Dancing with my Hair Down

When I was small, I danced for hours in the foyer of my house. Most of the house was carpeted, including the kitchen and two bathrooms, but not in this white square speckled with black dots. It was years before tile would replace some of that carpet. In the meantime, that 12 x 12 square feet of space was all I ever needed.

I danced for hours in solitude in this square, and into the space extending into the living room, twirling, composing, tapping, pretending, the music my guide. The music was enchanting. I don’t know where it came it from, what it was called or where it went. It seemed to disappear from my life. I never bothered to know what that music was; I never needed to know. I’ve never heard it since, but I would know if I were ever to hear it again. Still, the memory of it is faint in my head.

I can hear the piano, but it wasn’t necessarily classical. It was scratchy, schmultzy, waltzy, melodic and ethereal. If I had to place it, I’d say it’s the kind of music you might hear in a Parisian cafe with a river running through it. Although that doesn’t describe it at all. The music breathed steps to me and I listened. I danced like no one was watching, because no one was.

My parents had thrown big pool parties back then with lots of activity and drunkenness. They were great fun. After dinner, my mother might lightly encourage me to perform a dance. I was painfully shy, but I was taking lessons, so sometimes I gave it a go.

I might perform for a few moments, looking down at the floor, horrified with all the smiling, googly-eyes on me and the expectation to entertain my drunken audience. I knew my mother would be happy with anything I did. Still, so serious, I would make a feeble attempt and run away. The girl who had once danced with not a care in the world was nowhere.

My childhood dream to dance the Arabian role in The Nutcracker became a reality, marked by tears; I cried before and after the performance because my shoes were too tight and I was too young to know better. My poor prince. He didn’t know what to make of it all.

Arabian
A moment of calm. Oh, how I loved this costume.

In college, I danced and I wrote. I was an English major, taking all the technique classes for dance majors. I had the load of a double major, easily. In one modern dance class, we were graced with the presence of a teacher who had been a former dancer with the renowned José Limón Dance Company. We all wanted to impress her. One day, she stopped the pianist and told all the dancers in the room to take their hair down. Astonished, we complied willingly; taking out our ponies, our pins, and our bobbies.

“Try it again,” she said, motioning us to dance the combination across the floor.

You might think it was a moment of bliss, a group of serious dancers in a very serious class asked to dance with their hair down. Not so. Perhaps because I felt it should be this magical moment that I should let loose and dance like the wind, I felt caught instead: first, by my hair in my face and my worry that I might run into a fellow, untamed dancer; second, that I should feel so moved by the permission to be free that my steps would now be executed to my teacher’s satisfaction.

After going across the floor again and again, the energy in the room changed. Sure, we still tried to dance the steps, but a strange thing happened.

Letting our hair down wasn’t an invitation to wildness as it turned out. I found myself turning inward, and I felt all the energy in the room becoming more internalized. We weren’t dancing for her anymore; we were dancing for ourselves. We were still dancing her steps. The difference was exploring what those steps meant.

I asked myself what did I have to say with those steps and why should anyone care? How could I make those steps translate what I felt, because if they didn’t mean anything to me, they sure as hell wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else.

I needed to find the little girl underneath, tapping to her heart’s delight in the foyer to that enchanted music not heard since. Where is she? How can I find her? She was buried deep under layers of indecision, doubt, bad decisions, insecurity, and criticism.

FullSizeRender (6)
I felt her presence when I danced as the “Wind” in  Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Dancing with friends is a gift.

Dancers’ steps are more than a strand of movements committed to muscle memory. Their bodies respond to music. Steps flow through them so that they don’t look like steps anymore, and they’re not. Their movement comes from a deeper place, from a reservoir of time and patience, of knowing their limits and how far they can fly; it’s a combination of concentration and abandon, of technical finesse blended with emotional physicality. It’s what I strove for, but was lucky to feel at all.

Watching an accomplished dancer is a glorious thing. If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. It is artistic expression beyond oneself; it touches an audience’s sensibilities and resides in their minds to be recalled long after the experience is over.

Streetdance
My sons joining me in a slow-motion street performance. Everything has been worth it for this moment alone. A treasure.

Answers you seek, the purpose for your steps, they must come from within. Living with myself all these years has taught me to accept my shortcomings, and I’ve learned I have something to give. That inner child once buried deep is not so deep anymore. She sits beside me now and reminds me she’s still here. The invitation to dance is always open.

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The Phantom – Friday Fictioneers – 10/11/13

It’s time for Friday Fictioneers. Thank you Rochelle for hosting.

My contribution follows.

Copyright – Sandra Crook

Le Phantom 

“Stage left, Nellie. Left,” the director slammed his clipboard.

Nellie knocked into a dancer, whose face soured on impact.

“I was trying to avoid the cat who wandered on stage? Didn’t you see?”

“I don’t care if your grandmother walks on stage, you keep going.”

She heard laughing and observed a man in loose, dark clothing sitting at the top of the theater. He hummed to himself while the cat climbed the stairs to sit on his lap.

While Nellie performed, his shadowy presence emerged in the audience or waltzed by her side on stage, and a calmness washed over her.

Write Like No One Is Reading

My seven-year-old son, Skyler, has a behavioral chart at school. The main obstacle to achieving four stickers, the highest level of success, has been narrowed down to mostly one thing, completing his journal. He either doesn’t write in the journal or doesn’t read the journal out loud to the class when requested. I’ve felt bewildered by this. I had always kept a journal as a child because I wanted to. My thoughts were written for my eyes only and I wrote what I felt I needed to write.

I haven’t kept a journal for a long time, and thought about doing so once again for my son, but also for myself. It’s been a while since I’ve written just for me; thoughts that were not going to be published, myself the only audience, no edits, no proofing, and usually no re-reading. I simply wrote to write them, to get them out of my head. I kept journal after journal and later they ended up in a box or a drawer. Unfortunately, most of the journals from my adolescent years have vanished. Looking through some journals, I realized I haven’t written one since 2006, a journal I kept during the first years of my son’s life in which every entry began with, “Dearest Holden.” Someday he may want to read it. I’m sure it’s gushing with sentiment that would probably make him squirm today. But maybe someday.

A journal for my firstborn. I thought he might like the colored paper.
A journal for my firstborn. I thought he might like the colored paper.

Generally speaking, journals are private. Where would crime drama be without the mysterious diary? It’s all in the diary. There you’ll find the clues. And hands off, NSA. They can’t touch this one. In this age of spontaneous, digitized reactions, private thoughts maybe are not recorded as they once were. Flipping through a few of my journals, I encountered pictures and receipts, like spontaneous, magical gifts of my past.

My son’s in-class, daily journal is seemingly more of an assignment, usually with questions about his weekend, maybe a field trip. Usually, he doesn’t share the topics or what he’s written, except in the case of this one:

Homework is…

His response:

 Homework is frustrating and tiring, but helps me learn.

Pretty good! I would give that sentence a 4 on their 4-point scale. I’m not sharing to boast like a proud mommy, but merely to express that, perhaps, it’s not writing that is the issue. He’s anxious, he’s maybe even fearful about being incorrect. I’m not sure, really. What I don’t want to see happen is for fear to get in way of him being able to enjoy writing, and to write as a means to express himself. Because he can and because he wants to.

A few journals from the past. The pink one on top from 1991, detailing a cross-country trip before I was married. I looked through that one for the first time today.
A few journals from the past. The pink one on top from 1991, detailing a cross-country trip before I was married. I looked through that one for the first time today.

I’ve always have the most fun dancing when no one is watching. As a trained dancer, I could be consumed with the technique of a step. But as a child, I spent a lot of time dancing alone, with joyous abandon, and then my mother would put me on the spot in front of tens of people. I would freeze, sometimes cry. I don’t know why I froze, I knew I could dance. I had tons of lessons; I loved to do it, yet I couldn’t when asked. I stumbled. I couldn’t deliver what she wanted.

Writing can be much like that with the pressure to perform on cue. As I ponder my son’s anxiety, I’m reminded of my own. So now I’m giving myself permission. I’m going to write in my journal like no one is reading. Because I can and because I need to.

My new journal. It's blank and waiting for words.
My new journal. It’s blank and waiting for words.

Do you have a journal? What do you like to write about? Or, hey, you don’t have to tell me. You can keep it all to yourself.