But I'm Not Dead Yet

Category: dancing

Dance Teachers/World Peace and The Ballerina Exception


Well, that’s the best reason to dance, ever.

It seems impossible to start a war while in the middle of a jitterbug. Or a complicated time step. Any “danc-i-pline” really, except ballet. It does seem that a war could break out among any ballerina in any class or any production from The Nutcracker to La Esmeralda. Ballerinas are the toughest people on earth. Not only are they exhausted, but they’re in pain and pissed off because they have shin splints, toenails hanging by a corner, and they have never had enough to eat. Not their fault. But, ballerina’s may not be the best ambassadors for world peace. However, they might be the perfect people to enforce it.
Revolutionary, Civil, I, II, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, post offices, schools, across the street, in the living room, on the freeway, in our heads – Armageddon could be avoided if we all just learned to dance well. Moliere implies that if we are skilled at dancing, there is less desire to annihilate another person. Learning to dance requires letting go of who you think you are, to become who you want to be. Anyone who has ever achieved a perfect double pirouette knows that one single achievement alone can change your outlook from forever doubtful to forever confident.

Yes, dancing can change the world. Dancing communicates ideas through movement.  Peace treaties negotiated only through interpretative dance may be the wave of the future. Or just a heartfelt laugh. Either way, a good thing.

But, someone needs to teach mankind to dance. We can’t dance well without teachers.
Dance teachers!!! It’s time to rise up and show the world how to find their center!  You have the chance to save the world every day you step into a studio. Every time you take the hand of a 3-year-old hopeful dancer you have the chance to stop tragic misfortunes. 
As dance teachers it is our obligation to raise world leaders who can confidently leap and turn and dance with a partner. I, personally, vow to look at every one of my students from here on out as having the potential to stop a war. 
I think I’ll call Obama to see if he is interested in a jazz class. He looks like he could use some well placed jazz hands in his approach. And if he refuses a dance lesson, I’m calling in a ballet company to change his mind.
Shown here is curriculum creator and Principal of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School,
Franco De Vita and a happy student.

Just to be clear, I love and revere ballerinas. I teach ballet. I am not serious about ballerina’s being the only exception in the chance for dance to save the world. One good tutu might even be enough to calm down a raging dictator. The dictator would just need to become “tutu worthy” first. And that alone, would mean that 800 hours had already been spent at the barre to earn such “worthy” status and therefore enough skill at dancing had been achieved. And time spent learning to dance has to be a better use of time, than time spent practicing tyranny.

Are you a teacher? Please let me know if you have had any success in stopping wars – small or large – or any change you saw for the better as the result of teaching any part of the world to dance. And please be encouraged! You are the hope of mankind!
Hang on to the hope.

(And again, I’m only kidding about ballerinas. They are the rock stars of anything beautifully athletic.)

Amazing teachers!:

Love what they’re doing here:

Always good:

Good stuff:

I just think this next link is cool, it appears to have already passed by, but maybe they’ll do it again. A day for peace and dancing. Which, coincidentally, is what all of us dance teachers do every day.


The Universal Language of Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson

Puppet hands and other fun stuff in Kenscoff.

On our last day in Kenscoff, a small town in the mountains of Haiti, it rained. Not until the afternoon though. 

In the morning, the toddlers came to the community center with the staff and volunteers from the World Wide Orphans Foundation. The director asked me to stretch and dance with the kids a little at the beginning. We spread mats along a covered stairway with landings, because the stone was wet from last nights torrential rain. All the little guys were plopped on top of mats. With Freddy by my side to interpret, we reached toward toes, and up to the sky and jumped and twisted. When I stretched too far, Freddy stopped me. Most of these kids don’t get out of their beds usually. They have no gross motor skills. This was the first time any of them had done anything like this. Moved. To music. It was just about the first time this week I didn’t feel like a useless waste of space.

My husband and I were delighted to be invited to work with the World Wide Orphans Foundation in Haiti. Well, my husband was delighted. I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer. I was mostly right.

Little guys plopped on mats!

We went to share with the staff and volunteers of the WWO in Kenscoff, Lespinasse and Port au Prince some theatre games, storytelling and puppetry, in the hope of providing additional resources for the work already being done to offer joy in this earthquake leveled country. Amy Poehler, who I’ve now decided I worship and adore, supports this organization and the programming we went to help. Melissa, the director, is going to go down in history next to some of the great philanthropists as a gentle guiding light through all disasters during her lifetime. I am humbled by her.

This beautiful island needs so much help and a do-over would be nice. Staggering amounts of financial resources and back-breaking reconstruction would only scratch the surface. And my husband and I came to Haiti to play. Play! Not re-build, not solve any sanitation problems, feed anyone or save a soul. Play. Connect. 

Well, now I know for certain what I only knew in theory. “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” (Victor Borge)  And playing is worthy. A Melissa lesson.

I was expecting to see pain and suffering. I wasn’t expecting strong, resilient spirits and warm, beautiful smiles. I wasn’t expecting to dance with anybody.

That last afternoon in Kenscoff we walked to an intact cement slab in the center of a locked school yard. Rain was threatening. The morning session seemed to go well with the toddlers, so my husband wanted me to do the same thing this afternoon, put on music and have the kids stretch and dance. These are older kids, though, from the tent camps and orphanages and some have never moved any muscle at all. Again, no gross motor skills. I’m used to teaching dancers who’ve spent their lives carefully honing their muscles.

There seemed to be droves of kids and volunteers that day. My husband just said “Go.” Which he says to me all the darn time. “You’ll be fine. What song do you want?”

Me: “I could seriously injure someone! I don’t see you jumping out to do this.”

HIM: “Just start.” (HIM is capitalized because I’m annoyed with HIM all over again.)

Me: “I don’t know what to do.”

HIM:”Yes, you do.”

Now they’re all standing there in rows staring at me.

Me: “Play Fergie’s A Little Party Never Killed Nobody. There’s a some language, but I don’t think they’ll know that. I guess that’s better than Blurred Lines.”

HIM: “Definitely.” HIM pressed play.

I didn’t hurt anyone. Maybe confused a few, but not permanently. They were fantastic. Followed along, stretched legs, smiled. Laughed. Relief. The volunteers were an absolute kick in the pants. Soooo good. I think they had fun. There were boys too – which always worries me that dancing seems girly. But, the boys were cool. HIM was thrilled. “You should have seen the expression on the older girls faces! They loved it. They could’ve gone on longer. Why did you stop?”

“Well, it’s starting to rain, and they don’t seem to like the rain. Which is kind of amusing, since it rains here all the time. But, mostly I don’t want to hurt them.”

We split up by ages to play “Kitty wants a corner” the most popular game of our week there when it started to pour in literal sheets of rain. Within seconds all of us were underneath an awning along the walkway outside of the classroom doors. 40 people ranging in age from 4-ish to me, 55-ish.

My husband put the large speaker thing on his shoulder, and said “Play something. Quick.”

I was searching for something currently on the pop charts when I accidentally played “Jam” by Michael Jackson. I didn’t even know I had that on there.

“Michael Jackson!” shouted it’s way through the crowd. And Bam! We had a party. A little party never killed nobody.

A volunteer bustin a move.

Dancing! Good dancing. Really good dancing from a few of the volunteers. The kids were a little hesitant at first. But, turns were taken to dance in the very crowded center. Lots of smiling and clapping. A boy came to stand next to me. He looked to be about 11, but Haitian kids are older than they look, so he may have been in his teens. He was killin’ it when nobody was watching. I mean, a studied, worked on, skilled set of movements. Whenever I called him to come in the center though, he stopped dancing and tried to disappear. After about an hour we played the music a little softer and spread out.

Which was when the boy who was really killin’ it earlier came up to me and quietly and very haltingly said in what were extremely hard syllables to pronounce, “Justin Bieber.”

Thank God I have teenage children, I have about ten Beiber songs on my iPod. So, a 55 year old woman from a world away, a tender boy, and three teenage girls who joined us, danced and sang together while hiding from the rain. A moment seared into my soul.

Even a child that doesn’t speak english, living on an island three worlds away, with no electrical power, sleeping on the ground, learning to live in a world he was handed without a formal education and often without much food, knows every lyric by Justin Bieber and can pretty much dance to any song by Michael Jackson.

I just really like this guy. 

Music. Dancing. Universal languages. Which is almost enough said. Almost.

Whatever their personal demons, Justin and Michael have created music that has united worlds and generations. Two separate lives that gave, at least me, an unforgettable moment. Just a moment to stop and dance out of the rain.

Anybody else been alive somewhere you didn’t think you belonged and music and/or dancing changed your last moment? Or changed your story from a waste of space to something unexpectedly good?

Smiling’s my favorite.
Bye for now.

Because Kick-Boxing is Just Wrong

How I think I look. So, I don’t look.

I just took my first kick-boxing class in a very, very, long time. 

If the purpose was to incur an instant massive headache and kick one’s own butt – I was very successful. However, the whole time I was thinking “Give me a kick-butt jazz class any day.” Sadly, I usually find a way to think about being somewhere I’m not. It’s a coping mechanism. It doesn’t usually work.

I was so mad:

* that I even found myself in a position of needing to find a place to work out.

* That I don’t get enough time in a dance class, either taking or teaching, to maintain the skills and the muscles that have been a lifetime in the making.

* That I live in a place where a jazz class of any level isn’t offered during the week days. That, when I do find a dance class hours away from me, that I’m always the oldest in the class, and I barely get off the ground in a grande jete anymore.

* That, lately, I’m always the oldest anywhere, and ancient by comparison to the person I expect to see in my mirror.

* That there are even mirrors in a kick-boxing class reminding me that I’m the oldest, wimpiest one there.

* That I’m a strong woman who 15 minutes into a fitness level class wants to pass out, without having had the joy of a soaring grande jete, without accomplishing an athletic feat that pushes against gravity. The gravity of aging, of geography, of my world pulling me down to ground level. The level of a  kick-boxing class at 8:30 on a Thursday morning.

* I have allowed gravity to level me.

All of this anger came surging out of my pores in the form of a flop sweat and nausea. The room was already swaying just after the warm-up, when I landed my first right jab on the thing you beat up in a boxing class…I don’t know what that thing is, but it’s rubber and it moves when you hit it with all the anger of gravity pulling you down. And it keeps bouncing back. So, that anger that found a place to land, comes right back again to ask for more. And, the perfect specimen of a kick-boxing teacher, yells at you to punch it again –  in a right jab, left cross, right upper cut pattern.

And then you get to kick it.

Not like a ballet dancer with control and a light lift at the end, but a sharp, vengeful thrust of your heel. Again, and again, and again.

And all that fury fueled by a life now lived on the outside of civilization, finds something to beat up. Again, and again, and again.

I could not flatten my fury with that rubber thing you beat up. I didn’t have enough energy. I wasn’t strong enough. And that rubber thing you beat up, even though it kept moving away from me through my wimpy,  yet perceived powerful swats, I kept following it. I didn’t let it go.

I could only punch and kick to rhythm of the music. I could only start on the first beat, after I counted in “5, 6,  7, 8.” I stopped to tie my shoes, to wish for my heart to remain in my chest, to drink not enough water, to pray I could finish the class with the slightest thread of dignity. Yeah, the dignity thing was a wash.

Kick-boxing may be the anti-thesis of ballet. It may be a symbol of giving up. Right now, it may be the best workout available to me to gain strength and freedom. I hated it. It was great. I’m going back.

Maybe, if I can stop comparing this class to my cherished moments in a dance studio, I can get the indignant rage to stay in that rubber thing you beat up. Then maybe there’s a chance I can let go of the need to make where I live, something it is not. And, I’ll eat something first. That might help everything..

Kick-boxing is only wrong because it isn’t what I’ve found to be right so far. 

Reason to Dance # 872.5: Strength and grace under pressure. Even when the you’re the oldest ballerina in boxing gloves.

*Just to be accurate, I can drive an hour to find a dance class, late on a Monday night.  I do make it to that class on rare occasions, due to my schedule. I’m so grateful that it exists, I could cry. http://www.abbybelladance.com

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.


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.

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.”


The Nature of Defiance



I wonder how many dancers have become dancers just out of defiance? There are easily millions of dancers who have stopped dancing and millions that will dance into their grave at the end of a lifetime. I wonder if determination born of defiance could also be counted in the millions? At least as it refers to dancing.
I had to write a poem about an event that occurred in a room in the house where I grew up for a creative writing class. The professor pointed out that the dancing I loved came almost more out of defiance than anything else. I think I really just like being music, but his thoughtful comment caused me to consider that perhaps I’m stronger than I ever considered. Which is GOOD and I’m just gonna go with that.
The Straight and Narrow
Oblivious to the clicking of steel on linoleum I twirl thru the tiny brown kitchen
Hypnotized by Judy Garland asking,
“If birds fly over the rainbow, why, oh why, can’t I?”
My brother points and laughs from his steady perch atop a stool
At the miniscule kitchen table.
The braces strapped on my legs to straighten out a crooked, broken nature,
did more than restore the trauma of a birth canal.
The cold, perfectly straight, unforgiving iron bars
that could cement bone to bone
and free sinew so muscles could move,
also cemented iron to a will
and released the music inside, despite small spaces and small minds
and rough beginnings.
The need to silently twirl and leap happily over linoleum freely oblivious
to a brothers laughter and metal designed to constrain
would ultimately bring more defiance and elegance
than if I had been born in the perfect image of the dancer that stood within the bars.
But, even after a forever of straight-legged pirouettes and fearless leaps,
being broken to begin with is still the person that returns my glare in an endless sea of mirrors.
Still, after a lifetime of silent dancing, the bars are something to be stepped past.
Another reason to dance: defying imperfection.

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