Who Dances?: Everyday Magic, Day 111

Last night I participated in a marvelous panel with some extraordinary dancers at the Lawrence Arts Center focused on dance dialogues, and especially the question, “Who dances?” posed by Susan Rieger, artist director of the 940 Dance Troupe. Susan is very interested — as am I — in who dances (who we watch, don’t watch; who gets to perform and who is never seen as a dancer, etc.). As part of my response, I wrote and read this poem, and lo and behold, the astonishingly body-eloquence of dancer, artist and all-around great spirit Laura Ramberg showed itself when Laura (as we had planned) rose out of her chair and danced to this poem. The panel also included Karole Armitage, founder and choreographer/director of Armitage Gone! Dance, and Michelle Heffner Hayes, Department Chair of KU Dance Department.

Who Dances?

How can we tell the dancer from the dance?

— William Butler Yeats

Don’t think it is only the ones we’re used to seeing —

limbs agile as big bluestem in wind and rain, bodies

honed swans long accustomed to sleek flight. It is actually

happening beyond the reach of the obvious, lucid as light

that permeates every pore of whatever anyone calls reality.

The 82-year-old woman, walker in hand, not so much a shuffle

with her, but a glide pause arch, a long breath, the black birds

pouring diagonally across the window while she readies herself.

Not just the black birds too, but the cells of the glass, the nucleus

of the atom, the eyehole of the wooden frame, the plaster peeling

in triple slow motion. Not just what seems inanimate but the air

always, the compression of moisture and speed, wind and time,

the physics of acorn fall, the quirk of the cork fastening

leaf edge to branch, the call of train whistle twisted and swirled

over space to land here as opposed to there. Don’t think it is all

about thought executed through limbs, or core strength

making possible the explosion of agility and leap. Your thoughts

are simply little snaps of the fingers, small ebbs of old jokes

from ancestors who danced in ways you can’t even imagine

when no one but the goat was watching. Don’t think it’s just

bodies in space as defined by a body in space. What constitutes

the breathing body of the horizon is beyond where elegant fingers

can reach. What makes space is all infinity propped on one

particular shelf where now you live and breathe, later you don’t.

It is not just that it’s all dance, but that the dance is all language,

the break speed of the crow’s wing, the dizzy of a cold front

powering through whatever was for a moment the safe and the known,

the ecstasy of the universe of water, and how the ducks upon

one particular pond make the ripples dance into rock and stillness

and visa-versa. There is a lonely man, tired and at the end of

his life, waltzing a broom at the train station. There is a young

woman, given up on cell phone reception as she crosses the street,

pushing her cold hands into her pockets and skipping for three steps.

There are new lovers and old ones, tilted broken ones and

just forgiven-all-over-again ones, making new shapes in the blankets

from their grief and yearning. There is the clump of dirt falling

from the shovel one woman holds, her sun glasses dancing

with the moving windows of time across this moment, as she waits

to hear it all hit the coffin of her beloved. There is the rush of whatever

you think or I think we should do slamming so hard into the moment

the light lands soft and full on us that we lose our balance

and dance to some old pop song slanting down from the apartment above.

There is this and so much else beyond what can be conveyed

through the actual performance, the moment someone is dancing

to transmit something about this life to someone else.

What matters just as much is how the dance lands and opens

its tired arms, its aging legs, its old and new muscles,

its beating heart, its daring lungs into the the dance already happening,

angling life from breath, and breath from time and time from

the constant motion of life which is, which has always been,

which will always be the dance. What matters most is using

the dance that’s watched to show the dance that is.

Photos: Susan Regier on top, and then Laura Ramberg, as photographed by Tom Parker when Laura, Kelley & I performed in Waterville, KS a month ago.

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