Day 121: Still Small Voice (For Michele)

by ashleighpenrod

One of my college dance mentors, forever advocates and friends was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Michele has been teaching at my alma mater for over twenty years and currently directs the college’s dance program.

Last weekend was the school’s 25th annual spring dance concert. To celebrate, I joined 27 other alumni to perform alongside the current students throughout the weekend. It was an amazing experience, and I had the pleasure of connecting with Michele while in town.

As she is publicly sharing her journey with breast cancer, this is my public letter to her.

Dear Michele,

You are an inspiration.

Your transparency about your experience is refreshing, poignant and, of course, educational (you’ve always been a master of research, as I remember from taking your Dance History class). But even in the midst of this highly unnerving and body-altering experience—and barely a week after your mastectomy—I witnessed you supporting others throughout the entire dance concert weekend.

You let the students know you were okay and turned the focus onto them. You sent them good-luck letters, emails and notes, and you congratulated them on their beautiful dance pieces and performances. You met their parents and told them how much their daughters and sons had grown. You came to every show. You connected the students to the alumni and you laughed with all of us. You hugged us and told us it was okay to hug you. You found your inspiration and you shared it with us.

Your dedication to the art of dance and the even finer art of educating others is clear in how you approach “life hiccups” like breast cancer. You study, you listen to your body, you teach others how to listen to their bodies and you push forward. The dance department has grown leaps and bounds (and swings and pirouettes) since I graduated nine years ago. And while it has been a group effort on behalf of many talented, intelligent and dedicated professors, you are the glue that holds everyone’s experiences together.

On behalf of all those who have learned from you, thank you for teaching us how to dance and why to love it. Thank you for connecting us to each other and for helping us find our places. Thank you for showing us the balance between acceptance and fight, pain and joy, weight and release.

In reply to the student’s father who told you yesterday that he was sorry to hear about your diagnoses, you said, “You know, we just keep moving.” So, although I know I’ll see you many, many times before then, I’m very much looking forward to the dance company’s 50th Anniversary bonanza.




Dancer extending her armsA photo of a photo by Stan Waldhauser.

In 2003, you gave me the first solo I ever danced, called Still Small Voice.

Your program notes:

“Our reading of the women’s stories lead us to conclude that as a woman becomes more aware of the existence of inner resources for knowing and valuing, as she begins to listen to the ‘still small voice’ within her, she finds an inner source of strength.”
– Belenky et. al., Women’s Ways of Knowing