Student Of Myself

I felt revived by writing “Tribute To A Lady”. For the rest of the day my memories of J in her sixties, leaping for joy in the Sunday afternoon Airth class, stayed with me. She seemed an example for me in my older years, a reminder of my own dance – albeit changing. That evening as the light still lingered in the room that J had graced, I took my usual place in the circle – prepared myself to breathe my way into the oh so familiar exercises so long resisted.  I stood alone. If any shared my circle, they were phantoms of my memory – not sturdy enough to stay with me as I made my way. Still, I persevered through the movements, even as my body strained or became imbalanced seeking to regain its old ability. The will of the dancer reactivated in the older, less agile body, and I completed the circle – accepting the momentary drive aroused by recalling J’s  courage – though I didn’t make it as far as the leaps.

I liked the energy that followed me out of the studio into the kitchen to prepare my supper – liked the sheen of sweat on my usually dry skin. The sweet sense of my own vitality was strong enough that the following morning saw me hearkening to the possibility of staying with the practice that, in years past, was as natural as breathing. When evening came, I went again into the glowing room, now cluttered with the accumulated art of recent years as well as bits of furniture and toys belonging to dogs and grandchildren. The central area has been kept clear. Kicking a dog toy away from my spot led to a moment of doggy participation, but just enough determination returned me to my purpose. I admit it took a mite more effort to ignore the twinges in my tendons – a mite more effort to keep on when the body faltered and fell sideways with a strange fatigue. I admit that, on completion, I was far more  ready to leave the room – to grab a frozen dinner to feed my obvious hunger – my obvious need for something more.

This morning I am not so sure the old circle is the answer. I find it somewhat forced. My body – tendons especially – protest. They ask me: “Is this natural – after so long? I have changed, you know. Perhaps this is not the true way anymore.” I answer: “Perhaps I am simply showing the inner muse that I am willing. Perhaps the body will adapt once more – or perhaps I will discover a gentler approach.”

One thing I realized yesterday, as I went through the circle of exercises again, is that they are not as natural as they seemed back then. To some of my students they may have been difficult – even discouraging.  Mastering some of them may have been too much to ask of people who hadn’t danced – or who had aged and become less flexible and strong. Standing on one leg long enough to find one’s balance may have been downright painful. The supporting circle may have helped, but it remains that I was asking others to attain or come close to what I could do – still can do to some extent. Ideally, the dance should begin where you are, and progress be so gradual that it is hardly noticed. This is what I encouraged in students  such as J. Possibly, not having the ballet background that pushed to the unattainable, they were closer to what was true to them. Possibly I was the only one who couldn’t accept my changing body – still took pride in my high extensions and my variety of motion – pressing myself to astound my students and audiences ( in the manner of the highly trained youngsters on “So You Think You Can Dance”).  

I think of the performance done a few weeks after surgery two years ago – of how I worked with my limitations using my poetry to guide the dance, to support and even rest the body. My sister said that it was the most powerful dancing she had seen me do  – that restraint and stillness freed the interior flight. I suppose that the memorized poetry – the truth in the words, and the rhythm of the spoken phrases – was the basis and the music for my gestures. The breath was at the core:  the starting point, as it must be again – and yet again. Each time I brave the dance I must accept the role of student and surrender to the unformed dance within the breath. Once more it is time to allow the dance to be formed anew.

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2 Responses to “Student Of Myself”

  1. Kendall Says:

    It takes nerve to face the possibility that we could have been wrong about the very things we felt we were most right about. For you to wonder if perhaps Airth was not quite as natural as you thought when you created it–for you to see that your exercises, which flowed so naturally from your highly trained and long-disciplined body, might not have been quite as wonderful for everyone else as you meant for them to be–requires great courage. I am not surprised to see that you have that courage, that honesty, that willingness to question. It opens the door to all the questions we all face as women of a certain age: was I ever right about anything? was I ever useful? did my love do what I meant for it to do? who am I now, who was I, what does it all add up to, and what am I to make or do with the time that is left?

  2. leiflife Says:

    Dearest Kendall… Of course you would understand my rambling excursion into my dance history. And of course you would see that the questioning is answered by more questioning. You would know that keeping on without expectations of answers, but with a passion for one’s questions, is the only way to go. We may have always been on a quest of some kind and always in hope of a revelation. Perhaps we’ve heard all the revelations now, so now simply has to be enough. Still… Yes… We continue to wonder what to make or do with the time that is left.

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