Sunday, February 21, 2016

Where Apples Fall


Gravity is a force of attraction. It pulls us down to earth. Not quite sure what's "attractive" about that. Useful, yes. But, some spirits were not meant for the ground. Some were meant to climb.

When my Dad was about 85 he hadn't yet stopped to consider his age. He was still climbing on top of his roof in freezing temperatures to clean the gutters. He was still racing his dirt bike in motocross races. In his defense, he usually won his age category, admittedly, it was a very small group. Usually, he was the only one in it.

One typical Tuesday, he climbed up an apple tree to do some pruning at the top. Later that day I got a call that he had broken some ribs when he fell out of the apple tree.

"What? What was he doing IN the apple tree to begin with?"Virtually everyone asked.

"Pruning" my mother said, as if this made perfect sense for a man of his age.  Which, to my parents it did.

It didn't make sense to any of his neighbors though, who also called me when he fell out the apple tree. This was not the first thing he had fallen out of. I gave enthusiastic permission for his ladders to mysteriously disappear that night while my parents were asleep in front of the TV.

I was incredibly annoyed that he was still doing all of the work around their house. He was literally breaking his body and soul because everything was so hard for him to do in this twilight stage of his life. He was angry that his body hurt all of the time. He hated having to pay anyone good money to do something he should be able to do himself. He hated having to be stuck inside the house with my mother, mostly. But stuck inside with my mother who was now nagging him about everything begging to be done outside was intolerable. He had to sit and listen to an endless commentary while leaves clogged the gutters, and his apple trees grew out of control.

My heart broke a little at his predicament. I bought him a get-well card. The kind where you can record your own voice and I sang "Don't fall out of the apple tree with anyone else but me." He was floored. He couldn't believe I found a card that sang that particular verse.

"Dad, that was me singing. I recorded it into the card. And I'm serious, wait until I get there before you get back up in that tree." Which, of course he had to wait, because now he didn't have any ladders to assist his mount.

Every single person who knew my Father was aghast that he thought he should be up in a tree trimming branches. I was so annoyed that he wouldn't give in and absolutely positive that I would make much more intelligent choices when I reached the end of my tree climbing days.

Sadly the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. But I didn't notice. I didn't notice until someone else pointed it out and took my ladders.

In the past year I broke my hip and my neck in three places. Which is actually kind of funny to me. Why three places each? Surely, one break should have been enough. Three is like I'm being yelled at by God or that I'm a victim of a faulty genetic design. These breaks are all just wear and tear from dancing.

One typical Monday, I was complaining about my father to a friend, Jonathan. As I walked away from Jonathan on my crutches and in a neck brace to go back to rehearsal for Footloose, Jonathan said "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Well, that's humbling. 

I have never thought I had anything in common with my father. But, maybe he handed down his pride. Does pride always come before the fall? I do have some when it comes dancing. Maybe pride is our downfall, or maybe not. Maybe, it's just loving to move, to climb, to dance, to escape the earth's pull. Pride doesn't seem to bounce.

It took my Dad four more years before he gave up his war with gravity and took himself out of the fight. Early one morning he took a gun out to his workshop. The workshop that housed his dusty motorcycles and formerly, his ladders. I am haunted by the shot I didn't hear coming, even though I understand it. He had to give up. I do not. And that is where our similarity ends. 

How do we save the best for last when the last is limping along? Not sure I know the answer to this. I would love to hear from anyone who does.

I may end up just as annoying as my father. I'm clinging to the branches up in my tree as long as possible. I'm not getting off the dance floor yet. This is where I get to make a difference to a new generation of dancers. Those whose spirits were meant to climb and for those spirits that keep falling down. Maybe I can help them learn to bounce.







Sunday, August 16, 2015

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




Monday, January 12, 2015

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 things 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 special needs kids. 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 the 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 dance…”
(Ephesians)

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.








Friday, August 29, 2014

No Reason for Words

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

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/20/dancing-2012-matt-harding_n_1612734.html

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.



Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dance Teachers/World Peace and The Ballerina Exception


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ALL THE ILLS OF MANKIND, 
ALL THE TRAGIC MISFORTUNES THAT FILL THE HISTORY BOOKS. 
ALL THE POLITICAL SLANDERS, 
ALL THE FAILURES OF THE GREAT LEADERS 
HAVE ARISEN MERELY FROM
A LACK OF SKILL AT DANCING. 

MOLIERE

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!:
http://danceteachersummit.com/about

Love what they're doing here:
https://www.danceuk.org/events/dance-ambassadors/

Always good:
http://www.dance-teacher.com/

Good stuff:
http://www.nationaldance.org/programs_teacher.htm

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.

http://www.artistsforworldpeace.org/2015-dance-for-peace/

Friday, April 4, 2014

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.







Friday, January 17, 2014

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.