Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Life as a dance


By JOELLEN COLLINS

I once heard a man say that he was finally sober and accepting life “as a dance.” I was familiar with the phrase, but what impressed me then and still does is his ability to view the new gifts he had in these words. I have never forgotten him and his courage in expressing that sentiment.

My dearest friend, who, as I have recently noted, just lost her adult son, has since about age 25 been very active with the San Francisco Ballet. Over the years, her and her family’s lives have been enriched by the dancers and others associated with that great institution, and she has found a wonderful niche for her passion. We spent many Christmas Eves in her home enjoying a late dinner with some of the dancers in “The Nutcracker.” What a joy to be acquainted with, and even friends of, these lovely artists. I have never witnessed, though, such an outpouring of love and affection for my friend and her husband at their son’s memorial service in San Francisco. Rows of dancers and their significant others filled the hall. One prima ballerina asked what she could do to help relieve her friend’s grief: The answer was, “Dance for me.” That is planned soon.

Tutored by my friend, I have learned slowly about the skills and discipline of those beautiful people we see in ballet and the excitement of that art form. Unfortunately, my own dancing has been quite limited, beginning with my experience as a 5-year-old who took children’s ballet lessons in San Francisco. After much practice, we donned our beautiful tutus and prepared to dance before 2,000 World War II servicemen. Just before our entrance, I finally gave up asking to visit the bathroom, and crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t pee on stage. You guessed it: I did. Maybe no one else noticed it, but I was sure each young warrior witnessed my humiliation. This fear was reinforced when the announcer told the audience that due to an accident on the part of one of the chickadees, the stage would have to be mopped and sawdusted for the dancers’ safety.

The rest of my childhood, not only because of that incident but because I developed severe asthma and was considered a sickly child, I avoided most physical exertion. Thus, when I attended high school I found myself highly embarrassed by my awkwardness in P.E.; naturally, I was the last one picked for relay teams. Being very thin (my nickname was “Bones”), I could barely stand the humiliation of manning third base during second lunch period when the boys whom I secretly admired lined up along the field lines, shouting “Go, Bones.” I knew this was not because I was pretty, with my twig-thin legs emerging from big red bloomers. Thus, when I was a junior and able to take “modern dance,” I rejoiced. No more red shorts, and maybe some disguise in the leotards we would wear under various cover-ups. I loved especially being with my friend mentioned at the beginning of this piece. She was the star, graceful, lithe and simply exquisite. I was happy to hide in the chorus line behind her and not hear boys’ comments! Alas—and I imagine you have anticipated this—the first assembly performance we gave was memorable, not for my performance but because I fell down in the middle of the piece. From then on I became rather a malingerer about anything having to do with dancing on stage.

I did enjoy school dances—the Lindy, the slow dancing to records by the likes of Nat King Cole and others who inspired my romantic fantasies. But I still was not immune to my clumsiness. During my first year of teaching at Santa Monica High School, I chaperoned one of the dances and took as a date the handsomest man I knew. When we started dancing, some students, who hadn’t imagined their young teacher with this gorgeous specimen, circled around us. I was in egotistical bliss, wearing a silk dress I had made and glowing from the positive attention. You guessed it—I slipped on the polished floor, falling most awkwardly in front of everyone.

In spite of my klutziness, I, too, view life as a dance, including the prospect of occasional spills. If I were more graceful, I’d dance for my friend. Fortunately, I don’t have to really dance. Just my spirit does.




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