I am grateful that they do. I know I am grateful for a school that could focus long enough to stand up and cheer for Nathaniel.
Nathaniel tentatively hugged a couple of the dancers he knew as he stood by his mother in the lobby after the concert. I hope he was happy. I was. Maybe it matters just as much how many people were thrilled that Nathaniel came to dance, as how happy this dance made Nathaniel. Maybe it matters the most that “Mr. D” had the time and ability to give another human being this chance.

This was Nathaniel’s first dance alone.

How many more dances will he get now that he’s graduating from high school?  How many more beautiful dances will it take for me to remember that all I have to do is show up and do one thing at a time? Probably more than one for me and hopefully more than one for Nathaniel. Although maybe this one will be enough for both of us.

Hamilton High can be found at: http://www.mychandlerschools.org/HHS
Beautiful, Beautiful
Lyrics by Francesca Battistelli
Don’t know how it is You looked at me
And saw the person that I could be
Awakening my heart
Breaking through the dark
Suddenly Your grace
Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so
Beautiful, beautiful
Now there’s a joy inside I can’t contain
But even perfect days can end in rain
And though it’s pouring down
I see You through the clouds
Shining on my face
Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so
Beautiful, beautiful
I have come undone
But I have just begun
Changing by Your grace
Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so beautiful
Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so
Beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful, beautiful
 * not his real name

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