Archive for February, 2011

Savoring Every Note

February 27, 2011

The dance of the voice becomes more clear and more easily relatable to the dance of the body. As my lessons continue, a real simpatico becomes more evident between my extraordinary teacher and myself. I think it helps that I have been open and honest with him. But could I have done so if the man had not been sensitive to my background and big-hearted enough to welcome Airth into our classroom? At the first lesson, J T told me with tears in his eyes that his copy of DANCING THROUGH AIRTH had been swept away by Katrina, so when I returned I brought him a new copy. From the beginning, he had welcomed my references to the breathing dance, and made them himself. He is very verbal as he teaches, and his choice of metaphor is often so evocative of Airth, that I cry out with pleasure and instantly grasp his meaning.

I have had some difficulty sustaining the breath long enough to complete the phrasing. This has been frustrating due to my easy attunement to the breath when dancing. Toward the end of my most recent class he pointed out that I anticipate the high notes, straining at the peak instead of trusting the rise and letting the high note float from my throat. Then on descending, I release the breath too quickly, running out of air before completion. Instead, the descending notes should be savored. Pace the exhalation and each note will have its moment. Allow the notes to drift down like autumn leaves. This was exquisitely familiar. This was Airth. Suddenly singing was not this alien and tension-producing new world to conquer. It was a dearly familiar world with new facets to explore. Here was an opportunity for Airth to grow, and for Leif the dancer to grow beyond herself. The perception that Airth might be stalled – and Leif with it – was simply that: a perception easily released. I need only breathe – and savor…every…note.

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Her Voice – My Voice

February 22, 2011

In Spring of 2009, I followed the protagonist of my novel to Paris. It turned out to be rather a redundant journey, because Lily and I had been there for most of a year as I wrote down her story. I may have seemed to be reclining on my green couch – my hands dancing over the keys as Lily walked those wondrous streets, sat in a cafe across from the handsome Julien, or imagined  performing on the stage of the Paris Opera – but I was living Lily’s dream along with her.

I am sure that my former trips gave credence to the story,  but I had never experienced Paris in the spring. So I went, and of course the city was charming and beautifully familiar, but it wasn’t Lily’s Paris. Not really… Perhaps because no one else in the city knew the story… I felt very much alone. The vibrant young dancer and her Parisian friends were only real on the pages of my almost completed novel. She was my heroine, dear to me because she had helped me to find my voice and discover new gestures. Through her I triumphed in ways I had barely dreamed of doing. The older woman – having yielded up her young dancer dreams – renewed her capacity for reaching the world and sharing her vision. The vital release of spiritual truth  into physical realms is once more possible through the youthful and passionate Lily. 

How dear she became to me during those long months on that couch with our voices meshing and telling our story. Her story was mine for the duration of that telling. I danced as I have not danced in years – with energy, flexibility and physical strength. And with faith in the sharing…  I find myself dancing now with Lily in my heart and my conscience. And as I dance, I am hearing her voice again: “Our story is not complete; there is still more dancing to do. We must dance our way through your fears and beyond. There are other dancers in the world out there (young and old) whose hearts are waiting to be touched, moved, and reminded of the possible dream. I think its time for publication. And if I do, you do. Bien Sur…

The Rewards Of Discomfort

February 14, 2011

When my voice is cracking on the high notes of a song I have chosen to sing in a foreign language and I am stumbling over the alien steps of a ballroom dancing class, I can be  certain that I have moved out of my comfort zone. Is this a good thing? Can it be helpful – even refreshing – to release the comfortable mediums of expression one is secure in and risk the natural awkwardness that comes with something new?

I was high on a mocha latte and good conversation with my friend, Lou Ann, when I stopped by the Mary C O’Keefe Center and signed up for the classes. Not that I hadn’t been pondering this action for some time… I had been watching Dancing With The Stars for years with interest and some pleasure. I especially like to see the progress of some of the older stars and those for whom dance has been an alien thing thus far. I am definitely in the older catagory, though I have been a dancer  for most of my life. It is the social aspect – and the partnering – that requires my courage to kick in and face the music (certainly not classical) and the room full of strangers. The accomplished dancer and teacher of umpteen million years has to swallow whatever pride still lingers and be a bumble-butt as she learns the waltz, the tango, etc. The box-like structure of this “waltz” bears no resemblence to the free-form waltz I have leaned ecstatically into when dancing to The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss. Oh the pain of restraint, of practicing the upright posture while partnered by a small bouncy elf or a tall suave guy who keeps reminding me that it’s his job to lead.  Yes… Swallow, darling. You can handle anything for an hour. And you know how you’ve always  loved a challenge.

This sounds like my mother speaking, and I guess it is true. In a poem Mama wrote for my birthday back in the early eighties – when I had taken up residence in New York City with my two children, three cats, and barely enough in my bank account to pay the first month’s rent – she celebrates her dancer daughter’s daring.

Sometimes I catch you up

at the still point where seasons meet

or night greets day.

And feel the flow of power,

the poise of peace.

Is it because you go with the earth’s spin?

Travel the paths of bird?

Run with the tide?

Were you born to the tick of creation’s clock?

I bore you; I should know.

What a surprise to find that you were there!

No long and wearing passage

to the world

with soggy pain and weariness –

One sudden clap of thunder –

“A girl-child -”

your father said.

“Still she is Leif,

Discoverer, Braver of new shores,

All for the braving’s sake -”

No seeker after gold or spice –

They come to her as adjuncts of her call

to sail this sea -”

 ” All for the braving’s sake… ” Dearest Mama… Such faith allowed her to overlook the shyness that plagued me from early childhood, or maybe she simply understood that only a degree of impulsive braving allowed her child to overcome the tendency to hide  from the world.  The poem was written thirty years ago when dreams were grander and my mother was still physically present with her encouragement. I’m not so sure how she’d feel about ballroom dancing. She might raise a brow at the oddity of it, but as for the singing, she herself taught me the song that presently challenges my voice. The song is Oh Holy Night, but sung in French. We were driving back from taking my sister to Delta State Teacher’s College. My brothers had been left at home, so it was just Mama and me. The drive was long. Wise mother and teacher that she was, she took it upon herself to teach me Minuit Cretiens. I was ten or eleven and basking in the attention. I have never forgotten the words or my tired, sweet mama’s patience as I learned and sang them. So, Mama… I brave the high notes again – for you.

The Voice In Motion

February 10, 2011

I am taking singing lessons and trying to make sense of taking singing lessons. At my age, starting something new is momentous. Why is the aging dancer aspiring to a whole new discipline? And it is a discipline. At my first lesson my teacher reeled me in with excitng possibilities. He imagined me singing Carmen and praised my a-flat. I glowed like an eager child at his praise and at his faith in my ability. Then came the second lesson with books to take home and hours of practice ahead of me. The books contain breathing exercises and lessons requiring an ability to read music. I don’t have this ability. Not yet… The breathing exercises are doable, though seem at odds with the breath work I have done for most of my life in relation to dance. I find myself tensing as I lift my chest first, before purposefully drawing the breath in through my nose. Releasing the breath with sound but without releasing my body feels unnatural. I want to glide with the sound. Follow the sound as I have the breath for so many years. Already I find myself wanting to rebel, yet something tells me to trust my teacher and my own resolve to try something new. Could limiting the body’s gestures allow the voice to dance?

I ask this question even though I had a perfectly lovely time earlier today uniting the sound and the gesture. I moved and allowed the sound to issue forth as it would. I let the breath, the movement, and the sound move into being. The mind was at rest and the breath was never labored. I did not run out of breath or exceed the range my voice was happy with. In fact, my voice was freed to discover surprising reaches. I was on an exploring trip that yielded surprising treasures. I was a bird that never imagined having to learn to sing. it was in my nature to emit my song, and I did not question the notes of my song. At least for a little while.

The photograph above seems to express something of what I experienced. It was taken during a father’s day performance in the Ocean Springs Community Center where my father’s murals bring life to the walls. I have always felt that the walls were interractive in some mysterious way – that when I danced I was one with the murals, acceptable and responded to by my father’s creatures. Especially the birds… I was not singing as I danced, but the red-winged blackbird seems to believe in my song.

But back to the lessons…

Dancer At Rest

February 2, 2011

Today – with the help of a photograph from time gone by – I am calling upon my youthful self.  This shot was taken by a lovely woman named Aleta. I owe thanks to Aleta for most of the photos I retain from those Ballet days. Aleta danced, but her camera was never far from her hands. During those very intense and demanding years I called her a friend. How glad I am to have this evidence that the younger Leif relaxed and waited in the light at times, confident of future dances.

I am sure that part of the peace I perceive in this photograph is attributable to my trust in the photographer, but also to the fact that I earned my living modeling at the Newcomb Art School. Truthfully, classes at Lelia Haller’s Ecole de Ballet could be stressful, competitive, and downright heartbreaking. At that age (about nineteen) I was taking three classes a day most days – plus rehearsals. I wonder how I managed the three hour modeling sessions.  I think that the atmosphere at the art school was refreshing. I was honestly interested in the language of art, and standing, sitting or reclining, I could listen to and absorb the passionate intent in the instructors’ voices. I could be student even as I was contributing to this world of aspiring artists.  And I was a dancer dancing, admired and even paid for the gestures that flowed through my body and onto the paper or canvas of those who received them. I was soloist on my five by seven foot stage. And wasn’t it wonderful to be so appreciated. Interestingly, the exacting world of Ballet could be left behind me for those few hours and the dance I danced was evocative of the freedom to come in later years.

But back to the photograph and the dancer resting in the light. On this day I see what I need to see, and I am comforted by my present perception of my younger self. I am what I see and can rest in the luminous present she gifts me with. I, too, can be confident of future dances. Her innocence and belief endear her to me, for I am privy to all her dreams, disappointments, and small triumphs. Her dearness mysteriously becomes my present dearness. Why not be dear to myself – knowing all I know of our history?  Of our dreams…? How they still hover even now…?