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Still Dancing

I was asked to write an “artist’s statement” for my upcoming college reunion. I’ve always been uncomfortable with this whole “artist” thing– I’ve spent my life doing creative work, but somehow, I never think of myself as an artist! But I was inspired by dancing with my grandson, so here’s what I had to say:

“Alexa, play Run-Around Sue,” my four-year-old grandson commands. He slides off the counter stool, eager to be done with lunch.

“Dance party, Mee-Ma!” he cries. “I’ll start.”

He launches into a series of twirls. He jumps, gyrates, and slides in and out of the floor. He freezes in a dramatic upside down shape with one leg thrust toward the ceiling.

I clap my hands in delight. Time falls away. I’m not only watching my beloved grandson in ecstasy as he dances—I am also gazing at myself all those decades ago in my own childhood living room. Music was a constant presence in our house. I cannot remember a time when I could hear music without itching to move, to dance.

Truthfully, I couldn’t not dance. And so, despite parental pressure to pursue anything other than a career in the arts, and despite my strong interest in sociology, I ultimately left my doctoral program and became a modern dancer, choreographer, and dance educator.

Looking back, I feel incredibly blessed that I made that choice. To me, dance has always been a life-affirming, ecstatic experience—the marriage of physical, spiritual, musical, and emotional expressiveness.

The choice to pursue dance also brought Alan, my amazing husband, into my life. We met in a modern dance company in Detroit. I was in my early thirties, by then a divorced single parent of a young son. Alan spent as much time courting my son as he did me, and we married within a year of meeting. We went on to dance, teach, and perform together for eighteen years. But bodies don’t last forever, and I retired from dance following my first hip replacement.

Someone once said that if Merce Cunningham, couldn’t dance, he would die. I secretly thought that would be my fate as well. But despite my grief, I didn’t die. Reinvention turned out to be possible. It wasn’t only because I’ve always been a teacher at heart, and there were other things I could teach. It was also because I found comfort and solace in continuing to do creative work.

In my sixties, I returned to school and earned my MFA in writing. Today, I write young adult novels. I also make music with my husband. We write our own songs, and he plays the guitar while I sing. Although our dancing days are long behind us, we have never tired of working together. And when we play, my body is in constant motion. The itch to move when the music starts has never left me.

So, I guess it’s not surprising that the moment my precious grandson invites me to join him on the dance floor, I don’t hesitate. We dance through several songs until we sink to the floor for a break. He tells me he likes my moves. I tell him I love his. How miraculous to share this beautiful art form. I am one lucky grandma, one lucky woman who couldn’t not dance.

 

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