Tag Archives: Martha Graham

One More Sleep for Our Swan…

“Consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in

is the dance of the creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an

eye but the dance lives on. On many an occasion when I am dancing, I

have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my

spirit soar and become one with everything that exists.”

Michael Jackson

Tomorrow, our daughter takes to the stage in Swan Lake Act II and as her greatest fan, I absolutely can’t wait. She will be performing with the Central Dance Company where professional dancers fill the lead roles while the youth form the corps de ballet. This gives the young dancers a taste of what it’s like to be in a professional ballet company and step out beyond the walls of their own studios. Moreover, it also provides additional hours of expert teaching, and improvement simply through the sheer number of hours of rehearsal. If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you’ll know all about that magic 10,000 hours of practice which lifts you out of mediocrity into the meteoric heavens.

“Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all

obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of

inviting the perfection desired.”

― Martha Graham

 

However, there are some downsides to pushing yourself to the max and beyond. Not unsurprisingly when you push your body so far, there’s that omnipresent risk of injury.  There’s also a fine line between pursuing your passion and giving it everything you’ve got, and flying straight into the candle flame and burning up. Just ask the moth.

Yet, in pursuing a career as a professional ballerina, staying upright on top of that pointe shoe is about the only kind of balance available. Ultimately, as in any other demanding field, you sink or swim. However, the extremes are far more intense and burn out can be psychologically and physically destructive, which was almost portrayed too well in the movie Black Swan.

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

If you have seen Black Swan, you well might ask why I signed our daughter up for ballet. Why would I put her through all of that, when she could have followed her previous dream of becoming an astrophysicist?

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Our daughter at her first ballet concert aged 4.

The truth is that as a parent, I don’t really have a lot of say in all of this. All I did was book her into a local ballet class when she was three turning four. The earth didn’t quiver and shake as she disappeared with her teacher and the other kids behind the closed door, although I do remember wanting to go in there and see what was going on. We even have the concert video from that very first year of ballet, and while she was very cute up on stage in her tutu, she wasn’t extraordinary. She even made mistakes.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Michelangelo

If we fast-forward to when she was about 10, she was very unwell and also couldn’t seem to get to class or would get there with one or both shoes missing and her hair all tangled up in a veritable bird’s nest. However, despite these outward appearances, her teacher and I still managed to see the dancer within, just like Michaelangelo saw his angel in that lump of stone. It was hard to spot, but she was there. It was also thanks to a few of her friends who took her under their wing, that she was able to catch up for the end of year concert. I’m still not sure how things turned around. However, it was like a switch had been turned on. Or, she’d been struck by some kind of cosmic lightning. A passion for dance was ignighted, and she’s never turned back. She absolutely loves dance to an extent where it goes far beyond just being her thing to somehow becoming part of her being.

“Hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon.”
Edward Lear

Every time I see my daughter dance, I celebrate this progression from struggling to hold her fingers in a diamond shape above her head, to the young woman who is now en pointe and learning the cygnet routine from Swan Lake. There’s a lot of pride in that, but also an acknowledgment of the sheer hard work we’ve all put in right down to driving her to classes and rehearsals, and almost piercing my fingers and drawing blood sewing ribbons and elastics on shoes. Our swan didn’t just fall out of a box of cereal and land on her feet.

Pointe Shoe Fitting

Getting her first pointe shoes was such a special day.

On a more personal note, seeing our daughter dance in Swan Lake in a beautiful white tutu is like a precursor of seeing what she would be like walking down the aisle on her wedding day. Naturally, I remember our wedding day. I was so happy my face was aching and I loved getting all dressed up in my absolutely beautiful dress and in a sense being the swan for the day. However, since our daughter’s arrival, I’ve had my moments of playing the dying swan. On too many occasions, I’ve been living it as I battle along with dermatomyositis and associated lung fibrosis. It is impossible to describe what it’s like as a seriously ill mum to face leaving your young children behind and you’ll never be waiting for them at the school gate again. Indeed, to be very honest, we didn’t think I was going to make it this far. Yet, despite time being my enemy, I’ve actually improved quite a lot overall and am strangely doing okay. However, that doesn’t mean that when it comes to seeing my daughter all dressed up as a white swan, that I’m not going to make the most of that. Carpe diem seize the day. This memory will be etched into my retinas and in my heart. After all, before she became my swan, she always was and still remains my girl. My family are my greatest treasures.

Rowena & Amelia Coastquest

Dance Mum and daughter

It is very easy to get caught up in the hoopla of dance. Being a Dance Mom and allowing your love and pride for your own child, overtake all sense of reason and perspective. Our daughter takes part in eisteddfods and of course, I think she’s the best and I felt a bit devastated when she doesn’t place. “You got rocks in your head?!!!” Of course, I don’t say anything and we talk it up. However, it’s important to keep all of this dance stuff in perspective and what really matters to me, is that my kids are decent people. That they stop and help others, don’t set out to win at all costs and are good losers. Of course, I’d love them to be happy, but I’m more of a realist and simply hope they get through life’s up and downs relatively unscathed and can keep smiling.

Above: When our daughter performs in Swan Lake, she’ll dip her toe into the very same pond traversed by the likes of Anna Pavlova (who even had her own pet swan) and Dame Margot Fonteyn.

In a sense, we have been very lucky that the dance school we attend encourages teamwork and kindness. I just took her down to the local dance school and didn’t shop around or ask for advice. Our choice was all based on convenience. However, our dance school actively promotes supportive and encouraging friendships and the parents are friendly and help each other out. Indeed, we’ve been sharing lifts back and forth to rehearsals for Swan Lake and we’ve got to know each other better. It’s been great. I don’t think we’d have stuck with dance if our studio had been anything like what you see in Dance Moms. Values come first.

“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know

if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running

through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.”

Gene Kelly

Reading back through all of this, I realized that I haven’t really touched on what dance does for the spirit and how it can create that all-encompassing joie de vivre or even a sense of absolute peace. I have been doing some adult classes and really only dipping my toe into dance, but I have also had a taste of the magic which inspires my daughter. It’s electric.

So, we now only have one more sleep until our daughter becomes a swan whatever that entails. However, I know that for me, it will be pure magic.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

The Unbelievable Lightness of Being.

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Today, our daughter performed a ballet solo for the very first time on stage.

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As a self-confessed thundering elephant, it is hard to believe that any child of mine could possibly move with grace, poise and become a ballerina, even if she is still just a Ballerina-in-Progress and she’s dancing with L plates. That said, when our Miss dances, she’s as light as a feather, almost lighter than air.

“I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living…. In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.”
― Martha Graham

It’s funny thinking of that because our home life is anything but “light” and she carries a huge emotional burden thanks to a devil of an auto-immune disease called dermatomyositis, which was triggered by her birth. So, all her life, I haven’t been well, although that said, we’ve re-calibrated “well” and have our own definition.

It is incredible to think of all that humans have achieved despite, or perhaps even because of, the great burden they carry. You hear endless stories of rugged survival, and yet too often we focus on the negative. That said, I don’t know how you go through a trauma and come out with post-traumatic growth, NOT post-traumatic stress. That intrigues me.

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion. ”
― Martha Graham

Anyway, I find watching dance very cathartic, especially contemporary dance. In many ways, this isn’t surprising because the choreography is based on the contractions of childbirth…contract and release and this provides a great vehicle for dealing with any negative emotion as well. You scrunch it up tight like a ball of paper, and then you throw it across the room. Well, I couldn’t be entirely sure that’s exactly what choreographer, Martha Graham, had in mind but it seems cathartic to me.

When I was younger, I self-published an anthology of poetry called: Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth. Fortunately, I haven’t been locked in there for the last thirty years, and escaped some time ago. Yet, watching dance also provides an outlet. Moreover, whenever I am lucky enough to dip my big toe into dancing at the adult classes, I also get to extend that further. Given my limited mobility and health issues, I appreciate the ability to move unimpeded so much more. My limbs don’t go into flights of fancy unless I’ve tripped over a crack in the footpath and crash landed.

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Getting back to my daughter’s performance today, it’s quite strange when you know this beautiful, elegant dancer off-stage and she’s just a kid. At least, she was just a kid. As I looked through the lens today, it was hard to see my girl through the tutu, the makeup, the hair and it was like she’d slipped inside a second skin and was playing dress ups. Well, that’s sort of true because I also know that the ballerina, is now a part of her and has somehow melted in.

Yet, as much as her performance exuded poise and elegance, there’s always behind the scenes. We couldn’t find her music CD and tore her room apart multiple times trying to find it and we didn’t. Teachers are a wonderful thing!

Another funny moment, was when she sat beside me in the theatre. I don’t know if you’ve ever sat next to someone wearing a tutu? They might look pretty, poised and elegant, but they also take up three seats and heaven help you if you sit on the tutu! Then, you could well meet Grumpy Ballerina.

I don’t know where any of this is heading and I try not to think too far ahead. The plan at the moment is to get some audition practice, which will stand her in good stead for whatever she ends up doing. These build up both your skills and resilience and also help get your mother (or whatever taxi you depend on) organized.

Do you enjoying dancing yourself? Or, are you more part of the audience? Or, perhaps dance feels rather foreign and is not your thing. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The featured image comes from the YIPA Facebook page.

 

 

Becoming A Dancing Queen.

Once upon a time, I was a drama queen but slowly but surely, I’ve become a dancing queen or at the very least, the mother of one.

This afternoon, we attended our daughter’s annual dance concert and I am still buzzing. Of course, it was amazing to see our daughter up on stage but the show itself was incredible. Such a kaleidoscope of colour, movement and sound that I was swept off my feet on some kind of magical carpet soaring somewhere up towards the heavens. The flashy costumes were sensational and had their own performance under the coloured lights as the dancers wiggled, jiggled and swirled around the stage. It was also quite funny seeing my friends’ kids dancing around with their gorgeous blond hair glowing purple. I’m sure they’ll have a good laugh when they see themselves on the DVD.

Such energy and emotion being expressed dancing at the beach.

Such energy and emotion being expressed dancing at the beach.

Dance is the hidden language of the soul. – Martha Graham

It’s not that these performances were perfection personified. It was the ambiance. After all, they were mostly kids and there were rows of pre-schoolers looking gorgeously cute and really just getting a taste for being on stage with fairly simple routines.However, these small beginnings lead to much better things. Our daughter, who can be quite shy, says that she doesn’t feel nervous dancing on stage because she’s been doing it since she was four. The dance school aims to engender a love of dance and the benefits of dance to all its students regardless of their abilities. This kind of patient encouragement is a very special kind of love that changes lives and creates a better world…step by step. Nobody is beyond hope and as we all know, a lot of kids have a rough time away from the magic of the dance floor. I find this approach so refreshing especially as the Russell family who run our dance school are so talented. Not just Mum and Dad but all their kids and they are so incredibly down to earth. Just because you’ve got it, it doesn’t mean you have to flaunt it. (Take note “Bragbook”!!).

Our daughter relaxing before the concertlooking like the consumate professional completely unphased by the bright lights.

Our daughter relaxing before the concert looking like the consummate professional completely unphased by the bright lights.

I could almost get caught up in those steps, the turns, the passion and could feel myself up there on stage getting into it. Golly. I’d make quite an interesting spectacle up there moving out of beat waving my walking stick around until I tripped. It was so hypnotic that our son was bouncing up and down in his seat which was flipping up and down during one number. Actually, I’m surprised he didn’t become airborne and crash on to the stage. Mister might not have an afro but there’s a lot of musician Red Foo in our son.

The kids leaving for the concert in 2012. Our son was doing the boys' hip hop class and jazz.

The kids leaving for the concert in 2012. Our son was doing the boys’ hip hop class and jazz. Why shouldn’t boys be allowed to dance too?!!

My love of dance has been a very recent development. Being a very awkward teenager who frequently tripped over my own feet or banged into things and sent them flying, dancing was a hellishly embarrassing torment. Eventually, I worked out that I could sort of do three steps on each foot and wriggle my arms a bit when I was out clubbing and I’d be right. Talk about deeply inhibited… a bird trapped in a very small, constricting cage unable to move my wings. Somehow, I went from there to just shaking everything around without caring about what anyone else thought and set myself free. Now, I really love dancing but don’t get the opportunity very often and my body doesn’t always cooperate either.

Taking dancing out of the studio and onto the beach in 2012.

Taking dancing out of the studio and onto the beach in 2012.

   

   

    Dance like there’s nobody watching,
    Love like you’ll never be hurt.
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
William W. Purkey

 

What I have also found is that being a writer, I’ve spent my life trying to encapsulate my emotions, the things I see around me into words. The language of dance and also music was a very foreign tongue. However, my daughter opened my heart when she started learning ballet violin and far from just being Mum’s taxi, I was converted. I found a way to express whole ranges and nuances of emotion which could never be shut into words into words…imprisoned. You see, once you name and thus define an emotion, you put it behind bars…limit it. You’re saying that this is what it is in no uncertain terms and there’s no room for nuance. Yet, emotions aren’t usually so clear cut and dance, like music, conveys the sense not the just concreteness of the emotion. They are also more subtle and open to interpretation.

To dance is to reach for a word that doesn’t exist,
To sing the heartsong of a thousand generations,
To feel the meaning of a moment in time.
– Beth Jones

Over the years, these dance concerts have at times been extremely and painfully emotional. You see, I usually have all my medical appointments quarterly and I always seem to be squeezing appointments in just before Christmas and before Australia goes to sleep (I mean on holidays) all of January. You don’t expect to get anything other than a tan, sunburn and more freckles around here in January. The place grinds to an absolute stop. Away from the beach, it’s like a graveyard.

Having these medical appointments just before Christmas might be practical and my doctors and I have agreed that its a good idea to get everything checked out before the “Great Australian Annual January Slumber Party”. However, it’s meant that when I’ve had bad news, that it has, despite all my upbeat protestations, dumped a huge black cloud right on top of Christmas and I’ve felt absolutely rotten.

Couldn't resist this photo of our dancing queen in front of the box office.

Couldn’t resist this photo of our dancing queen in front of the box office at this year’s concert.

There has been more than one of our daughter’s dance concerts where my life felt like it was hanging by a very fragile thread…a thin thread of spider’s silk…and I have sobbed through her concert wondering who was going to do her hair and makeup if, and seemingly more likely, when I was no longer around. As I watched Miss dance across the stage in an enchanting tutu or one of her funky jazz outfits, everything was moving in very slow motion and was actually freeze-framed, frozen in time like a stained-glass window. I was heartbroken.

You often hear about a parent’s anguish of losing a child but even the possibility of dying and leaving your children behind is absolutely devastatingly heartbreaking. I am supposed to be there walking my children through the school gate. Twirling my daughter’s hair into a bun and applying bright red lipstick to her tender lips so she can dance across the stage and through my heart. I need to be there waving as our son sails past. When I think of that dreadful possibility, it chills me right to the core. I am so incredibly thankful and know that without my medical treatments and my team of excellent doctors and the researchers who support them, that would have been a done deal.

The ultimate Christmas gift: our daughter under the Christmas tree wearing her baking attire 2013.

The ultimate Christmas gift: our daughter under the Christmas tree wearing her baking attire 2013.

While this might sound melodramatic and I know I have fantastic catastrophising abilities but last Christmas I started chemo to treat the autoimmune disease which had then started to attack my lungs and I was on a grueling emotional and physical roller coaster. I’d never had chemo before so I didn’t know how it would affect me. I just remembered a few scenes from various TV shows and they were anything but pretty. At the same time, I was actually looking forward to having chemo. It was treatment and it could save my life. Chemo was hope. I was really singing “All I want for Christmas is chemo.” I wanted to live. I wanted to be at my daughter’s ballet concerts fiddling around with alligator clips, hairspray and gel and trying to construct a passable ballet bun. I also wanted to be there with my husband and son, my parents and brother. I also have friends…good friends. I had so much to live for but I could also feel all of that slipping away, drifting out of reach and slowly but surely sinking deep into the water.

But, unlike the Titanic that great unsinkable ship, I’ve resurfaced. While my progress has been much slower than I’d like, there has definitely been progress. Given where I was, I am thankful I’m alive…most of the time!

We don’t always have the luxury of surviving or by-passing the bad stuff of nightmares and sometimes the very worst actually does come to pass and all anyone of us can do is just keep putting one foot after the other and take comfort in God’s peace which surpasses human understanding and share a cup of tea with a friend.

As I approach the anniversary of starting chemo and all it entails, I am trying to leave those dark thoughts behind and celebrate what has truly been a fabulous victory and simply lose myself in life’ s dance.

If you are having misgivings as we head into the festive season, I send you my love and the hand of friendship. This time of celebration is also such a time for reflection and also remembering absent friends and a year which might not have been your best.

xx Rowena

Our little ballerina 2011 aged 5...leaving for her second concert.

Our little ballerina 2011 aged 5…leaving for her second concert.