Tuesday, October 1, 2013

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.

Friday, September 13, 2013

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

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."

Monday, July 15, 2013

He Came to Dance

He’s 19-years-old. He’s danced for four years. He’s funny. He loves to dance like Beyonce. In his largely non-verbal world he says the word “dance” more than any other.

Nathaniel* had a solo in the Hamilton High Dance Concert this year. This is the concert just for graduating seniors. A short evening of frantic, thrown together dances by technically amazing dancers that don’t get enough rehearsal time because too much is piled on and expected of graduating seniors in the last days of public school. Every senior gets a solo if they choreograph one and want it enough.

Nathaniel wanted it enough.

Mr. “D” the high-school-dance-teacher-sent-from-heaven choreographed Nathaniel’s solo.

Several senior company dancers guided him onto the dark stage with flashlights. This took about 5 minutes. During which time the occasional audience member yelled "Go Nathaniel!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more dancers helped to guide him back offstage.

On school days my daughter, Hannah, walks Nathaniel to dance class and helps him dance across the floor. We're lucky to have arts education in public high schools here. Hannah is part of the dance program and a "peer facilitator" for one of the special needs classes. Nathaniel is in that class. Both of these programs are a gift to her and to the thousands of students who come through this school. Literally, thousands. I don't know how the teachers and the administrators do it. I know I am grateful that they do. I know I am grateful for a school that could focus long enough to stand up and cheer for Nathaniel.

Nathaniel tentatively hugged a couple of the dancers he knew as he stood by his mother in the lobby after the concert. I hope he was happy. I was. Maybe it matters just as much how many people were thrilled that Nathaniel came to dance, as how happy this dance made Nathaniel. Maybe it matters the most that "Mr. D" had the time and ability to give another human being this chance.

This was Nathaniel's first dance alone.

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

Hamilton High can be found at: http://www.mychandlerschools.org/HHS

Beautiful, Beautiful
Lyrics by Francesca Battistelli
Don't know how it is You looked at me
And saw the person that I could be
Awakening my heart
Breaking through the dark
Suddenly Your grace

Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so
Beautiful, beautiful

Now there's a joy inside I can't contain
But even perfect days can end in rain
And though it's pouring down
I see You through the clouds
Shining on my face

Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so
Beautiful, beautiful

I have come undone
But I have just begun
Changing by Your grace

Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so beautiful

Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so
Beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful, beautiful

 * not his real name

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

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.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Before Yesterday

Last night, like so many of the nights of my life, I took a dance class. At this point in my life (I’m 54) I don’t find very many opportunities to take a class.

I drove 45 minutes to take an 8:30-10:00 jazz class with Todd, terrorized by the possibility that I might humiliate myself the entire way there. I was the only dancer that showed up. Todd held the door open for me to enter and held the class anyway. Great. So many more possibilities to humiliate myself waited in the empty dance studio.

The Boston Marathon bombing was yesterday. Todd moved here to Phoenix from Boston. It was a rough day for Todd. Not as rough as for many in Boston, but for someone removed and unable to help, rough still. But he stayed present to teach a class to one person…a 54-year-old dancer who rarely gets into class.

Last night, I didn’t have the right footwear for pirouettes, my left knee didn’t…my balance wasn’t quite…my butt refused to…I only wanted to sous-sus with the my right foot front even when the left foot front made more sense, but Todd and I danced together anyway in a style from back in the day. Back in a good day.

Last night was stepping back  to a time when I got to move with music to choreography somebody else created. This is a luxury I cherish now. This is a luxury that used to be “usual.”

I forget that I love to dance. Deeply. Dearly. Last night I remembered that our bodies were meant to soar and float and our souls were meant to breathe. Sitting in front of a computer it’s easy to forget.

We smiled. Almost the entire time. We had both danced with the same people back in New York, back in the day when twin towers still towered… with Luigi and with teachers still teaching:  Hama, Doug Caldwell and I can never remember the other guys name…Claude Thompson!  I had white high-top jazz oxfords back then. Humiliating shoe choice now, but so cool then.

Yesterday sucked for Boston, for America, for human beings. Art of any kind always gives us a pocket to climb into and escape. For me, dancing is my comforting, cherished pocket.

This morning the world is still the same, but for an hour and a half last night – it was a yesterday before terrorists. 

A yesterday when dancing was usual. 

Boston, I hope and pray you will find a pocket of escape for your soul to breathe and someday you will be able to remember your days before yesterday.

Thank you for taking the entire time to dance with me last night, Todd.


www.abbybelladance.com, Todd Bailey, instructor