Saturday, October 23, 2010
But the point of this blog is that Morris and Elaine's son is a movement artist, if that's the correct title, and involved in performance and well as in studies and his fiance has her degree in movement therapy. And Morris and I started talking about related topics which brought me to telling him of a blog that the Cuban in London had written about going to a ballet when he was quite a young man, hardly dressed in the manner of the rest of the audience, and hardly possessing the same color skin. The point of it was how he felt as an outsider (an idea that could take me in another interesting direction entirely) and the importance of being at this performance and the way it connects to his view of dance and the body. Now, the Cuban was far more eloquent about this than I'm conveying, but what I gained from reading were a rush of thoughts about my own relationship to dance and the failure it had to thrive, perhaps a cultural failure, but never-the-less a failure.
My mother was the force behind my interpretive dancing lessons taken with Miss Ingalls in a second floor studio she rented on Main Street, perhaps near Jimmy Gureci's Meat Market, where we fluttered around like butterflies holding parachute silk scarves she'd tie died, clambering like bears, hopping like frogs and dancing freely to Satie. My mother would never have permitted me to take ballet lessons, though I must have wanted the strict form, a teacher who told us what to do and scolded us if we didn't do it right, the desirable black leotards (instead of blue) and, holy of holies, toe shoes. We danced barefooted or wore soft brown dance shoes with elastic. I wanted, at the very least, soft black ballet slippers.
But my mother had her ideas, one of which was not using coloring books because they confined you in the lines. Perhaps she didn't think that, but it's what I imagine. No comic books, no Sunday funnies, no Saturday afternoon movies with the other kids and Miss Ingalls Interpretive Dance based, loosely, on Isadora Duncan. (Years later I worked at Abromovitz, Brienes and Cutter (are those names spelled correctly?) in the Corning Glass building, in a windowless room, with a group of architect planners, Bernie and Arthur, and a young Frenchman, Jean Pierre, who designed the models, tiny trees, wee pedestrians, cardboard buildings. He was the nephew of Isadora and Menalcus Duncan and he, Jean Pierre, had been so poor that he always kept a twenty-pound bag of rice around in case his fortunes decreased again. He alsos grew vines from the tops of sweat potatoes. They festooned the columns and supportive strings.)
After she did, subdued hell broke lose in what was left of my family, but eventually I did, sometime in high school, go back to classes (Thursday) with Miss Ingalls. She was horrified when she came to watch a modern dance performance in which I was a sinner (red, sleek leotard like costume) in a saints and sinners something or other that I can hardly imagine. All I remember is a glimpse of that red satin. (I'm still a person who wishes she had a gold tooth and wore spangles instead of turtle necks.)
The upshot of all this is that when I was too sick with ulcerative colitis to start college, and had to move to that one-room studio on Charles Street in the Village with my father who thought he was finally free (both of his second wife and me), I taught dance with her, Ruth Ingalls, on 57th St. By taught, I mean that she paid me a bit and I performed sometimes or demonstrated. The most interesting, important feeling was that the arms rise from lifting the back, pulling up the rib cage and stretching. It was quite a wonderful feeling and I never imagined that I'd entirely lose that lift. "Breathe," she would say because I was already holding my breath, waiting for the next catastrophe to fall. That particular version was the 12-year-older Italian man who I'd run to in order to avoid living with my father who was still often sleeping in the bathtub, the only door that closed in his place. And the Italian had to go the dance classes with me, to watch me. He was small and wirery and had the hardest time stretching even the tiniest bit.
Let's gloss over the rest and finally get me to the first year of college and all the following mishaps. I could have studied with Jean Erdman at Bard, but for some reason I wanted to major in literature and to write. I passed over the possibility of taking her classes entirely (modern dance, pshaw) and took sculpture with Harvey Fite, instead. And other stuff like creative writing which I was no good at. And then blah, and blah, pregnancy, abortion, quitting school, getting married, leaving him, and no concern at all for dancing.
Except when my daughter was born so was the love of watching her run and leap, listening to her stories, dance classes at Henry Street Settlement, etc. Some time in here I took a few Tai Chi classes with Ed Young who also illustrated (present tense probably included) childrens' books. And more importantly, for a while there, I somehow found myself in a company of odd dancers who were free form performers....but I was extremely sick, the result of a long ulcerative colitis attack, and missed the performance I wanted to be so much a part of.
In all that time, except for that brief excursion with this tiny mad company, I did nothing physical except walk. I did like to walk. My back hurt so I stopped wearing clogs which I'd liked to wear. But I still walked.
And time passed, and the gods moved me to Brookline when Krissy was nine, and to another set of problems that moved Krissy along, year by year, until I did take some yoga classes....and then, relatively recently, Chi Gong, and Tai Chi (except that the man I was living with made fun of me every time I started to practice, so I never, ever settled in to knowing the form that I spent so much time and money learning.)
I never understood that my fatigue and aching muscles were from fibromyalgia. They seemed like the product of ordinary neurosis and a life not well lived. And I had long been concerned only with the head, a lesson mis-learned from my father who actually did keep swimming and walking well into his dotage, never gained weight and always seemed comfortable in his body.
I have never been comfortable in mine. I thought I was a head, eyes, detached from the rest of me which is why, I'm sure, I'm seventy-one and truly bending forward, uncomfortable with various aches. And I'm not sure that many white middle-class women of my age were or are. We weren't programmed to achieve or become professionals, nor were we programmed to be relaxed, fit and pliable.
But it's more than that. I was not part of a group, a culture if you will, where the body, as a tool, element of movement, music, was integrated. I can hardly imagine Auntie Marion dancing in the kitchen, much as she loved Balanchine. Dance was to watch in high priced seats, performers at the top of their skills, Maria Tall Chief among them.
These thoughts have been rattling around since I read the Cuban's blog. They were more articulate when I was driving back from visiting with Morris, but I didn't catch them last night, so this is the best I can do before they submerge again.