Tag Archives: Dance

The Big Story of Us

I saw something last night that lassooed my wobbly faith in humanity.

It was one of those had-to-be-there moments that are hard to put into words, but I’ll try. Under the direction of Tim Miller, a group of people from a variety of backgrounds, meaning that they were not all trained performers, told their personal stories through words and movement. It sounds so simple and it was.

No car crashes. No surround sound. No Brangelina. No blood. No seduction.

Just some stories told by ordinary folks.

A day later, I was still thinking about the show. When art hits you that way, it’s downright healing, at least for my tired soul. And it got me to thinking about the importance of stories themselves, how they connect us to something: our imagination, our feelings, beauty, spirit, how they teach us about life and help us to find our place in the abyss. Good stories, that is.

I just sat there on the floor of the Harvard black box theater beaming in awe of each person’s specialness. Each story was a unique gem that made me see the storyteller in the light of its sparkle. To see the specialness of someone is a gift of compassion. I wanted to be able to see everyone in the world with those eyes. Maybe I can’t know everyone’s individual story, but I can certainly try to remember that they have one in the first place and feel into them from there.

I also got to thinking about how the nature of stories, which is interconnectedness, helps us to grow in compassion. We humans get a little stuck around compassion. Maybe  you’ve noticed. I don’t know if our sense of compassion is getting better in this age of technology, but tend to think that when there is only you and one other person walking towards each other on the same street and that other person fails to acknowledge you, inches away, because they are on their cell phone, that our sense of compassion is suffering.

It’s not that we’re mean. It’s that we’re distracted. But that in itself, one’s level of distraction, is in some way a measure of compassion. It is a lack of compassion that distracts you from what or whom you are with. It takes a dose of compassion, presence and awareness to say hi, to smile, to at least look  someone in the eye. Maybe wink at a sista once in awhile.

Anyway, I digress…compassion…oh yeah. Another thing about that show is that it helped me to understand something about us all being special and ordinary at the same time. I think accepting our ordinariness is another thing we humans struggle with, especially in this time of reality-tv-insta-fame.

Our commercial, modern world really has us by the throats around this issue. We are constantly taunted that we should be faster, thinner, smarter, richer, and more famous in order to be better than the person next to us. We really have to examine the extent to which competition motivates our actions. None of the stuff we acquire through our competitive, fearful grasping actually makes  us better, so we are given more products, thinner models, faster phones, more channels, to keep us reaching.

I think the nature of story-telling’s interconnectedness helps us to heal ourselves from competitive, fearful grasping (CFG) by helping us to understand the paradox of the special and the ordinary. What I mean is that stories, if looked at from above, form a sort of web. One story connects with another, with another, with another. They connect through shared time, history, people, places, things and experiences.

When a story is told, there are usually main characters, but when looked at from above, you may see that an ant that played a small role in one story plays the central role in another. Up close, sometimes we are the star. Other times not. But from above, we are both simultaneously. What’s important is not that one is a star, but that one simply plays one’s role.

Even the ones among us who play big roles in many stories will one day be forgotten. What’s important is that the story keeps moving, keeps getting told. It’s the story, the Big Story of Us, that through its telling, gets into us, and stays alive, also through us.


More Better than Money

I often read about the spiritual experiences of others. I find these stories to be a source of inspiration, a way to stay connected with my own desire to nurture that non-physical part of myself, especially when I feel tugged down by the every day blues. I especially like stories about death, near-death, psychics, aliens, gurus, fairies, angels, saints, masters of every sort, Atlantis, Egypt, dreams, out-of-body experiences, and shamans. Ordinary stories about just noticing shit really turn me on too. I love to talk about the sunshine, the moon, the lake, the trees, prayer, beauty, meditation, art, music, lyrics, poetry and flowery language of every sort.

Eloquence is an important part of indigenous culture. Words have the power to bring things to life. Speaking beautifully is one of the sacred things we’ve sacrificed for the sake of crappy technology. Some would argue that language has merely changed because of technology. That it is always evolving. I think we should worry a little more about sustaining things instead of evolving. We abuse that word so. Evolve. Maybe we are devolving. I’m sorry but OMG does not feed the soul. It does not acknowledge the soul because OMG doesn’t have a soul–

“Are you done?” asks Mr. Octopus.

“What? I was just saying–”

“I believe you are rrranting. Do you have a point?”

“Oh, yeah, there was something I wanted to say. Something’s got me all worked up!”

“Let’s pause for a second.”

“Good idea.”

[PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE]

“Betterrr?”

“Yeah. I think it worked.”

In the spring, the students I teach at the public arts high school here in Boston have a concert. At the end of this show, we have a tradition where the students call all of the five teachers from the dance department onto the stage and present us with flowers. It is very touching.

Last year, as I was presented with a bouquet, one of my students thanked me for helping them to get in touch with their spiritual side. In that moment, I realized they got me! They heard me! It was a very affirming moment.

By “following my bliss,” as Joseph Campbell says, towards all things spiritual, a little of that magic, that wisdom, found its way to my students. Hurray!  I want to make it clear that I do not see myself as a font of spiritual wisdom and authority of any sort. A lover of spirit, yes, and a fool. But spirit can sometimes usurp even a fool’s tongue. My student’s comment was a little victory for the Luke Skywalker inside us all.

The more I work in education, however, the more I see how it is increasingly driven by a business model rather than a spiritual one. (Well, most of our spiritual models have become bankrupted, which is perhaps the subject of another entry). This rotten, business, soul-sucking way of living through getting more, more, more has seeped its poison into education.

Of course, this unexamined business model showing up in education is not the conscious intention of dedicated educators and parents. Many have fought and are fighting against it. But this seepage is happening while most are all too caught up in the hardship of daily survival to notice. It is slinking into our classrooms under such glossy titles as No Child Left Behind.

In school, as in business, we have become obsessed about showing growth through data. Influenced by business, we made the erroneous leap in logic that assumes that an increase in test scores is somehow a measure of the growth of a human being. Well, I’m sorry, but just because a teacher has managed to shove some information down a student’s throat, through cleverness, intimidation, manipulation and force (usually because the teachers themselves are being forced) does not mean that that student, that person, has somehow grown.

And what do we want them to grow into? Better human beings? Naaah. We are teaching them to become people who will fit in unquestioningly to this modern system ruled by greed, power and fear. We send them to college where most become initiated to a life of debt. The rich just want to make sure they keep getting richer and they need our young people, body and soul, to do that.

We teach them to line up and play the game. Bliss? Shmiss! Get a job! We are so good at teaching them to get a job, that is, when there are jobs to be gotten, that the majority of people who graduate from college end up with a job that had nothing to do with their major. Now that’s success! Furthermore, we teach them the importance of “good communication skills” when it comes to getting that all-important job, but we don’t teach them how to connect deeply with whom or what they are communicating.

OMG.

We boast that we are teaching them how to be of “service,” but what we are really teaching them is how to go out and get what they want under the guise of serving a good cause in order to satisfy a selfish agenda. It’s based on business, based on colonialism. Everyone looks good on the surface, masking a hollowness, an inauthenticity. In a recent school meeting, I heard some teachers speak proudly of how they had taught students to make cold-calls. Really? This is how we do things now? We take. We take. We take. And since we’ve convinced ourselves that we are taking for a good cause, that makes it alright.

It is not alright. Respect and authenticity matter. True service, giving one’s gifts to those who have expressed a need, matters. These things actually make life better. More better than money. What good is a bunch of money if we are spiritually poor? Rich people who are spiritually poor have proven themselves to be disastrous to all life. If we start focusing on teaching our kids how to live, instead of how to pass a test, how to get over, then maybe we can restore some beauty to this world.

I’m so fed up with the business machine and its insidious nature of taking the most while giving the least, or giving nothing at all. Shamelessly it corrupts even our most sacred traditions and institutions. I am against the lie that money makes the world go ’round. It does not. It never has.

When I was dancing, I didn’t make a lot of money, but I felt rich. Nothing I could buy could give me the good vibes I got after a great, hot, sweaty class. Writing this blog and the people who read it make me feel rich. Nature makes me feel rich. Being in ritual makes me feel rich. Spirit makes me feel rich. My boyfriend makes me feel rich, rich, rich. My family and friends make me feel rich. My students make me feel rich (sometimes).

“What am I? Chopped liverrr?” asks Mr. Octopus.

“Oh, sorry! And Mr. Octopus makes me feel rich!”


Harvard vs. the Unknown

IMG_0602When I was about eight or nine, my dance teacher at the time, Miss Joan, looked at me hard and asked me if I wanted to be a dancer. Looking down, afraid to meet the intensity of her gaze, I meekly shook my head yes. I had never uttered the words, “I want to be a dancer” out loud. Some things are too close to be spoken.

For a long time I thought everyone was like this. Everyone knew the blueprint of their becoming. I recognized my dancerness early on as a mere fact of my birth like my sex and the color of my eyes. Miss Joan’s question surprised me.  I didn’t think I had a choice.

In my single-minded pursuit of  dancing, I quit high school at seventeen, got a GED, and joined a company. At that time, I didn’t give much thought to going to college. Now, at 39, I have what amounts to roughly three years of college credits that I acquired from three different universities in a higgliddy-piggliddy sort of fashion, going to school here and there during lay-offs or periods of injury when I didn’t know what else to do with my life. I always managed to learn something that brought me to greater self-understanding, although it was an expensive way to learn about oneself. This year, I finally paid off my student loans, bringing my credit score back up to positive numbers. Thank god for the two universities that actually employ me!  I will probably finish my degree at some point because I hate to leave loose ends. It messes with my need for simplicity.

But I don’t want to get into the positives and negatives of today’s colleges. That’s a worthy topic for another blog. What I do want to talk about is what to do if you’re a dancer who has to choose between college and joining a company.

First of all, let me say that it doesn’t have to be either/or. There are many programs now that will allow you to work gradually towards a degree at night, on-line, or whatever. But ballet, more than modern or other dance forms, emphasizes youth. Especially important is the time between ages seventeen to about twenty one when you are expected to join a company.

Many parents of prospective freshman approach me to ask what I think is the best route. They are torn between the seeming security of a college diploma and the uncertainty of dancing for one’s dinner. They want to lay out a clearly cut path for their children that leads to a safe and beautiful place. They are afraid that their child will fail.

But failure, I mean the crying-on-the-bathroom-floor kind, is an inevitable part of any life. So is risk. What terrifies me more than failure is that someone will not fulfill their talent, their blueprint. That someone will have to face death not having delivered their light into the world. We will all die, but will we dance our dance? On some days, it’s because I have a garbage can full of failures that I dance.

My advice to the parent is that they allow their child to follow their own heart, at which point  the parent usually says, yes, but shouldn’t they get their degree first? Now, I am a sort of put-all-your-eggs-in-one-basket-kamikaze-kind-of-girl, so I say, well, that might make you feel better (to the parent) but, in ballet, as I’ve said, time is of the essence. The having-something-to-fall-back-on approach won’t necessarily help your child in this situation. I emphasize that  it’s important for the young artist to spend several years focusing on their art and to realize that each person’s path is unique. Just because it is not well trod doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it yours and yours alone.

For some, college after high school is best. For others, it is not, and if you or your child falls into the latter group, know that you are not alone. Believe me, Harvard will be there, and if it isn’t, then the world will probably have changed drastically to one in which Harvard and the like will have been rendered unnecessary.

I like college. I just don’t think it’s the promised land. I don’t believe in a promised land at all, which is just another way of saying that nothing is guaranteed. I do believe that there is a wisdom inside each heart that is far superior to any external authority, and that we should spend more time teaching our children to put faith in that.


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