I Can’t

A student told me today that she had first thought of taking voice lessons 8 years ago. Thought about signing up for a class downtown, but feared she’d be laughed at. Decided to ask me about lessons, but waited for a month to get up the nerve.

“All these years, I’ve been closed off from music,” she said. “Because I thought I couldn’t do it. But it’s not like school, is it? Music is just there. All I had to do was open myself to it.”

I’ve heard a variation of this comment over and over for more than 30 years. And yet, I’ve recently had a similar experience.

I’ve always thought of myself as a klutz, unable to dance. The only reason I got a passing grade in Phys Ed was because I came to class. I’ve tried dance classes over the years, leaving after 1 or 2 sessions. Even bought a leotard and tights and, for some odd reason, have moved them with me from one house or apartment to another.

When Christina Soriano asked me to be in The Goldberg Project with an inter-generational group from the community, I thought she was mad. “You know my limitations,” I said. “I have no stamina.” “Let’s don’t call them limitations,” she said. “Let’s call them opportunities.”

I know performance; I teach performance. How could I, the klutz, possibly get on stage and give a bad performance? I finally figured out that my fear of failure was what had been holding me back all these years. Told myself, “Look, nobody’s expecting you to be any good. You’ll only be there because you’re old, not because you’re a dancer.”

It’s taken me a month to absorb overheard descriptions of my dancing as “phenomenal,” “beautiful, graceful,” “musical,” “beautiful body.” (That last one is still so far from my self-image, at 85, that I don’t know what to do with it.)

But I know, from research for my book, Clues to American Dance, that humans were dancing before recorded history. So, taking a lesson from my student, dancing is just there. All I had to do was open myself to it.

 

 

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Time and Space

 

 

As President of Winston-Salem Writers this year, I feel obligated to attend each and every event, program, and workshop that we sponsor. This month’s membership meeting was “Your Creative Year: Transforming Ideas into Action.” I don’t need an action plan; I need more time to write. I could have been writing instead of attending a workshop about how I should create a plan to write. But there I was.

 

We were given a hand-out on which we were to write down our dreams. The first question was, “If you weren’t you, who would you want to be?” I wrote, “Helen Mirren.” What the . . . ? Why not Alice Munro? Or Emma Donoghue, or Jill McCorkle? No. At the time, try as I would to think of a more appropriate woman, the only name in my head was Helen Mirren’s.

 

When “sharing time” came – not my favorite activity, but I felt obligated to speak up and to do so cheerfully (Are you seeing a certain thread here?) – I babbled something like, “I’m really quite upset at choosing Helen Mirren. At 81, I thought I had come to terms with the fact that my performing days were over. Maybe it’s because I admire her courage. I saw the premiere of a film in which she dared to be naked, in her 60s, making beautiful, but horrible love.” (The title of that violent film is missing from her filmography and my memory.)

 

I always get something positive out of fulfilling my self-imposed obligations. This time an English-born workshop member loaned me his complete set of Helen Mirren: At the BBC. I didn’t need to watch more than the beginning of Disc One to find good reason for having chosen her as a role model.

 

Mirren says that what’s important in good theatrical writing is the time between sentences. One sentence leads logically to the next because the character has time to think of what else she wants to say. Yes! I’ve taught actors and singers this for years – “I don’t care what they call it in Canada, a period is not a stop. What’s important is what goes on in that little white space after the period. That’s where you carry the audience forward.” – but Mirren led me to think about sentences and white space from a writer’s point of view.