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.
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,
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.