Feeling it

When I was little, I used to stand on the fireplace mantle and dance my ass off. There was a mirror across the room and I’d watch myself. I think that’s pretty common for little kids. Anyway, I’d turn the music up so many times that my mother would come in and turn it down. I was a super shy child, so if I caught her watching me I would immediately stop. I’ve outgrown that shyness. I look at dance as something everyone has inside themselves. It’s an expression of art. It’s a way to connect with others. It can be a technical mastery, but it’s also an expression of our most primal selves. It’s a way to love, to shed anger and hate, and to simply be…just be. Whether that’s being in the moment or in the past or looking to the future, we add our bodies to the music and in that moment it’s synergy. Today, I needed to shed all thought and just sweat. This song handled that pretty well for me.  I encourage everyone to find those things that bring them back to the primal. As these guys say, fight apathy. We are alive in every moment, connected to our fellow human beings and connected to ourselves.

 

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Art for ALL kids

When I was a kid I went to 6 different elementary schools. Three of those schools were title one. Just to be clear what that is, a title one school means at least 40% of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch, and guess what…I was one of the 40+ percent. The students enrolled in those schools have economic hardships that most of us don’t. Anyway, for a time, I was one of those kids. I always dreamed of being a dancer when I was a little girl. The thought of dancing on a stage was magical to me, but paying for dance lessons becomes problematic when you can’t even get a proper dinner on the table. Moving around a lot doesn’t help either.

I was able to get my bearings eventually. After the age of 10, I never lived in that kind of poverty again. But poverty is lonely and debilitating for sure. I am so very lucky the opportunities life has afforded me. In ways, my life has been very privileged. I was surrounded by a talented and loving extended family. I went to a good public high school. I went on and finished college. I had life changing educational experiences. I had teachers and professors that I will never forget, but a dance career was lost. I’m not saying it was ever in the stars for me, but I still sometimes think it would have been nice to at least have had a chance. A chance to try things out as a kid. To explore passions that form when life hasn’t turned us into cynical and practical adults. When we still dare to dream about the things we love.

If you know me, then you know I’m still a dreamer. I still look at life as a hopeful and wonderful place. As an adult, I was lucky enough to find tango. It has made dance a part of my life in ways that I had always longed for. It’s a good thing when you can find that childhood love and reimagine it as an adult.

So, where am I going with all this? It’s my belief that ALL children have dreams and untapped potential. When kids get art, music, dance, and theatre in their school…it just might be the only arts education they get. Mom might be working strange hours and unable to get them hither and yon for various extra curricular activities. Or, she might just barely be getting food on the table. My point is, that we need to support the arts in our public schools. Here is the fundraiser for my public school now…Wasatch. It’s not a title one school, but the kids are a diverse and excited bunch. There is an energy in this school that will tap potential, if they are able. So here I am…remembering when times were hard, and asking others to think about where they were as kids. Were times hard? Were you lucky? Did you love art? Do you have kids now? Do they love art? Do you want that for all kids? Read about the program. For some of the kids, this is it. That’s all they get, and it would be nice to give them the best we can so they will dare to continue dreaming.

https://www.rallyme.com/rallies/3714/wasatchpta?tab=overview

Whether it’s Wasatch or your local public school…they all need art.

soul mates

How do I start? I think we throw this term soul mates around all the time, without thought. It’s something a lot women dream of. I like to think men do too, but I can’t speak for them. Let me start by saying, I’m agnostic. I simply don’t know what there is out there after we go. I’m a romantic. I like to think that we continue in some way….either through the memory in our loved ones, or as energy moving from one thing to the next…flowers, trees, rain, animals, love. I simply don’t believe in a specific kind of life after death. But I absolutely believe in the power of love. It’s transcendent. It is what makes us more than the sum of our parts. It creates space for miracles.

I sit here with tears as I think of a man that taught my family about this power. I can’t relay this whole love story today. It’s not the time and it’s far too long and amazing in it’s own right. But here is the end. A man who loved his wife for 47 years took his last breath today. Diagnosed with terminal cancer last summer, he was ready to go. He spoke to all of us about his funeral plans in great detail. Including his desire for his favorite piece of music ( Albeniz’s Tango), and his desire for me to dance to this music. At first I was taken aback, and thought yeah right, but he was absolutely serious. So as family gathers, I plan to dance. His wife, lost in fear and anxiety without him, is trying to go with him. And even in his last moments, he tried his best to be her rock. Well beyond what we and his nurse expected, he lay next to her….waiting. He tried not to leave her in her fear, dementia, and loneliness, but waited to see if she was going with him. Here is the note he wrote to her 6 months ago. We found it in his wallet last night.

“My Beloved wife, I want your hand upon my breast as I breathe my life away. For I need you to feel the last beat of my heart, which you will find, has your name graven thereon.”

This may seem strange to the world… but in this world of fear and pain, there is love and joy and hope. Life carries on, and people absolutely give everything they have for the ones they love. Here are both their favorite pieces of music. His Tango and her Clair de Lune.

A Place to Play

Tango is a very structured dance.
There are distinct rules: one leads and one follows.
The music is very traditional. It is from Argentina and isn’t tango if the music is from somewhere else.
The dance is from Argentina and must reflect that culture.

Tango is a very free dance.
It is improvised.
It evolves.
It fits with lots of music.
It gives you a place to explore…even as a follow.

Why do I start these two paragraphs with such contradictory statements? I was thinking about play. What exactly is play? I found this definition useful, as well as beautiful.

*Improvisation, composition, writing, painting, theater, invention, all creative acts are forms of play, the starting place of creativity in the human growth cycle, and one of the great primal life functions. Without play, learning and evolution are impossible. Play is the taproot from which original art springs; it is the raw stuff that the artist channels and organizes with all his learning and technique. (Free Play, p. 42)

Isn’t that beautiful? Play is the taproot from which original art springs! Why is that so very interesting to me? When I was a little girl, I would stand on my parents fireplace mantle and dance to soul music (Stevie Wonder being one of my favorites). My mother had placed a mirror across from the mantle, so I could see myself dance. It was a blissful act. One of pure freedom and pleasure. As a woman, I still love those moments in the kitchen, or the living room, or the club, or… the milonga where I have the opportunity to let go of expectations and truly explore. I feel my body from the floor to the ceiling. I feel bones and muscles and pressure points and stretching. It’s electrifying to be able to feel my body express the music exactly as it enters my ear. Not my leaders ear…mine. Does this always work? I would argue…100% of the time. Now, to be more specific, it doesn’t always work the way people want it to. If you are dancing with another person, and they feel the music differently, yet you take the risk to explore anyway… well, it can be a sloppy experience. But, guess what?? There is NOTHING wrong with that. You might get your toes stepped on. You might pause when they go. It might not be pretty. You might even fall down. But you are participating in life’s great primal function, without which learning is impossible. Imagine that! It’s impossible! When we play, we learn our limits, and that is a useful thing. But more importantly we learn how not to limit ourselves. We learn that our limits are far more flexible than we thought.

I’ll give you another example. I’m a singer. I come from a very long line of singers and musicians. My grandmother sang like an angel. My mother sings with power…sometimes you feel like it’s almost masculine…like that of a man. I have aunts and uncles that sing. They sing together. They sing alone. They sing with the instruments that they play, or they sing a cappella. All of this can be very intimidating as a shy little girl. My grandmother taught me to sing. Really, she taught us all, and then she proceeded to make us stand up and share our talents. I would get so frightened that I would literally give myself laryngitis. It was truly a physical manifestation of fear. I wasn’t pretending. I was scared shitless and my voice would stop working. I thought….Im not a singer, not like my family anyway. But, as time went on, I realized it was a part of my bones. I found my voice with my first-born. She was a colicky little animal. She cried constantly…for months. And with that, I cried. But,  I found my singing voice with her. I would walk up and down the sidewalks, with her in my arms and sing. I would sing any song I could think of. I would sing nursery rhymes. I would sing the Beatles. I would sing along with songs I heard coming out of the apartment windows around me. What I realized is this, I’m not a singer like my grandmother. I’m not a singer like my mother. I sing like me, and that is its own thing. I love it. I couldn’t live without it. I love the way it feels. I love the way I breath when I sing. I love the way it resonates in my chest and my vocal chords. I love that I carry my musical instrument everywhere I go. Does my voice crack sometimes? Absolutely! Sometimes I don’t get the sound I want. But my limits are far more flexible than I realized as a child, and most of the time, it’s a blissful experience. It’s fun. And it is most definitely playful.

As a grown up, I give this advice. Don’t be afraid to explore your dance. Don’t be afraid to fail. DON’T be afraid to experiment. You will learn far more than if you stick to the rule book that someone else wrote for themselves. That was their exploration. Find your own. You might just find something wonderful!

For those that love him too

In 1978 I met a man that would forever change my life. My mother toyed with sewing costumes for a living after her divorce. She managed to get one client. A man with a small local t.v. show. Unfortunately, this endeavor didn’t get her very far financially, but this particular man was like a magnet to all that knew him. And she found someone special. Was he tall dark and handsome? …Hardly. Freckled, bearded, heavy, totally crude and completely silly were what he presented with his first impression, but it didn’t matter. He could roll with anyone, and I do mean anyone. Black, white, man, woman, mormon, atheist, or someone who just doesn’t give a damn about anything at all…felt a comfort and a safety in being whoever or whatever. He always said to his children, “you can’t fool me. I’ve done it all”. This statement wasn’t an interrogation of what we may or may not have been doing. It was an acknowledgement that we are all human. It was a declaration of empathy….I know what it’s like. I’ve been there too. He was a motivated dreamer. He always pursued his love of theatre, comedy, and entertaining. As kids, we knew he would support whatever dream we might have, because he taught us…those things make life more fun. Don’t get me wrong. He was a hard worker his entire life, even a little high strung, but life isn’t worth living if you can’t love what you do. Chase your dream. You might fail, but you will never succeed if you don’t even try.

He always knew he would die young. He died nearly 15 years ago, when I was 7 months pregnant. He taught me that life can be short, so you better make the most of the time you have. I write, I sing, I dance. Sometimes I fall on my face in these pursuits, but at least I do them. And really Emily… How hard is it to just get back up?

Today is Scott Curran’s birthday. My stepfather. With others that love him, we celebrate his life, because he meant so much to those around him. Sometimes I miss the man that could see through us. See through us and accept us anyway… I fell in love that first day 37 years ago, and the truth is, I will love him to my end. He lives on in all of our hearts though.

not really into nuts and bolts

I’m not really a nuts and bolts kinda gal. I want to hear a story, or tell a story. I’m more interested in what it was like to perform in a killer art gallery, to go to Boulder, to listen to a song, or to work with Brigitta. If you’ve read my stuff, you know what I mean….life. That said, from time to time there just might be something worthwhile that has a bit more to do with the day to day grind of dancing. Dancing can be a bitch on your feet. High heels, squished toes…my daughter dances en pointe in ballet. Imagine what that does to the feet! I want to keep on dancing. I think everyone does, so…here are some tips. Take care of your tootsies please!! Happy Summer!

http://goop.com/foot-stretches-to-counteract-high-heels/

Women of all ages

Just this week, I read something. It was about a topic that comes and goes from my consciousness these days. It was a beautifully written blog about aging as women and losing our voice in feminism. I decided that even though I can’t say it as well as this woman, I want to say something. I’ll share the link. It’s well worth looking at, because she says it so beautifully.
As a women under 50, I don’t feel the full effect of this yet, but I see and feel it coming, and I want to pay homage to some of the women that I admire so greatly. The women that I want to emulate…in and out of dance and in life….all over 50. They are true mountains. I can’t imagine ever being as strong or as beautiful as them, and not because they haven’t aged, but because they are still relevant even with the aging that society often perceives as negative.
I think we can all agree that youth is highly valued in our society; in the media, in music, in dance…really in anything. Let’s be honest….our bodies don’t always work the same way  as we age, and what we could do in our youth might not be as easy as we pass our middle ages. But also as women, we look in the mirror with disdain at the sunspots and lines on our faces that were created from a life well lived. I hide my greying hair with the boxes of hair color I purchase at Walgreen’s, yet  I’d like to think I have  more to offer than shiny brown hair or a youthful face. So here’s the tiniest look at some of the women I have known, and most definitely look up to. Women that I hope one day I can join the ranks of. All of them over 50 and still vibrant and as relevant as ever.

I have to first mention, Brigitta Winkler. A tiny woman of power. I wrote about her once before, and I’ll say it again. Brigitta runs without fear. That will forever be how I view her. She dances on her own terms. She lives life beautifully. You can go back and read about her in my blog, so you already know how I admire her. I wouldn’t say she’s any more or less relevant now than 20 years ago. I do know that tango wouldn’t be what it is in the United States and Europe without her. I do know that she is relevant to women like me right now. She advocates for women to dance on their own terms.  We must lead and follow, and we must build a sisterhood in tango. She has participated in and created tango retreats just for women like this one at http://www.tangodonna.com. These are the places where sisters grow and mature. Tango can be a wonderful place to mature, IF we let ourselves go there, because it gives us the chance to continually learn, because it’s difficult, it’s subjective, it’s intuitive, and it’s personal. We can look at a young dancer and get excited and think…oh I wish I were like her, or we can look to ourselves and say I want to be MY best where I’m at right now, and I want to grow from right here. I look to Brigitta when I think about claiming my own dance. Be brave…explore, play, get messy, and run…run without fear.

When I look back on my college experience there is one person that stands out. Her name is Dr. Theresa Martinez,  my most admired college professor (who truth be told was probably only in her 30s when I knew her, but I believe she is still wowing students in her sociology courses on race and gender, now in her 50s). She is a woman who grew up in a large poor Mexican American family, and still managed to plow through school and receive her PhD at a young age. She amazed her students with her ability to memorize all 70 or 80 of our names the first day we entered her class. She had no cheat sheet. She just talked to each and every one of us sometime during the course of that first hour. Then on graduation day, in a room full of maybe 1-2 thousand behavioral science graduates, she hugged each and every student that had passed through her class…even if it was only one class…one quarter. Her class is the reason I don’t completely fear writing anymore. I learned to share my thoughts and ideas there. We were a community, because that is what she fostered with every single person that entered her room. Be brave. Have Empathy, even when you might not think you can. HAVE EMPATHY!

“Communities are built by women. It’s not about the houses we build, and sit 50 feet from each other. It’s about  the building that happens when we do things together as women”.  I met Barbara Zakarian when I began Tango. She dances with more awareness than any dancer I’ve ever talked to. She can describe every part of what she is feeling inside her own body as well as the body of the person she is dancing with. I realize that it is a great skill to be so very observant of yourself and others; not just in dance, but also in life. How wonderful if we could all apply this philosophy to our own  lives. Closing our eyes to the things around us, does nothing for us in the end. Only in our desire to be aware, can we move. Maybe Barbara cultivated this skill over time, or maybe she has always been this way. I don’t know. But I do know many women AND men are not so very aware as she. Be brave. Observe and keep your eyes open. You’ll only fall on your face if you don’t!!

My Grandmother, Jan Bennett, who is not my grandmother through blood, but my grandfathers second wife spent her career working for Orrin Hatch, and later Bob Bennett. I lived with my grandparents when I was 18 (I’m sure a great joy for them as they  had already  spent years rearing 10 children collectively…they were patient to say the least). Working for these men, and being mormon,  she has always had more conservative political views than me, but not in a pushy way. I remember when election time came around.  You better believe she made sure I was registered to vote. She took me to the polls for the first time at 18. Not one time did she ever tell me who to vote for. Nor did she ask who I had voted for when I was done. She just wanted me to participate. Period. Always always participate. Be a part of things. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned what a fascinating woman she is. She worked for conservatives yet counted women of planned parenthood and the like as her colleagues….equals in every way. Her greatest work was for women and children and participating is how she has lived her life. Be brave. Participate. Participate when it’s easy, and participate when it’s damn hard.

The last woman I think about when I think of women that I want to emulate, is Lee Chemel. A woman who has been an example to me in so many ways. I can’t come close to expressing them all. Lee has a career as a director in television. It’s a field that’s so dominated by men. I wasn’t around her in the workplace, so I can’t say if she was “like a man” or not. It doesn’t really matter. She did it the way that worked best for her, and  I know that she has held her ground in an industry that’s dominated by men and in love with youth, for many years. I met her when I was a  naive 20 something, as her nanny. I watched her as a mother and thought…wow! What an example she is to her kids! Over 50 then, she was and still is strong and open, thoughtful and creative, and always on the move. But the most important thing is that she didn’t sacrifice the ones she loves. After 13 years away from her, I still look to her for guidance. She has experience and an understanding about life that I am only starting to grasp. She meets her challenges head on, and I feel safe and grounded when I am in her home.  Her whole family is very precious to me, and I cannot imagine my life having never known her or them.   She has raised a family with her spouse and done some of her very best work in the years since 50. At 71, she is continues to be one of the most vibrant and relevant people I know. Be brave. Follow your path. Follow it when there are logs and bushes and trees and stinging ants and mud and animal  shit…and no fucking path at all. Keep going.

Sometimes I think I get a little bit sappy when I talk about the women that I admire and adore. I can’t help it. That’s part of who I am, but this isn’t about me telling anyone that will listen what to think about these women, or that they should admire these women for the same reasons that I do. This isn’t about condescending statements like…oh, isn’t that sweet. This is more about starting the discussion… realizing that these women exist in all of our lives if we look more closely. Life doesn’t soften and quiet at 50. It might just get louder. It might get more vibrant. We might have more to say. We might have more work to do, and I hope with all my heart that I’m up for it, at 42 and beyond!

And here’s that other link…enjoy.

http://feministcurrent.com/11036/aging-while-female-is-not-your-worst-nightmare-2/