"Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost" -Pina Bausch
Updated: Oct 19
Another week in this pandemic/election time limbo working concurrently with personal limbos, and feeling way too much limbo, (and not the fun limbo party kind) and too little clarity for this fan of control. I have decided to lose the label control freak, and give myself, a more positive moniker; semantics maybe, a nice positive change.
I did what I do, spent a lot of time thinking while enjoying my solitary tasks; meditation and rituals helpIng to clear my mind. It always comes back to the big questions who am I, am I part of the solution; is my small life of any import? Who will I impact, if anyone?
The question has been on my mind as last Sunday I found out that my Jazz Professor in college, Scott Ray had passed away. He lived a long, creative life and in college created a positive vibe that can be all too rare in the dance world. Scott was before his time casting dancers who didn’t fit the typical body mold; able to see the uniqueness of each and creating movement with the individual in mind. We had live drummers and danced outside on Friday afternoons. It was freeing. Scott brought and cultivated joy within the studio. He mattered, not only because he gave professional opportunities to dancers in his summer musicals, but because he cared: he loved dance, he loved us and it showed. It was an authentic life, and I have come to believe that is the single greatest achievement we can aspire to.
This theme has been running through my mind all week. How do we stay who we are; how do we know who we are? What if who we are just doesn’t seem to fit this world; does it matter? I often feel embarrassed by my lack of ambition. I am happy gardening, dancing, looking for treasures on the beach; my life is a pretty joyful one. But honestly, sometimes it’s a little embarrassing to explain how many hours it will take to dismantle the fairy and meditation gardens for winter or how much time I use up working on a personal collage inspiration journals. Nothing compares to the amount of time I spend listening to music; always searching for the piece that will just about whisper the dance to me.
These gentle and restorative activities keep me calm in a world of increasing dissonance, anger and violence. I am finding myself as distressed by people “on my side”, as with the obvious villains. The hatred and the politicizing of everything has removed almost all useful discourse. While, I am still seeking the amusing, the hate is getting harder to avoid. So, I slip deeper into Liz world; music, and dance coming to the rescue, even while seemingly pointless with no “real” way to share.
Yet, I think of Scott and his legacy of love and humor. Nothing pointless there, so I hope for the same, I hope to inspire, as again my dancers keep me inspired. These young girls I started with are now maturing into remarkable young women. They are kind and helpful, and dancing so beautifully. I will soon be asking new dancers to join, as some transition out and the company changes and grows to reflect the current world.
In a burst of optimism, I decided this week to start on some new works. Big pieces that will take months to put together, and more time still to polish and make performance ready. Looks like there will be time, and this is who I am, so on with it.
One will be fun, based on a children’s story, and one will be a reflection of this troubled time inspired in large part by a movie I saw just this weekend. Don and I watched the magnificent "A Hidden Life" directed by Terrence Malick; a film based on the life of a conscientious objector during WWII. It asks the same moral questions I have been asking myself. What is my responsibility in this world, what do we do if we believe our leader is evil? With panoramic scenery, beautiful acting and not much dialogue, this film is an immersive experience. It is also long, almost three hours and if you hated Tree of Life, this will not be for you. Malick is often accused of being too philosophical, creating too much of a dream world and needing (desperately) an editor. As the same can be said of me, lol, I don’t see the problem. And like me music appears to inform his vision.
Last night, I was texting with my good friend Merete from college. She was probably the last person to see Scott alive as she made the journey to Geneseo to see him. Merete
is one of the special humans. Hardworking, kind, ambitious but not cutthroat, optimistic but not naive; happy. In college I found it mystifying, and until last night still not fully relatable.
A simple you should watch this movie, turned into a profound conversation... by text, unheard of, and a gift. Merete’s father who died when we were just first year dancers, was part of the Danish Resistance, he worked to save the Danish Jews during WWII. I am blown away I did not know this! He also had a spectacularly perfect superhero name, Knud Muenter*. Merete explained how as a member of Danish Resistance, he blew up factories and did anything possible to thwart the Nazi’s. He was almost captured a few times but luck , quick thinking , hair product and bravery saved him.
The Nazi’s once showed up at his house to arrest him. Only his father, Knud senior was home, and the Nazi’s realized a man that old could not be the man they were looking for. In a moment of bravery, the house maid called Knud the younger at work and he snuck out the back window, and escaped just seconds before the Nazi’s arrived at the front door. He then lived incognito, dyed his black hair red, and changed and memorized his new IDs. A stammer or a moment of hesitation would have seen him shot. Knud lived his life, secretly waiting for instructions for sabotage, never truly knowing if it was a nazi sympathizer or member of the resistance; terrifying. Red headed Knud was stopped one day, and was able to play it “so dumb”, that they let him go. Grace and wit saving the day; he went on with his work.
Once in America Knud and Merete’s mom (who herself was starved in Nazi occupied Norway), raised Merete and her siblings to see the big picture. Don’t whine about the little things, have integrity, be optimistic , and let your actions speak for you. This is everything we all need to hear.
While we all can’t be like the great Knud, we can all be fully involved in our world. We can try our hardest, we can use our minds and voice to fight what is wrong. I realize now we need all voices; the powerfully ambitious and the smaller, quieter ones can work together to unify this divisive mess. So, I will keep creating dances for these lovely souls who dance for me. I will try to be the voice I wish I had heard when I was young. Be yourself, there is room for all of us. Speak out against cruelty and injustice, be helpful whenever possible, and let your light shine. It doesn’t need to be dance; let yourself be joyful in all you do, this is the dance of life, the meaning of it all.
So bring out your inner Knud, and shine on, dance through your life with conviction and
grace. "Dance, Dance, otherwise we are lost."