The Body Moves

It’s supposed to. We’re not designed to be merely talking heads.  Tonight I saw this truth vividly.  I went to the annual recital of Dance London.  There had to be 150 kids and teens, strutting their stuff in 42 (!) performances.

Two years ago I worked with a girl who I’ll call “Jessica”, as a volunteer in her Grade 6 class.  I saw her a few months ago and she invited me to come to the recital.  I said yes right away.  It was a privilege to be there.

The evening started with a video.  A woman founded the studio in 1993, and she was sitting with the current owner.  She wanted to teach dance techniques to the young ones and she wanted them to be happy as they were learning.  No competition among the students.  Everyone treated equally, as I saw tonight.  When there was a group number, everyone had a chance to be at the front of the stage.

I loved the conversation.  Soon there was another one: two moms of young dancers reflected on 25 years ago, when they were the little kids onstage.  Sweet.  And then a third pair of human beings graced the chairs.  They were both under ten, and clearly loved to dance.

Jessica performed in four numbers, surrounded by a variety of colleagues.  I followed her every move, as proud of her grace and commitment as any grandpa would be.  She was in a ballet troupe that floated through a gorgeous piece featuring the rich tones of cello and violin.  The sound system was awesome.  During Jessica’s last dance, there was a moment when she and her partner were at the back of the stage.  Then they strode rhythmically to the front, oozing confidence.

The costumes were brilliant – shining this and flowing that.  My favourites were glittering green and silver dresses for a Roaring Twenties number.  I can’t remember what those dresses are called [now I remember – flapper dresses], but the kids were giving ‘er, and that’s all that mattered.  Oh, the smiles on those faces!

I watched arms extending full out to the side or up to the sky.  There’s something about the body at full stretch that inspires me.  And the choreography!  So seamless and graceful.  Combine that with a driving bass beat sometimes, and there was great joy on the stage, and in the seats.

Tiny kids had their turn too, often mentored by an adult at the end of the line.  Who cares if some of them were unsure of the steps?  They were out there, fully visible, moving and grooving.

So … this not young body needs to move as well.  A whole bunch of six- to eighteen-year-olds showed me the way.  Happily, we all teach each other.

Painting Churches

This is the title of a play I saw this afternoon at Procunier Hall in London.  It’s about the impact of Alzheimers on a family.  It’s also about longstanding emotional dysfunction and how there are no winners here (or are there?)

A reviewer sets the stage for us:

A last remnant of the old-money, socially elite WASP families that used to be Beacon Hill’s principal inhabitants, the Churches are an artistic clan.  Gardner Church is an aging poet, now going dotty, whose eminence is suggested by a library that includes gifts from Robert Frost and Andre Malraux.  His wife, Fanny, long used to running the household and serving as her husband’s real-world anchor, is easily recognizable as the type of upper-class woman whose own suppressed artistic instincts find fruition in her consciousness of clothes and furnishings.  Sharp-eyed and even sharper-tongued, Fanny also functions, with supportive intent, as a kind of critical nemesis to both her husband and their daughter, Mags, an aspiring painter, now living in New York, about to have her breakout solo show.

Mags has come come home to help her parents move out of their too expensive Boston townhouse, and into the cottage they own on Cape Cod.  She wants to paint them sitting together.

There is such sadness in this play.  Such a sense of loss in each of the three.  It’s far more than dementia.  It’s about how imperfect we all are.  We achieve something and then life seems to conspire to take away the satisfaction, to drop us down a bottomless pit for awhile.  Perhaps ending it all would be a good plan.

Through the tossings and turnings of relationship, though, a light shines.  There’s a recognition of who the other really is, even if that’s usually buried under a blanket of low self-esteem and woundedness.  There is a dance to this.  There is a tiny smile, as each person at least momentarily sees beyond the condemnations, the status, the fame, the need to have the other do what you want them to do.

As Gardner becomes more and more disoriented, as he grapples with his inability to write anymore, as he loses his awareness of the moment, he can still tell his daughter how beautiful she is.  He can dance with his wife.  He can quote the most memorable poems of Yeats, with a faraway look in his eyes.

Mags seems to have had a young life of “not good enough”.  Mom lets her know right between the eyes that her dyed hair is an abomination and that she’ll never get a man wearing clothes that look like discards.  What ills of the past still live in her mind?  They appear to be embedded in the walls of the home place.  She needs to paint her parents, and when they finally see the finished work, they smile, they comment on the stylistic beauty, they’re proud of her.  Mags’ eyes widen in wonder, hearing words that never flowed before from her mother’s lips.

Fanny is all knotted up.  She remembers the joys of courtship with Gard, how their lives flowed effortlessly as his fame and income surged.  The parties, the fancy clothes she could afford, the sense that their peers thought well of this well-appointed Beacon Hill couple. Why, or why, couldn’t their daughter see the wisdom of staying within the fold of tony society?  Perhaps a reprimand or thousand would have her see the error of her ways.  In the end, though, there is the painting Mags created, showing the sweet togetherness of decades.  There is the dance with her dear one, as wobbly as he is.  Gard and Fanny’s eyes meet in love.

***

I sit here now, thinking of a song written by Stan Rogers, telling of a ranch wife looking forward to Friday night, when she’ll be dancing with her man at the Legion.  It’s called Lies:

Then she shakes off the bitter web she wove
And turns to set the mirror, gently face down by the stove
She gathers up her apron in her hand
Pours a cup of coffee, drips Carnation from the can
And thinks ahead to Friday, ’cause Friday will be fine
She’ll look up in that weathered face that loves hers, line for line
To see that maiden shining in his eyes
And laugh at how her mirror tells her lies

Here’s to Gard and Fanny, to Mags, and to Friday evening dancers everywhere.

The Dance

I went to the school board’s dance festival this morning – nine elementary schools doing their thing.  The music was high energy and I tapped out the beat in the bleachers.  It brought me back to the disco on a Cuba vacation.  What a joy to move, to throw the arms into the air with gay abandon.

The kids helped me remember how dearly I love to dance.  I remember my wife Jody staring at me as I gyrated to the tunes.  Apparently I didn’t look too graceful but I was sure having fun.

I also remember Halloween dances at a long ago elementary school.  All costumed up, I moved amid the 12-year-olds – not as fast as them but usually just as expressive.  Oh, the joy of mindless response to great melodies and rhythms!

For the last year, I’ve been careful.  What a yucky word.  I was worried about the pain in my knee and my hip.  “Don’t break something, Bruce.  Take it slow and easy.”  Especially after today, I’m tired of measured and moderate.  My trainer and I have set me on a course to health in its many forms, including having stronger muscles around my knees.  Does this mean that my future holds dancing, maybe even running?  “Why not?” I say.

The gym was crowded with young dancers and their loved ones.  Troupes of kids dressed all in black, or all in white or tie-dyed t-shirts rocked the house.  Most wore big smiles.  Some were athletic.  Some seemed focused on remembering the steps.  The occasional kid was overweight but moving smartly nonetheless.  Some children were tiny but still pumping their arms madly beside classmates a foot or more taller.  There was even a line dancing group topped with cowboy hats, taking us through our paces in Cadillac Ranch.  No one was left out.

Boys were in short supply but they didn’t care.  It’s possible that “friends” back at school razzed them for choosing hip hop over football but the faces still shone as Magic in the Air had kids in the audience shaking their bods along with the performers.

Well, young ones, you inspired me today.  I also have two feet and fully functioning legs.  It’s time to launch assorted body parts into the air again.  There’s a place for calm and an equal spot for raucous.

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world
for I would ride with you upon the wind
and dance upon the mountains like a flame!

(William Butler Yeats)

Dancers

I was off to another local high school this morning, this time to see a dance extravaganza with the Grade 6 kids.  I like the teens but my heart beats most deeply with the 11-year-olds.  There’s an enthusiasm, spontaneity and innocence that captures me.

There must have been fifty dancers onstage at various times.  I loved to see that their heads were up, in contact with life.  I couldn’t tell if they were truly making eye contact with us or if they were focused on the back wall.  No matter … they were engaged.

The auditorium was pretty full when we arrived but there were seats off to the side.  Soon after we sat down, I realized that there were lots of developmentally delayed kids near us.  Excellent.  And they enjoyed the whole show, which had to be at least two hours.  What a great demonstration to our students that everyone needs to be included.

One young lady in the front row often stood up and did her own twirls in response to the performers.  Good for her.  And good for the staff member sitting beside who let her express.  Some teens made occasional spontaneous noises as the dancers danced, and one student seemed to be having breathing problems.  It was all a welcome part of our gathering.

Almost all of the dancers were girls.  There were maybe five boys.  That made me sad.  It was such a great performance that I’m hoping some male elementary students were inspired to join the fun once they show up at high school.  The boys who danced were very expressive.  I imagine it took some courage for them to be up there, given the possibility of razzing from some friends.  Congratulations, guys, for being willing to do what you want to do.

The dance troupe was a celebration of difference – racially, culturally, age, body type and cognitive ability.  None of those distinctions mattered.  I saw a heavier girl take centre stage and do various flips and swirls with grace and strength.  She was a star.

There were so many different costumes … even top hats were on proud display.  The music was all over the map, including Queen’s We Are The Champions.  Many of us in the audience sang along with that one.

What a mass of work it must have been to pull this performance off – the dancers, the stage crew, the lighting crew, the teachers.  I hope each participant left the stage knowing that they had contributed to something big, that they had enthralled many of the elementary kids, and that possibly they had recruited some future Grade 9 students.  They also touched this volunteer who still loves to dance.  Thank you.

 

 

 

Day Seventeen: New Year’s Eve

Well, I’m falling so far behind in my story and I’m tired. But I guess if I don’t catch up it’s really not an issue.

On Sunday night, several of us went to a dance competition in Toubacouta because Mareama was performing with her friends. She’s the young woman who arranged for me to have Senagalese pantaloons made. She also tried on my glasses. I wanted to be there for her.

We showed up at 9:00 pm or so and had to wait for awhile as the crowd surged into the dance hall. As far as I could tell, we were the only white folks, and that was just fine.

The eight of us sat in the second row, right in front of booming speakers. What a rush … although maybe I won’t be feeling the same a year from now if I need hearing aids. I danced in my seat, slapping my thighs in all sorts of rhythms that came to hands.

Around 10:00 a drumming group walked onto the stage. Woh! Now there’s a frantic pace. I could fell the blows in my bones and the beat was hypnotic.

Finally, maybe around midnight, the first of the dancing groups showed up. I saw stories in song and dance and the first few were about slavery. The acting looked awfully real: black folks dressed up as slave owners were beating on black folks dressed as slaves. And the crowd’s reaction? Laughter. I didn’t understand.

As 1:00 turned to 2:00, I had one question: Where is Mareama? Patience, Bruce.

I was beside a young woman wearing what I took to be traditional Islamic dress. She sat sedately … that is until this major hunk came out on stage, wearing flashy clothes and able to twist himself like a pretzel to the music. My friend went wild, throwing her arms in the air. Women shouted throughout the hall. The guy was a sensation. Gosh, women have never reacted to me that way.

Sometime in the wee hours, five men and three women strutted out wearing gorgeous reflective silver costumes. The music roared and they gave ‘er. My God, how awesome it was to be there.

Finally, about 2:45, here comes Mareama and her companions, all dressed in white. For the first part, she lurked at the back of the stage, but then she burst out to the edge, arms flailing and eyes crazy. I loved it.

Jo and I were the only ones from our family who stayed so late. It was worth it, and Mareama appreciated our congratulations as we headed for the exit. Well done, my Senegalese friend.

We drove home on the highway and it was cold without a coat. It no doubt helped keep Jo awake on the moto.

***

Okay, that was Sunday and now it’s Tuesday. (Sigh) I’m having trouble remembering what was what yesterday. I do know that I woke up at 11:00. A group of us headed out with Curd to get his hair cut. The man likes it short. On the way home, we passed the Toubacouta soccer field. Two uniformed teams were going at it and I had to stay and watch for awhile. It was enthralling. It was a simple dirt field. Goal posts with no net. And speed! There were deft passes, wondrously controlled dribbles and blasting shots. I would have paid for a ticket.

On the sidelines four boys tried to keep a soccer ball in the air. A swordsman flowing with red ribbons swashbuckled his way through the fans. And the music blasted from the loudspeakers. Oh my, it was an event.

Our three families had dinner together at Eddy’s. Louisa had been vomiting the night before and was very weak but she didn’t want to be alone so her family made sure she got to the B&B. She lay back in a chair by the pool and sure didn’t feel like eating. But she wanted to see the food. Jan dad helped her up and together they staggered to the buffet, so she could salivate about the steak that would be a major no-no. It was beautiful to see the love between father and daughter.

Later in the evening, I had a great conversation with Louisa’s brother Jean. They both speak fine English, as well as French and their native Flemish. Jean fold me about Belgium’s different areas and languages. He, like many others, thought that me learning Flemish would be a major chore. But Bruce, I thought, go for it.

And so the evening waned. We all left for our rooms before midnight. Party animals we are not.

The Dance

I was online yesterday with some members of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community.  Part of the experience is practicing 1-1 with one other person.  As we let go of concepts, images often come.  While I talked to “Sherry”, the dance entered my mind.  We were doing a slow waltz to the most celestial music.  We whirled so gently.  And I gazed deep into the eyes of the Beloved.  I was lost in the moving, in the glory of another human being moving with me.  Time stopped.  Even within the flow, there was stillness.  We danced.

Jody and I often danced.  We jived to the accompaniment of glorious smiles.  We did the fox trot and the waltz, imperfectly but lovingly.  We held each other close.

Decades ago, I was involved in a personal development program called Est (Erhard Seminars Training).  We leadership candidates met in person occasionally and we’d go dancing.  Fast dancing.  No-mind dancing.  We called it breakthrough dancing.  My body parts moved every whichway, unattached to my head.  When I was able to let go completely, it was glorious.

Rita and I were married before Jody and I were married.  The family lived on a grain farm in Southern Alberta.  Saturday nights during the winter were often times for old time dancing – whole families getting together in a school gym to share “The Road to the Isles”, “The Schottische” and the allemande lefts of square dancing.  I danced with lots of women, not just Rita – older ladies, kids and my dear mother-in-law Amy.  It was family.

So dancing is in my jeans.  And in my meditations.

And clearly not just me.  Here are some words from those who are danced through life:

We should consider every day lost in which we have not danced at least once

To dance is to be out of yourself.  Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.  This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking

Dance when you’re broken open.  Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off.  Dance in the middle of the fighting.  Dance in your blood.  Dance when you’re perfectly free

While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life.  I can only be joyful and whole.  This is why I dance

There is a need to find and sing our own song, to stretch our limbs and shake them in a dance so wild that nothing can roost there

To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music

Indeed, wise friends
Bring on the insanity

Dancing

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve left a lot of life’s goodies behind.  “Sure I did this in my 20’s but not anymore.”  To which I say “Why not?”  Take dancing for instance.

Last night woke me up.  I went to hear Angelique Kidjo sing.  She’s a dynamic songstress from Benin in Africa.  She strode out onstage with a huge smile, wearing traditional garb – a red, yellow and white “sari” and a headdress that matched.  I know that “sari” isn’t the right word but it’s all I know.

Angelique belted out all these fast African songs, each with a great beat.  And she danced!  Throwing her head back and zooming all over the stage, arms and legs moving every whichway.  And she was so happy!  I marvelled at the expressions of a full human being.

And then … towards the end of the concert, Angelique invited us all up on the stage to dance with her and her band!  1100 of us.  About 100 human beings took her up on it.  And there I was, boogieing my butt off in close quarters with dancers of all ages (including one 7-year-old girl, a whirl of limbs).  The music blasted, the audience wowed.  I looked out from the stage and took in all of Koerner Hall … such beauty in the walls, on the ceiling, in the seats.  And I too was happy.  I remembered other dancing times and smiled beneath the sweat:

1. Jody and I at an evening street dance in Vieux Fort, a tiny town in St. Lucia. We all were so packed in at that intersection that the only place to move was up and down.  So I bounced!

2. A staff Christmas party at a fancy restaurant in downtown London.  Jody later told me that people stared as I vibrated all body parts at a frantic pace in some skewed version of dancing.

3. Last summer in London’s Victoria Park, I threw everything around with hundreds of others to the music of Five Alarm Funk at Sunfest, our world music festival.  I looked around at a lot of 20-somethings, and precious few 60-somethings.  Too bad for those who missed out.

The truth is … I don’t want to miss out!  I want to dance.  If I’m to be with a lovely woman again, may she love to move and groove.  And if no such blithe spirit comes my way, I’ll dance alone through my remaining years on the planet.

So there.

Dancing Eyes

My friend Eleanor told me about a local “Dancing With The Stars” competition three weeks ago.  It was to be held in a historic railway station in St. Thomas, Ontario, built in the 1870’s to the tune of 354 feet long and 36 feet wide.  It was fascinating to hear that the seven couples had no ballroom experience but were getting two months of instruction from a skilled teacher.

And then I forgot about the whole thing.

A week ago, I saw Eleanor again and discovered that the show was sold out.  “Strike while the iron is hot” – so said someone from my deep dark past.  No striking from this guy.

For the past few days, I’ve had three folks trying to score me a ticket for last night’s performance.  I phoned the first two and they weren’t successful in their quest.  “Oh well, I don’t need any particular life experience to be happy,” chirped my little Buddhist soul.  But I sure wanted to go!

Thursday evening, just before the big hockey game on TV, here comes a phone call.  Eleanor’s sister-in-law was to go with a friend, but that person’s husband was ill, so she had to cancel.  “Do you know anyone who needs a ticket, Eleanor?”  “Well, I do know this guy named Bruce.”

And so I got to go, plus I got to sit in the second row, perfect for checking out flying feet.  Thank you, universe, for aligning the CASO Station and me.

Here are my personal highlights:

1.  I sat next to Lora and we laughed all night, ending up with a marriage ceremony planned for next Tuesday at 2:00.

2.  I talked to Bonnie, an old friend from the Port Stanley Community Choir.  I got to renew my zest for sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.  Maybe I’ll have a future back there.

3.  I watched one of the couples swirl across the dance floor with great love in their eyes.  Their bodies moved beautifully but it was the eyes that held me.  Afterwards, I told them how vividly their love shone.

4.  With another couple, the woman’s face was so darn alive.  I didn’t think skin could do all that.  I told her later about the joy I saw.

5.  Another pair were the driving force behind the St. Thomas Performing Arts Series – many years of concerts in a sublime circular sanctuary.  At the end, I thanked him for bringing the Barra MacNeils and many other artists to a small city.

6.  The last dancers included a woman I know well.  She was Jody’s nurse practitioner as my dear wife fell towards death.  I hadn’t seen her since Jodiette went to the hospital for the last few days of her life.  On a break, I walked up to Laura.  We smiled, we hugged, and I thanked her for taking such good care of Jody.

***

Eleanor was the coach for one of the dancing pairs and they won the People’s Choice Award.  She bounced up and down and presented us all with a huge smile.  In the audience, I was smiling pretty widely too.  Lots to be happy about.

Dancing

Long ago I ruptured a tendon in my right ankle and ended up on crutches for 17 weeks.  Jody and I went to a New Year’s Eve party that year and after dinner I sat watching couples swing and sway on the dance floor.  I love dancing.  Jody loves dancing.  It was hard.

SunFest started last night.  It’s the world music festival in London that’s expected to draw 250,000 people to Victoria Park.  Soon after I arrived, I wandered over to the beer garden, where a group from Colombia was moving and grooving.  So were about a hundred dancers in front of the stage.  I stood just outside the fence and watched.  Most of them were young but certainly not all.  Pockets of friends grooved together.  A fellow in his 70’s dipped and dived to his wife, who moved a bit and smiled a lot.  One young woman near me gyrated in a delightfully sexual way, her purse on the ground in front of her.  The wild abandon and the sensible caution … sounds like a human being.

The leader of the band told the group to “Get down!” and 200 legs obliged.  Then it was hands to the sky.  So wonderful to see all those upraised arms – full self-expression.  I stood there fascinated.  All that energy.  All those smiles.  What life should be about.

After the Colombian folks were done, I meandered down the paths of crafts booths, knowing that I would make my appearance on the dance floor a bit later.  One of the kiosks held some marvelous creations from Bali, Indonesia.  And there it hung on a wall … a wooden plaque hand-painted, revealing a human being in full lotus meditation posture, one leg tucked into the other.  And in vibrant colours were the seven chakras, or energy centres, in the body.  Actually, the crown chakra is above the head.  I just stared, and brought out my MasterCard.  My heart danced.

Speaking of which, it was time to head back to the beer garden, and to the music of Five Alarm Funk, nine guys from Vancouver sporting a drum set, three guitars, bongo drums, saxophone, trumpet and trombone.  Hmm … guess I missed somebody.  The music was loud, raucous and so very danceable.  So we did.  I found myself next to a young woman and her boyfriend.  I heard “Hi, Mr.Kerr.”  Ten years ago, she was an elementary student at the school where I taught a blind child.  It was weird and yet wonderful to dance my heart out next to her.  Little kids grow up.

For awhile I threw my arms everywhere, but as the folks packed in tighter, my movements became vertical.  I tried moving my feet in a spastic sort of way but I had to stare at them to keep from crushing someone else’s foot.  When I mustered up the energy, I bounced for a bit, arms flopping at my sides.  Finally, my bodily organs told me to calm down or my days on the planet might be numbered.  Come to think of it, my days are numbered, bouncing or not.

I sweated and strained and joyed in living.  The folks around me were mostly young and radiant, but there were two fellow grey hairs off to my right.  Thank you, God.  Thank you, Jody.  Thank you, O powers of the universe, for letting me dance again.  It’s such a part of me.  And hey, maybe during SunFest 2035, it’ll be me and my walker showing those young’uns a step or two!

Flying Like a Bird … Dropping Like a Stone

I loved walking by the water’s edge in Cuba, dipsy doodling along the sand.  Nowhere to go and no hurry to get there.  And I enjoyed saying “Hola!” to the people I met.  It was such a blessing to meet and greet, even if many folks gave me a very tight “Hola” in return, or sometimes no greeting at all.  Not being attached to the other’s response created a lightness that I wish all human beings could experience.

Then there were words from Jody on one warm afternoon: “I’m so glad you’re dancing up a storm in the disco, husband.  You’re having so much fun.  Why don’t you try some moving and grooving on the beach?”

Hmmm.  Well, I guess I could dance a bit by the waves.  Sing a few lines from a favorite song or two.  But my goodness, what would people think?  >  Who cares what they think?  >  Well, I do … sort of  >  Will you still be alive at the end of the dance, with all of your body parts intact?  >  Well, sure  >  What’s the worst that could happen?  >  Some of them will think I’m drunk  >  So?  Are you?  >  No, of course not  >  So, how about if you start shaking a leg?  >  (Pause)  Okay

A sudden tightness in the step.  Furtive glances to the left and right.  Waiting for a moment when very few folks were near.  Blah, blah, blah …  Just do it.

So I did.  The singing came first, and then the arms lifted … oh so little.  They floated to the sides, to up and to down.  Rotate that trunk.  Loosen those wrists.  Dip down for the chorus.  Tilt that sexy head of yours … And I was off, soon lost in the melody.  I held Jody like a bird and we floated over the world.  Pirouette.  Bow.  Smile.  For a few yards … till the next beach bar … for three miles or more.  My love and I, tripping the light fantastic, so deeply joined in spirit.

Sunbathers watched.  Strollers noted the mystery couple.  There were smiles, frowns, grimaces, high fives, looking away, looking into, communing, disowning.  Fear, love, anger, peace … the whole enchilada.  And I was fine with it all.  My beloved and I graced the world.

I was lighter than goose down, as rhythmic as Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Lucky me.

And then I pulled a muscle in my right calf.  Pain shot up and down the leg.  I staggered.  I plodded.  I hobbled.  The dance was dead.  I was old.  I was feeble.  I was pretty much extinct.

Such a long walk back to my hotel room.  Sunbathers watched.  Strollers noted.  Sympathy, apathy, fear that it might become them.

Floating and bloating
Reaching to the sun and crumbling to the earth
In God’s green heaven and in the devil’s fiery furnace

All in a day’s work