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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Tag: dance

Day 267: The Thing About Art

The thing about art is that everyone should make it.

If you’ve been to a museum, gallery, sculpture garden, dance performance, theater show, opera, etc., you’ve witnessed art that someone else has created. And maybe you thought it was beautiful, inspiring and insightful. Or maybe you thought it was weird, more weird and just totally weird. If the later is closer to your experience, you probably went home afterwards promising yourself that you’ll only attend another artsy thing if someone you deeply, deeply care about is involved. Or if Google and your TV both break at the same time.

The thing about the second scenario is that it’s awfully common. And it’s a crying shame. Witnessing something someone else has created is like getting to peek inside another human being’s brain while they’re dreaming. And if the dreamer has taken the time to be trained as an artist, it can be an extra-moving experience.

Because maybe their dreams are filled with bright colors, winding stories and fantastical creatures you never thought to imagine. Or maybe they contain complex scientific concepts and questions, and experiments that make the questions visibly grow and shrink. Or perhaps the dreamer’s mind is a dark, disorganized and messy tumbling whirlpool, and they’re using art to pull everything apart and examine the pieces.

Either way, it’s a privilege to witness art, even when it’s ugly.

But making art is more than a privilege. It’s a necessity. It’s a complicated and vulnerable process that gives a person equal parts frustration and joy. Creating art lets us organize, categorize, identify, explode, imagine, be selfish, ask questions, make answers, connect to God, refute God, reach to each other and find common ground.

We’re all born artists, but some of us grow up to be self-conscious adults. But for the entirety of our lives, creativity is an outlet we can access just by turning inward. And it doesn’t require anything other than a brain and a body. (And some other stuff, if you want to get complicated.)

So that’s the thing about art. Happy making.

Gerhard-Richter_4One of Gerhard Richter’s Übermalte Fotografien (painted photographs).

Day 150: My Weekend with Oliver Sacks

Over the weekend, I attended Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks in New York. It. Was. Wonderful.

Live Ideas was a five-day festival of dance and discussion exploring the mind-body connection through Dr. Sacks’ work.  You may know Oliver Sacks as the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, or the semi-fictional doctor portrayed by Robin Williams in Awakenings. He’s a neurologist and writer known for his in-depth case studies of people with unusual neurological disorders.

I’ve read three of his books (I’m currently mid-way through a fourth—Hallucinations) and have been mildly obsessed with his work for the better part of a decade. The way he writes and thinks about his patients is fascinating, kind and brilliant. So when I heard about Live Ideas (thank you, Erin), I booked a ticket and signed up for the events in three minutes flat. Dance + neurology? Sold.

In the brief weekend I spent listening to Dr. Sacks, watching footage of his patients, listening to his publishers and peers, watching dance and generally being inspired, overwhelmed and delighted, a small window into his world emerged. This is potentially a much larger post, but in favor of sharing my excitement immediately, below are a couple of things I took away from the weekend and some quotes from the man himself.

Hospitals are non-narrative. They’re built to collect metrics and provide diagnoses. But as Lawrence Weschler, a panelist in Sacks the Writer: Process & Influence pointed out, neurology is all about narrative. “The brain secretes stories,” as he says, and tells the doctor how it is functioning and what might be amiss. Dr. Sacks’ way of collecting and recounting his patient’s stories is part of the treatment. He has somehow always understood that to know a person’s brain is to ask them how they are.

It’s possible to be empathetic and academic. Dr. Sacks’ care for his patients is compounded by his interest in the way the brain functions. The stories he writes read almost like poetry, but they are precise and based on systematic observation and careful listening. Dr. Chris Adrian, one of the other panelists, brought up the question of empathy within the medical field. He said, “Can one person participate in and truly understand another person’s suffering? In reading Sacks, I think the answer is no. But he shows us that we can—and should—surely try.”

Straight from Dr. Sacks:

“Human beings’ capacity to forget is very, very great.”
With regard to forgotten diseases, such as encephalitis lethargica, the “sleepy sickness” that attacked the nervous system and left its sufferers catatonic and mute in the 1920s. Dr. Sacks worked with survivors of the disease in the 1960s and, at the request of those who could speak, documented their stories in Awakenings.

“No one got more disappointed with the stem cell situation than my patients with Parkinson’s, who thought their lives were being sacrificed for fetuses.”
Reflecting on the way Parkinson’s disease kills dopamine-generating cells in the mid-brain, and that there is no known cause or cure.

“Any physical activity will work. Exercise of any sort calls on the executive functions of the brain, which takes patients out of dysfunction.”
Answering a question about how dance and physical activity can positively combat brain disease.

“What I did then I would surely be imprisoned for now.”
Telling the audience his experience with administering L-Dopa to catatonic patients in the 1960s and how he ignored the DEA’s mandate to perform a blind study in favor of treating everyone. 

“Oh, there’s nothing overwhelming about me.”
After I asked him for a photograph and nervously admitted being overwhelmed by meeting him in person.

Day 121: Still Small Voice (For Michele)

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

Day 112: Don’t Let Them Tame You

I took a master dance class today with a four-year-old.

The class was given by a New York-based choreographer in town for a show. Most of the students were professional dancers, including the the four-year-old’s mother. While she took the class, he found his own space on the dance floor and rolled, stretched, pushed, swung, scooped and reached with all of us. It was wonderful.

So this is in honor of our small guest today:

” You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.”
Isadora Duncan

Where the WIld Things Are

Image from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Day 107: What to Pack

My best friend from graduate school is coming to visit me from New York tomorrow and she asked me what to pack. Rather than send her a list broken up between eight separate text messages (with some “xoxoxo’s” peppered in for good measure), I’m sending it to her blog-style.

Stuff to Pack*

1. Your warmest coat. Unlike everywhere else in the country, it’s the middle of winter where I live. In fact, it’s been winter the entire time I’ve had this blog. The. Entire. Time. I’m both giggling and crying as I write this.

2. Wine. I tried to get some in preparation for your arrival, but I left my ID in my other coat and the guy at Kowalski’s wouldn’t sell me any without it. My incredulous and wide-eyed, “But I’m thirty!” didn’t phase him one bit.

3. Yoga pants. Obviously we’re going to dress up like we’re going to yoga, whether or not we actually go. We can drink the wine you’re bringing instead.

4. Dancing shoes (sneakers). I’ve compiled a long list of all the dance nights happening around town throughout the week. If we plan on going to all of them, we’ll make it to at least one. I’m itching to do the Roger Rabbit on a Wednesday.

5. Skim milk. This is a soy milk household. (Just kidding; I already picked up some skim. But I do think it’s gross, so you’re going to have to drink the entire carton by yourself.)

6. Those magical heat-emitting hand-warmer thingies you can put in your pockets. See number 1.

That’s pretty much it. I have towels and Girl Scout cookies for you.

See you at the airport!

*This list can be adapted for anyone visiting the Midwest in March.


That’s the two of us, running. Photo by the very talented Andrew Ippolito.