But I'm Not Dead Yet

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Standing in First. Thoughts From My Daughter

She’s not done yet. This was taken in June. A studio with a view!

I found this yesterday because my husband is making me organize my office. And closet. And hard drive (and by “making me” I mean he gently handed me a drawer and walked away).

 It’s mostly a horrible idea on his part. I was hating everything about me, and him, and my terrible life choices when I came across a paper written by my 13-year-old daughter for an English class. She’s 19 now. She’s not really dancing anymore. She’s currently in Thailand working with elephants and hoping to make the world “one step closer to a better place.”  It’s possible she learned to love the world in a ballet studio.

Dance from a 13-year-old’s perception:

Standing in first position, my feet press into a relevé as I rise onto my toes. My calves tighten; I push down my shoulders and round my arms while elongating my neck, tightening my abdominals, and tucking under my tailbone. The song, “First Arabesque”, by Claude Debussy, fills the ballet studio with perfect rhythm and my body gracefully flows with exact synchronization to the music. The world gradually disappears as I drift into a mindset with no stress, no worries; purely focusing on the moment. In this moment, I feel beautiful and free. I am in complete control, and for a little while, I get the feeling that this is who I am supposed to be.

Whether I am practicing in the ballet studio or performing on stage, dancing is where I feel controlled, powerful, and peaceful. It allows me to express any emotion through grace and precise movement, while dis-enabling my thoughts to drift to any other place. I love the feeling of my muscles tightening, pointing my feet, pushing my legs to the peak of their flexibility. I don’t prefer to be doing anything else while I am dancing, and I can’t imagine a contented life without it. I attended my first ballet class at a young age of two years old, loving the classical music, tutus, ballet slippers, and acting like a princess. At the end of class, each ballerina earned a sticker if we tried our hardest and could perform one move we learned during the lesson. Early on I would dance to earn the sticker, now I dance for myself.
In a world of chaos, we find the simplest of things to be peaceful. I am a firm believer of finding peace, and I dance for that sole purpose. If I can make something beautiful and peaceful, then the world is one step closer to a better place.

There’s not a single word to describe the feeling that rushes through my body when I am performing on stage. My heart races to a speed that takes my breath away, and my mind is completely aware of everything taking place in my muscles. I experience the exhilarated rush of being on a rollercoaster, the grace of a swan, and the power of a rocket. Every part of my body is working at the same time, while exploiting my mind. No sport requires an athlete to utilize every muscle at once, while portraying that sport into a work of art.
Dancing demands inhumane strains on the body: forcing all weight onto the tips of the toes, flying into the air, and dropping onto a knee from numerous pirouettes. Pushing my body to the extreme is thrilling, and although dance may be emotionally draining at times, I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

by Hannah Burns

Will There Will Be Dancing In Haiti?

I hope so. Cause I’m going there in a few days.To work-ish. To volunteer-ish.

I’m cross-posting this from my other blog, Sit Mom Sit, due to time constraints. I’m Not Allowed to Spend Any More Time on This Frivolous Blog Activity, by order of the management. It’s a little ridiculous that I am the management. Our Christmas parties are pathetic…but, in the meantime:

From http://sitmomsit.blogspot.com

Haiti’s Acting Lessons

Our resort where all of the water drinking will take place!

I regard theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.  Oscar Wilde

Through the World Wide Orphanage, the benevolence of a couple of good friends and The Grove Church, my husband and I leave in a few days for Haiti. We’re teaching older orphans how to teach theatre and communication skills to their fellow orphans. Isn’t that nice?

I don’t quite know how we’ll manage, well, most of it…there are still arrangements to be made for our kids who will each be in a different place, when I don’t work-I don’t get paid and we often don’t make it month to month as it is, we’ll be teaching “communication” in a country whose language we don’t speak-among some frightening cultural differences, not to mention unspeakable conditions and poverty and pain.

And yet…

We are flying first class. Thanks to my friends from college. Our trip has been underwritten by some friends we made while teaching theatre to their kids a lifetime ago in Rolling Hills, California. We’re staying in a “resort” in the mountains. It is apparently beautiful in the mountains where we are mostly sleeping. (Amy Poehler also taught theater for this same organization! (I love Amy Poehler.) (I feel we are in good company.) Family, friends,acquaintances,have all offered help to care for our girls and have showered me with puppet making supplies. It’s all working out.


My husband suggested I not drink a lot of water so I wouldn’t have to go the bathroom at all when we aren’t at the “resort.” Okaaaayyyyy…

I’m fairly certain I’ll do something stupid, so there is potential for humor, with just as much potential for unending-eternally-heart-breaking-moments.

We are leaving our own children to do this.

Animals are treated differently in Haiti. I’m a complete wimpy mess when it comes to animals.


We will be teaching acting. And acting is about trusting your instincts, making strong choices, listening, truth, putting all of your attention on someone else. Acting happens in plays. We are going to Haiti to play. Playing is good. Playing is what I do best. We made the choice to go to Haiti based on all of the above. We are blessed enough to have choices.

It’s highly likely I will want to bring everyone (or almost everyone) I meet home. I will not be able to, due to laws and practicality.

I can hardly believe we have this opportunity.

I fear my heart will finally break beyond repair. It’s so close already.

There’s a good chance I’ll have to much to say about the discrepancy between life here and life there. In the mean time, I would appreciate any prayers from those of you who pray – mostly for my children to make good choices while we’re gone helping other children learn that choices do, in fact, exist.

Smiling cuteness. My husband and new little buddy.
Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. Victor Borge, my idol.

And, as God is my witness, I will find someone to dance with.

I Went Back

I went back to Todd’s jazz class last week. I wasn’t alone this time. There were four of us. Three women/girls about thirty years younger than me. It was a blast. I held my own, which makes me smile from deep inside and all the way to out.

But, it might just be that I’m too old to be throwing myself on the ground. and getting back up. more than once.

My head was throbbing as I drove my 45 minutes home. Once gratefully landing on the couch, I buried my left knee in ice and emotionally sunk deep into its comforting embrace, and watched Smash.

Little comfort was to be found in Smash, but some showed up when I realized I was sick and maybe that was the reason for the throbbing head, not the bouncing off the ground. Relief! Only a cold. My encroaching age can be shoved down for a little bit longer.

So once again, I have hope/denial that the dance floor hasn’t rejected me permanently. Despite denial having a bad rap, it may be the one thing that allows us to get up each morning and do anything at all that involves risk.

How else really, do you fully let go of the past to embrace the present?  Without a healthy sense of denying the idiot you were yesterday or last week or everyday previous to today, it may not be possible to step out of the comfy couch zone to improve all that needs improving. Maybe there can be no hope without denial…

I can get up, walk to the coffee pot and look my husband in the eye every morning because I know I’m not done yet. I can’t be. I’m still here.

I believe I’m going to be better tomorrow than I am today. At everything. Someday I’ll be organized, successful, bacteria free, and able to throw myself on the ground and get back up again. Repeatedly. And that will be extraordinarily powerful.

Frequently, I notice that I am invisible now. But, I would like to say, well, yell really, to anyone who looks past someone older than they ever thought possible, “Do not look through me. I can kick higher than most people will ever be able to reach. Plus, I haven’t seen the best of me yet, and if you don’t look at me, you will miss who you can hope to become if you live this long too. I am not finished and neither is anyone else here.” 

I hope I can hang onto this sense of power and go back to class to see if it was, in fact, the cold that gave me the headache.

I hope the next time will be better than this time. 
(I need to have that tattooed on my forehead.)

But what if isn’t? What if I have to be upright? Always? What if I am done?

I hope the dancer inside…dances inside then.
Reason enough.
 To wake up.
And dance.

This photo is just so good that it bears repeating.

Shelf Life

The 50 year evolution of a dancer.

Evolution: A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.

Tomorrow at approximately 2:35 p.m. I will most likely dance for the last time on a stage.

At four-years-old, just barely out of leg braces, I stepped into Charlotte Crowleys Dancette Studio. Immediately, Miss Charlotte took off my corrective saddle shoes and slipped my feet into soft pink ballet slippers. I looked just like every other little girl there, my first moment of normal.

At 53-years-old, there is a different leg brace and equally as ugly, pair of corrective shoes gathering dust in a back corner of my closet. I’m still clinging to that first moment of normal, or vanity.

The gradual process of turning a clumsy, yet enthusiastic, four-year-old child into a strong, yet still insecure dancer has taken 50 years.

I certainly can dance way better than I could at four, but not as well as most of the years in-between. There is a shelf life to dancing (unlike Twinkies). Dancing is still just as much fun as ever, even with the age limits.

It’s just time.(I hate time.) But it is time to embrace that I have become just like Charlotte Crowley, the wise old teacher in the corner giving little dancers their first moment of normal and pushing them toward a lifelong evolution toward strength. I’m trying to keep the insecurity to myself.

Charlotte Crowley, here I come. Well, not until the day after tomorrow.

Thank you to the Theatre Artists Studio for creating a space without age limits. On your stage I’m a Twinkie.

Looking for a Good “Hot” Escape?

There are the legitimate things we need to escape from – abusive parents, a negative spouse, debt, doubt, fear of anything or everything…laziness as a way of life might even be enough of a reason to escape.

For an excellent vice – I’d like to recommend a dance studio. One with large Marley covered floors, mirrors floor to ceiling, and music pounding so loud that conversation or reflective thought is impossible.

This is the chance to let your guard at the gate of your insecurities down and pretend you are the best dancer in the world. This is the chance to be someone with fire and passion and precision. You can be brilliant and glorious and no one has to know it isn’t you. Even though, deep down inside – you hope it is you, and will always be – all through the rest of your life. Even when you walk out the door.

Tonight, while teaching my “Hot Mama’s” class, something snapped in my left knee while my sprained ankle barked incessantly “Stop jumping!!”  It’s hard to rise to “hot” when one knee is on strike and one ankle won’t give in and play well with the others.
I keep hoping to escape the ever encroaching knowledge that my dancing days may be over. That the guard at my gate will now only let my brilliant-precise-fire-dancer out for a minute. My inner fire dancer is becoming an ember. Having used dance as my primary vestige of escape this leaves me with nowhere to run and hide. Maybe I just won’t walk out the door! Or I could fire the guard. I never liked him anyway.

Reasons to Dance #4: Escaping into who you know you are, if only the guard at the gate will let you out.

#3: Living Rooms

The first ballet I ever choreographed was entitled: “Blue Leaves.” I was 5. My neighbor, Jan, cut out hundred’s of blue leaves and we glittered each one carefully. Jan threw the leaves in the air as I magnificently executed each, well, for a lack of a better word – twirl. Our Living Room Theatre held our families under protest, as our audience.

 I wish I had understood this quote then  – or at least by now:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased.

There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

~Martha Graham to Agnes  de Mille

Check her out! This is Martha Graham.

“I wanted to begin not with characters or ideas, but with movements . . .I wanted significant movement. I did not want it to be beautiful or fluid. I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.”–Martha Graham

She wanted significant movement. I think she got it.

Okay, so, my “Blue Leaves” ballet was neither beautiful nor fluid – but, it was fraught with inner meaning and there was lots of glitter. My brother laughed at it. Loudly. It was deeply humiliating. My tender, 5-year-old self threw the blue leaves in the air and punched him in the kneecaps.That was my significant movement.  I didn’t create another ballet until I was in my forties (still with lots of glitter). 

But, in the meantime, I danced other’s significant movement and their valuable ideas. How lucky is that? To have grown up and noticed the creative, intelligent human beings around me – and to have ignored my brother…eventually… I wonder if Martha and Agnes ever had anyone laugh at their ideas…of course they did. (It probably wasn’t their brother though.) These two women went on to change the world of dance and didn’t seem to care what anybody else thought. Admirable.

Reason to Dance #3: Surviving a brother’s laughter

I’m having the hardest time clicking “publish post” on this entry. I am not satisfied with it. There is just no satisfaction of any kind with any art. Even a blog.

Any Living Room Ballet stories??

Reason #4: in the works.

About Martha: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/martha-graham/about-the-dancer/497/
About Agnes: http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/artists/?entity_id=3719&source_type=a

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall. Every Single Wall.

To dance is to abandon self-consciousness completely and let go.

There isn’t anything better than that.

But, in every dance studio there are walls of mirrors. “You” are everywhere. No escape. To dance is to spend most of your life in front of a mirror, judging yourself and comparing everything. Judgement is not conducive to abandonment. Yet, without the mirrors – how do you know if you’re good enough?

A quandary. How to let go while making sure your ribs are down, your feet are pointed, your knees are pulled up,  shoulders are down, pants aren’t up your…, you aren’t pulling your pants out of your..,your face is relaxed, you are skinnier than the blonde next to you. And sucking your cheeks in so you look emaciated only works until you are about 18. After that you are forced to confront the truth. You have full cheeks, yet you still want to dance.

Here’s how I’ve worked this out: 

Listen to the music. It is actually the most important thing.

Force yourself, with every ounce of control, to look only at yourself in the mirror to correct your own personal lines. “Dance in the body you have.” (Agnes DeMille)

Remind yourself daily that – with this dogged determination – you can have the chance to live for a moment and dance in complete abandonment. 

“Good enough” is relative, unfortunately, usually relative to the blonde next to you. But, sometimes, she doesn’t show up.

Reason #2 to Dance: Socially acceptable abandonment. And it’s more than wonderful.

Now, aging in front of a mirror, while still dancing – there’s a fun and delightful exercise – but not recommended without adult supervision. I wish I knew an adult. 

Anyway…Anyone else with another reason to dance?

Reason # 3 arriving soon – ish.

The First Reason

You are 2 years old and you hear music. You must dance or at least bounce repeatedly.

You must stand in your combo “ballet/tap/gymnastics” class every Saturday morning with 10 other little girls in black patent leather tap shoes and smack your toes as hard as possible on the floor – repeatedly.

You must spin in circles until the teacher picks you up and sets you dizzily on your feet – repeatedly. Hopefully before you spew pancakes on your classmates.

And you must dance for anyone who will sit still and watch you, even if only for a second.

Most of this is still true for me and I’ve been dancing for almost 50 years.

I don’t know how to stop dancing. I don’t want to. I love feeling surrounded by the music and knowing how to move with it (sometimes this still involves bouncing).

I feel beautiful, usually, when I’m dancing. And that is a rare, magnificent thing.

I actually can still pull out a triple pirouette on most days and can kick past my head. Although this is nothing compared to “before.”

“Before” I held my own with some of the best dancers in the world. I miss that, although I’m stunned I ever got to dance at all.

A person who has never danced, has never lived. This is absolutely true.

I have truly lived, have a couple of scars from it, and a couple of parts that don’t work anymore as a result, but during the “truly living” I had more fun than should be allowed.

Without further expanation, I give you The First Reason to Dance: Because you must.

Anyone else have a good reason to dance?

The second reason to dance that I know of is: coming in the next entry.

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