Reasons to Dance

But I'm Not Dead Yet

Page 2 of 3

Stop to Play: Lessons From My Dad

Dad at 17. A gunner in WWII.
My part of the eulogy for my father, Carroll Stanley.
He just decided he’d had enough and it was time to go home. As usual, he took matters into his own hands. It was a tragic and unexpected end to his 89 years here.
Posting this on my Reasons to Dance blog because it was ultimately my father who taught me to dance, not the steps, but the reasons underneath the steps.


Thank you all for coming today to say goodbye to our Dad. I know we all appreciate greatly the ease and the sweetness you brought to his life.
I don’t know what my father dreamed of becoming, or what he was afraid of. I know what he hated and what he liked.
He liked pretty girls, and dancing with pretty girls, and playing softball, and Hogan’s Heroes, he laughed every time he watched Baloo in The Jungle Book sing The Bare Necessities. We went out for cheese burgers and fries, with a root beer for me and a cup of weak, black coffee for him. The Jungle Book and Cheeseburgers were our tradition.  
He loved to laugh. The hardest he may have ever laughed was during the Blazing Saddles campfire fart scene…He and my brother Mark laughed so hard they literally fell off their chairs. And cried. Every single time. His was a sophisticated humor.
He loved chocolate covered cherries and peanut brittle. He liked me to tell him jokes. And when I was 5, he had me sing King of the Road by Roger Miller for his friends. More than 32 times. He laughed every time I sang, “I smoke old stogies I have found.”

He had a great laugh.

When I was writing his obituary I found out he went back and finished high school after he finished fighting in WWII. Jeff Morse told me this on Facebook. Jeff’s father, Bud, said all of the high school boys were in awe of my Dad, a World War II, decorated hero coming back to get his high school diploma. It was the first I’d heard of it.
My Dad taught me that stopping to slide down a ski slope or speed across the top of a lake in a boat that may or may not quit running in the middle of the lake, is a worthy pursuit.
That reading the same book, Cleo, every night to your daughter for years is not just something to be endured but a source of bemused wonder.
That inviting your daughter to play catch on a Wednesday afternoon in the backyard, or letting her dance on your feet to her favorite song, Winchester Cathedral, and then to tirelessly throw her high in the air so she could touch the sky, is the best way to stop time.
From my Dad I learned that stopping to play makes life an adventure, something to be learned and survived. It may be because my father taught me that fun is the best thing to have, that I have made my “living” out of playing. And through his earnest pursuit of a thrill or a laugh, he left a legacy of joy that will live on.
Working only existed for my father to interrupt the constant renovation and near finishing of a boat or a motorcycle, or an antique car, or four. He retired to “fish” and to race motorcycles until he was 82, and to coach girls how to pitch a no-hitter – and to make several violins for a granddaughter in the hope of making her a perfectly working, beautiful instrument.
Nothing ever worked easily for our family. Most transportation or modern conveniences had to be kicked, pushed or sworn at vehemently in an encouragement to start. But that violin is exceptional.
He always talked to and listened to kids. He liked to hang out with us, to play games and to dance and was quick to hand over money for pinball so everyone could play as long as they wanted.
When it was time for me to stop dancing and playing catch and skiing and failing at pitching, hunting and fishing, I left and went to college. When I was having too much fun in college, he up and sent me off to Europe. With a nun-to-be. He thought I needed direction. 
Which I did, in fact, find in London. I saw the musical “A Chorus Line” and knew instantly I wanted to be a dancer and play for the rest of my life. And that is exactly what I did. This is not the direction he was hoping for.

Dancing is a trivial life on the surface. But, I’ve learned that it’s the trivial that make us glad to be alive. It’s in these tiny trivial pursuits that we end up having a mostly unintentional effect on the lives that end up around us.

I believe my Dad started the fun in me and because of that, this is what he leaves thru me:

My daughter Hannah is a dancer.

She wants to be an occupational therapist: which means she wants to work and play with  kids special needs. She listens to kids. She is a fun, kind soul.
Talia, my youngest, stands up on a stage with her Dad and makes people laugh…and laugh just as hard as at the campfire fart scene in Blazing Saddles.
She has a violin made for her by her grandfather. She no longer plays the violin, choosing Uncle Mark’s guitar instead, but she has the honor of knowing her grandfather spent hundreds of hours carefully crafting a beautiful instrument just for her.
My Dad heard that Talia wanted to play the violin and with generous determination gave Talia more than an instrument, he gave her desires value. Talia in turn, has also become a tender, generous soul.
I have now taught hundreds of people across the world to dance, to pretend, and to believe that fun is the best thing to have.

My husband and I went to Haiti to teach volunteers new games to play and how to make puppets and to get up and dance with the littlest earthquake survivors.

Those games and puppets then went to the Philippines to play with the typhoon victims allowing for fun amongst their ruin.
One man, through one person…and that’s just me.
What about the high school boys who admired his dedication to return to high school? Where did that inspiration lead? And the girls he coached in these last years? How will his passion be translated thru them?
He didn’t know how far he reached.

Well, I danced with my Dad on my wedding day to Winchester Cathedral. I did not stand on his feet. We had fun.

“There is a time for everything,
And a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance…”
For this time, rest in peace Dad. We’ll catch up later when I get there over cheeseburgers and The Jungle Book.

My Dad. I don’t know what he dreamed of. I know what he hated and what he liked. He liked me.
I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.



No Reason for Words

Copy and paste this link into your browser!!! Really! Do it.

Brilliant. Amazing. You’ll get to go around the world.

In the next almost five minutes you get – Life-changing perspective on the universal, joyful, silly, beautiful, dance transcends culture and boundaries and laughter is the shortest distance between two people, but so is dancing – moments.

That’s all. Go ahead. Make your day.

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.

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.

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.

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:


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.

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.

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.”

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:
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

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.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2024 Reasons to Dance

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑