Friday, July 30, 2010

The more I dance the more I write

If I could shimmy like my sister Kate

Shake it like jelly on a plate

My mama wanted to know last night

How sister Kate could do it oh so nice

Now, all the boys in the neighborhood

Knew Kate could shimmy, and it's mighty good

I may be late but I'll be up to date

When I can shimmy like my sister Kate.

I mean, shake it like my sister Kate.

Those were the lyrics to my first ecstatic dance.  My dad played blues guitar and sang, and I’d shake and shimmy just as fast and furiously as my little three-year-old booty could across the ice blue carpet of our Florida living room. By the end of a jam session I'd usually ripped off most of my clothes and whirled around and around, my eyes streaming, to collapse in a heap.  This dance had a name.  I called it the widdy-waddy dance.

Since I was clearly not such a ballet type, my mother took me to tap class.  I loved the tah-TAH sounds my shiny Mary Janes made the first time I put them on, and hated the thick white tights that slid down my hips to create an unpleasant basket effect around my crotch during class as the instructor’s grating voice shouted, “shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change".  I crumpled.  We didn't go back.

The funny thing about the shadow, all those parts of ourselves we aren’t comfortable acknowledging, is that we leave our love and passion in the dark as often as we leave our fear and anger.  As Rilke says, “the darkness pulls in everything.”

After that one tap class I decided that I had a secret.  My way of dancing wasn’t o.k. with the rest of the world, so I needed to hide it.  The surest way to hide something is to bury it someplace where you can't even find it yourself, like a squirrel with an acorn.  That's what I did.  I told myself I wasn't interested in dance.  I didn't even like watching it very much.  I would still dance around alone in my room, but that didn't count.  That was silliness.  It wasn't dance.  When I danced in the theater, that was acting.  It wasn't dance.

The acorn stayed buried until I started developing my intuition during a terrible period of writer’s block.

The conversation with myself went something like this:

          "I HAVE to get out of this block.  What can I do?  WHAT?"
           "You are a dancer.  Dance."
           "What?  I'm not."
           "Yes you are."
           "Sure you don't mean that dance will shake me loose-- that's all?"
           "No.  You are a dancer.  It is a part of who you are.  Find it."
           "Really?  If I'm a dancer I'll be able to be a writer?"

I didn't have anything to lose. I listened to that voice.

Within six weeks of my first epiphany I’d found my teacher, Dunya McPherson, and Dancemeditation.  I watched her dance and thought, ‘That’s it. I can come out now.  Its safe for me.  She's such an amazing dancer, and... she's doing the widdy-waddy dance!  She's moving just how her body wants to move.'  I went on her website and fell in love with her writing too.  Clearly perfect.

The writer's block took time to fully melt away; maybe a year of furious dancing within the healing context of Dancemeditation with its focus on awareness and respect for the body's innate intelligence.

When the block finally melted I thought, 'Well, maybe I got what I needed and now I can stop.'  But of course its not like that.  The more I deepen into dance, the more my writing deepens, the more I deepen.  The body is a doorway to reality beyond the personality, the ego, which can hold us all hostage.  It was my ego telling me I couldn't, shouldn't write.  My ego was telling me to stay small, safe, and to avoid criticism at all cost.

I'm often scared.   Dance is an art form that takes many years and hours to begin to master.  It isn't about steps, its about learning how to move the body with more and more articulation and awareness.  Five years and eighty days to earn my Dancemeditation teacher training certificate and I'm still near the beginning of that journey.  The exciting part is that like studying nature, studying the body from the inside out is also a life's work.

At its core my dance feels strong. The widdy-waddy dance is intact.  Its unfolding with greater variation every time I have an opportunity to learn technique, to discover more ways to move, different ways of seeing, feeling, of being in the world.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells

I'm too inspired at the moment to write about it.  It bursts out of me and needs alone-in-my-livingroom-dancing time.  It needs waking-up-in-the-morning-and-starring-at-the-wall-time.  It needs walking-deep-into-the-woods time.  Then I'll be ready to share it.

I once needed permission to do those things, to require those things.  So, just in case someone reading this needs permission to stare at the wall or dive naked into a waterfall or cut their hair or go on a walkabout as part of their artistic process-- I humbly grant it, as a person who has struggled with my requirements and come to accept them. 

This poem is from the chorus of the play The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney about the story of the redemption of Philotetes, one of Odysseus' soldiers, who was abandoned on an uninhabited island because his wound, a symbol of his inner pain and separation from the Gods, stunk too much for the other soldiers on the warship to handle.

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.

What are some of your artistic requirements?  Do you accept them?  Do you honor them?

Monday, July 26, 2010

I screama you screama we all screama for ice creama

Happy pretty-much-full Moonday.  The moon is in Aquarius, a fixed air sign.  Its time to make dreams real and to be filled with inspiration and new ideas.  Hurray.

As I’m typing this I keep glancing down at my left wrist that is encircled with a glossy yellow ribbon with sky blue lettering that reads, ‘I wish to find pleasure in things as much as I used to as a child.’

That sentence makes me think of the Fourth of July circa 1980 and ‘I scream you scream we all scream for ice cream’.  I remember a hot sticky South Florida twilight carpeted by scratchy crab grass and graced by fireflies.  I’m sitting at a picnic table next to my best friend holding an as yet unlit sparkler and chanting. Ice cream appears like magic in vats behind us, and a big sign is put up that reads ‘make your own sundaes’.  The ice cream chant gets louder as we are joined by a horde of other kids and laughing, loopy adults. 

I’m also reminded of one of my favorite films, Down By Law by Jim Jarmusch, when Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni are in a prison cell in New Orleans and Roberto Benigni says that he ‘has a scream’ and starts this chant which eventually takes over the entire prison ward.  If any of us ever find ourselves in prison, may we be lucky enough to share a cell with Roberto Benigni, at least in our minds.

The ribbon on my wrist came from an interactive art exhibit now on display at the New Museum on the Bowery in New York City by artist Rivane Neuenschwander.  On three sides of a room are thousands of multicolored ribbons with wishes on them.  You choose a ribbon, take it out of the wall, and leave your own wish in the hole in the wall that the ribbon leaves.  Neuenschwander writes that this is a riff on a Brazillian folk practice. The whole exhibit, entitled ‘A Day Like Any Other’ transforms the mundane—an empty room, a dripping bucket, a chewed plastic swizzle stick— into something with the significance of a dream or a child’s imagination, and turns our wishes into things of beauty in and of themselves.  If you aren’t in NYC, you can still participate in the exhibit and leave a wish online.

 I think the wish on my wrist might just be the secret to happiness.  The other night there was a short summer thunderstorm.  The air has been thick and heavy for weeks without rain so it felt a little bit like Christmas to hear those bellows drowning out the cacophony of the city and the hiss of a hard downpour on hot pavement.

I sat watching the storm from a seat on my windowsill, which is about a foot wide, glancing down at my yellow ribbon and remembering how when I was a kid I thought windowsills that you could sit on were about the coolest thing in the world.  In the rare event that I found a windowsill wide enough, I’d hop up and sing ‘The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’ pretending I was looking out at a grimy New York City street instead of someplace in pristine suburbia.    How wonderful that was.  And suddenly it is wonderful again. 

How about you?  What was a simple pleasure you enjoyed immensely as a child?

P.S. I know I haven’t posted in forever, or even been online at all in a millennium in web terms, but I didn’t want to start out writing about that.  I had some exceedingly pressing business that I’ll probably write about soon.  I’m back now, and have made a commitment to myself (and now to you, kind reader) to post every Moonday, Wednesday and Friday until further notice (certainly for several web millennia.)