Saturday, September 19, 2009


It was a final dress rehearsal in my studio -- I was dancing full out. My eight dancers and I were boarding a plane at 5 a.m. for London.

I'd deliberately arranged it so that after the rehearsal, we'd change clothes. Our personal luggage was already in the station wagon parked downstairs. At the airport we'd have dinner, and check in early at Icelandic Airlines -- the lowest cost, low-cost airline did not have reserved seats.

My eagle-eyed, perfectionist, ballet teacher, Aubrey Hitchins, who was once Anna Pavlova's dance partner, was sitting on the audience bench, watching the dress rehearsal, along with two dozen other important guests.

We were performing "Knoxville, Summer of 1915," a choreography for five dancers that I'd created to Samuel Barber's music, a song with words based on James Agee's poem. As the curtain rose, seated in a rocking chair, I said -- "We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee... the time I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child ... " (Sometime, I'll write about what Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti said to me when I was presenting this dance in Spoleto.)

I was in the center of the studio, dancing my tricky brilliant solo, with four other dancers as my parents, motionless in the background -- in the middle of doing the balletic, brilliant fast foot-work that I'd been rehearsing everyday for weeks.
"Achh! I gasped as did a "brisé dessous," my right foot gliding out, beating on the front on my left calf as I'd landed on my right -- with the sharp pain, thinking oh dear --. oh no -- did Aubrey notice?

I stopped. The music played on. I couldn't continue.

Everyone had suggestions -- ice, aspirin, get a doctor. My ankle was swelling. Someone brought me my large cooking pot filled with ice cubes. I stuck my foot in it, kept it there till the doctor arrived. He was the doctor all the dancers flocked too. After determining it wasn't broken, he used a hypodermic needle to extract the blood from the ankle, cleaned and taped it, and told me to keep it iced, keep off of it for a few days.

Poor ankle -- it looked like this.

Of course I nodded, though I had a plane to catch, a rehearsal the day after tomorrow in London, and our opening night the next evening.

Have you ever been in on the edge of cliff? I don't know how else to describe it -- knowing you have to get across a chasm -- not sure if you can. It's not the same as taking on a challenge. You fear everything -- you fear your fear.

On the plane, I couldn't get an aisle seat, but a French passenger saw me with a bandaged foot hobbling down the aisle. She gave me her seat.

There was no food service. The steward brought me cups of ice. The ice wet my sock and bandage. With my foot propped up on my travel bag I dozed. Someone, on the way to the lavatory, accidentally bumped my propped up foot. It throbbed for hours.

In London, I didn't see London -- saw only the inside of my bathroom at the hotel. Then, at the theater, I saw the raked stage.

Take a quick look -- you don't have to see the whole film to know what a "raked" stage is.

Why didn't I know? Why didn't Blake the producer tell me? But why would he have told me? Raked stages are what most London theaters have. They are not common on the college concert circuit. They're in Broadway theaters rarely.

I hobbled onto the stage -- the thought of doing a pirouette was ... terrifying, overwhelming.
With the music playing, I walked around "marking" the steps -- didn't try the "brisé dessous," or the big lift at the climax, or the soft pirouette on the final note. I used the rehearsal to set the lights, and to rehearse the other three numbers that featured the company, before "Knoxville," at the end of the program.

Afternoon of the opening night I re-taped my ankle, tighter than it was before. I warmed up haunted by Novikoff, Murial Stuart, Obukoff, Gundren Galloway, Mrs. Linnekin, Ella Dagaova and Aubrey Hitchins, saying the names of my teachers like beads on a rosary. I did stretches, extensions, and plies -- no jumps, turns, or anything testing my right ankle..

Standing in the wings, I watched the company do their three numbers. Then, it was curtain time for me.

I said the words about summer evenings ... the time I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.

And became the child, danced full out, then fuller, fullest out as the music built to the climax, the crescendoing phrase when my "father " (danced by my tallest, strongest, male dancer) picked me up like a child, huddled, crouched against him with my feet against his chest.

The music soared as the singer sung Agee's words -- "The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near."

Doing exactly what I'd choreographed, I stood up.

My only support was the dancer's hands holding my shins. For a second it didn't seem possible, but the music soared and with it, so did I -- standing all the way up until my head was ten feet above the floor, I reached up to the blue-gelled spotlights that were fifteen feet over my head.

The singer sang, in a crescendo --."Now is the night one blue dew...."

And with the words and music, I reached, taller, higher and higher, touching, embracing God in the sky.

When I was a little girl, praying to be a dancer, dreaming of pink toes shoes and tutu -- if I had known I could dance like I did that night in London, I would have been proud. Not because it was London, or I was the soloist, the star. Not because of the applause or the reviews, or the sold-out tour that followed. I would have been proud of doing what I did -- transcending myself, fearlessly, gloriously touching the sky when I danced.

Yes, I did. It's a feeling I own.

Friday, September 18, 2009


When I was in school, I never quite fit in, though I tried to.

The first time I went to a Saturday night dance, nobody asked me to dance except Lennie, who was a "drip."

The one college orientation get-together I attended was grim. The other girls and guys seemed like a collection of drips from all over the world.

I went to a couple of parties and pretended to enjoy myself, but Christmas Eve was awful, and New Year's Eve was seriously depressing. (On New Year's Day I took a train to New York and never went back to college except as a performer on the college concert circuit.)

In the city, there were lots of people to have quick conversations with, but they were too busy and I was too busy for get-togethers.

I got my first dance job, then a husband, and we got our Dance Drama Duo going. Socializing with other dancers, actors, fellow artists was okay -- part of "making it."

At cocktail parties I never did feel like I belonged.

After a show when people came backstage, it was exhausting -- a performance after the performance.

My very first creative effort was a solo done to the sound effects of bells pealing, a crowd celebrating. I stood upstage in the center, and walked very slowly, skillfully, smoothly downstage, forward to the edge of the stage, while slowly raising and reaching my arms -- reaching out to the people -- trying to join with the crowd that was celebrating in the world beyond the stage.

It's a simple sol0 (I've seen it on film). There's no dance movement. But the vision of one person in a crowd, not being able to become part of the crowd is touching.

Aloneness ... each of us is one person, a solitary, lone figure ... loneness isn't loneliness unless it makes you sad. It doesn't make me sad anymore.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


After I achieved my driver's license (BIG ACHIEVEMENT to get through the lines, the scolding attitude of the officials), I rewarded myself -- bought two pairs of new sneakers.

They're beautiful, pristine -- I emailed the "Laces for Less" guy, who carries shorter laces (36 inch), and the laces arrived today.

I'm ready to break in the white pair but ...

But gee, my old, worn-out, grungy white's are soooo comfortable, so friendly, so easy to don ... and it's raining ... if I rush outside to pick up the mail the mud won't hurt them.

The truth is, I'm attached to my old grungy white' s. We've been together since when? 2002 -- seven years? And last year when I started repairing them after I noticed the sole of the sneaker was separating from the side of the shoe ...

Well, I've successfully patched my leather ballet slippers with Westwood Contact Cement, so why not try a little on my sneaker sole?

The Westwood worked for a month. Then it needed re-gluing. JC did it expertly, It lasted another month. So, I did it -- did it in a hurry, maybe not as thoroughly and carefully as JC did -- two weeks later had to do it again, and then again a week or so later, and now ... re-gluing lasts for a day or two. (The two vise tools JC bought me, so that I can press the fresh glued rubber tight against the shoe itself, are a big help.)

Got the picture? It's not penuriousness. I'm not really a cheapskate. It's the practical Em's work ethic -- if you can fix it, fix it!

Yes, this is a post about something utterly important except ... alas, it's a sad sort of trend I've noticed in "elders" -- parents, lonely aunts and uncles, and retired friends ...

UH OH ... Is that me?

I'm a parent, and an Aunt, but I not lonely and definitely not retired, so why am I preserving a worn-out, well-used, once-upon-a-time useful possession?

Because we're in a recession? Because I'm pitching in and doing what I can do to decrease garbage and trash in a world where garbage and trash are taking over the landscape?

Maybe that's affecting me, but the truth of the matter is ... well, it's because I'm growing older, because my feet, my knees and back are ...well, they're not as limber or fast-healing as they used to be ... and well, they're wearing down (not wearing out yet) and I'm hanging on to my youthful vigor, (and youthful looks), and fast mind, and any and every aspect of me that's functioning well and hanging on!

I don't want me, once-upon-a-time a very peppy, creative person, to fade, to weaken, to lose an iota of what I am, and make what I am into what I was!

So I'm mending my sneaker again. Gluing it. sticking it into the vise, tightening the vise as tightly as I can. If that doesn't work I'll ask JC to do it in his accurate, neat, carefully thorough way, and watch like a hawk..

And then ... well ... at least I can save an old shoe.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The graceful, keenly coordinated, focused Roger Federer inspires me.

Here's how he played on Sunday.

I almost didn't want to watch the tennis finals on Monday. I was afraid -- because he wanted to win so much -- that he might lose.

I sort of squint at tennis -- don't keep score. For some reason that I haven't analyzed, I don't. I avoid following the "love" score, and just let the words fly over me -- match point, ace, deuce, baseline, break point, double fault ... I nod, but am not really following what it means.

Gee ... wait a minute ... why?

JC , who was once a tournament level tennis player, knows the game. Maybe my deliberate ignorance is because he's an expert?

Not only am I NOT an expert, but I've deliberately NOT learned even the basic terms that everyone in the audience knows.

(Well, whatever the reasons are -- it only affects JC and me, and we have fun watching tennis together, especially when Federer's playing.)
There are other sports heroes whom I admire, but Federer -- who cried when he lost the Australian Open, who cried the first time he won Wimbledon -- who didn't cry when he lost the finals Monday ... that brought tears to my eyes. Federer's spirit, his ability to win -- I don't want him to lose what inspires me.

Okay, when he's older, and other lost matches or injuries indicate that he's not going to be able to keep winning, of course he'll retire. When the time comes, I'll accept that -- but not now.

Right now I'm picturing him, thinking of how he must feel today and my sense is -- he's not mourning. Or reviewing what he might have handled better in the game that he lost. He's thinking ahead, planning what to work on before the next competition.

Federer's direct connection to what's important -- Federer's ability to be on the moment at the moment -- that inspires me. That's what I feel, and learn, and want to emulate when I watch Roger Federer -- with keen coordination, keen focus and grace -- playing his game.

He's a dancer.

Hey, I bet I don't bother with the terms that belong to game because I'm a dancer watching a guy moving in ways that I'll never learn or be able do.

Roger Federer is a dancer.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Evil? Like murderous, violent? That's not me!!!

Revengeful? um... well ... ?

Do I hark back to old wounds, long gone days? Sure, but I'm very careful about the past. When I remember past grievances, I may make a few subtle remarks, but quickly, before a discussion develops, I change the subject.

So, why does a grumbling remark come to mind when JC leaves a light on when I've asked him umpteen times to turn that light off?

Why do I have to empty the wastebasket in the bedroom next to his dresser -- can't he do it? And the carpet on the step, dammit, it needs to be re-glued. Why hasn't he noticed it and fixed it?

Why didn't he notice the new purple shirt I'm wearing today?

He leaves his desk so cluttered -- there's no place to put the important mail HE needs to deal with -- why do I have to handle the money things? Wasn't he working on a masters degree in finance, before he left the University of Tennessee to become an actor?

His treadmill -- I don't use it -- when he's jogging, he turns the TV on the roller table at an angle so he can watch TV. Never turns it back so that I can see the TV when I'm stretching!

If I don't hang up his green towel, it won't get hung up! And wasn't yesterday garbage day -- how come he didn't take it down? He doesn't answer the phone till it rings three times -- why do I have to answer it first?

I showed him this list a minute ago, and said, "Tell me your grumbles about me -- it'll be an interesting post."

He laughed and said, "Oh no, no thanks."

I said, "Why not? The grumbles of a long-time married couple will be fun!"

"Gee, I can't think of any grumbles," said JC (smiling as he said it).

Fibber! He has grumbles -- he can't stand my changing the channel on the TV, clicking away -- I'm a speed reader/watcher -- I see what shows are on faster than he can, and just as he's settling in to watch, I click on something else.
At four p.m. when I peek at "Judge Judy" (though lately I've been too busy), and nowadays that's the time he wants to check on the sports channels. And then, when I've changed into practice clothes and I'm ready to take my barre -- that's when he asks, "What are we going to have for supper?"

I always say "I can't think about that now," in a slightly snotty tone, when the fact is I can think about it ... actually, it's a help if I tell him what to take out of the freezer ...

He's got "actoritis" right now, what all actors get, no matter how successful they are, when they're unemployed for more than a week. He's restless, trying to get started on a new idea for a musical. He enjoys writing lyrics. and loves creating music on the computer. (See my 6/15 post, "Beethoven Rooms at my House.)

This is a guy who claims he's not sure how to do the updates from Microsoft (so I do it for him, and take care of his temp files), but he handles an advanced, professional music writing program that is more complicated than anything I'm doing on my computer.

Dammit, he ought to take care of his own temp files!

Why doesn't he complain about me not going to the movies with him, and not going out to dinner with him and his manager?

What are these nasty, sort of evil thoughts of mine? They're silly, domestic things that don't mean very much to me. His grumbles (that he barely expresses), are things that he'd like done differently, that have to do with recreation, but ... okay, all right -- so, he's a nice guy and I'm nasty sometimes, but he likes me, loves me, adjusts to my quirks and smiles at my grumbles -- in fact -- right now he's in the studio tuning in the sports.

Maybe that's why we get along together so well. Now that I've expressed a bunch of trivial nothings -- I'll take my barre and well ... I do peek at the sports. Then I'll head upstairs to cook him a super special Chinese Hawaiian dinner.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Today is my mother's birthday. There's a green light glowing in her brass candle holder. It's electrified, and sits on a shelf above my desk. The nurse who tended Mom, during the last weeks of her life. sent it to me. I keep it lit night and day.

Throughout my life, Mom was always there for me -- it didn't take much conversation -- just "Mom, I've got a problem," or "Mom, I'm not sure what to do" or just "Hi Mom." (I've written about her in "Night Light" -- 4/13, and in " Marching" -- 4/17.)

After a head-on collision on the highway near Indianapolis, I was rushed to a hospital -- cut out of my clothes, temporarily repaired -- my small intestine had been severed by the seat belt, my facial injuries were extensive. Because I had a fever, surgeons postponed the major surgery that was needed on my back.

For the next three weeks, I was strapped to a Stryker table. The nurses turned it and me like a flap-jack, every 45 minutes. I couldn't sit up, or raise my head, or move any part of my torso, though I could move my arms and hands. I lay on my bandaged stomach wounds, facing the floor, then lay face up with my injured back (at the waist), positioned over the padded hole in the center of the table.

JC and Mom arrived while I was still unconscious. He was in "1776" on Broadway singing "Molasses to Rum," playing the Senator from South Carolina. While I was being treated with antibiotics for the fever, the producer let him miss performances and fly to Indianapolis twice a week, The shows he missed weren't deducted from his salary. The cast member had a "kitty" -- money they collected to help cover the cost of the airfare.

Mom, who was recovering from a mastectomy she had a few months earlier, was with me every day. She got me large-size knitting needles, white yarn and cast on thirty stitches , so that upside-down or right-side up, I could knit. With her encouraging me, I managed to make the first four inches of a scarf that JC, even now, occasionally wears.

The Doctors came in routinely, and tested my legs, arms, face as well as my private parts with a feather, asking "Do you feel that?" Though I didn't feel anything, I always said, "I can march."

It seemed to cheer everyone when I said that. An orderly had told me I was temporarily paralyzed. Someone had murmured "partial paraplegia." I didn't have a dictionary, but if I had one, I wouldn't have looked up paraplegia or fracture. No one said "your back is broken"-- they just said the lumbar vertebrae at my waist were "fractured."

It took all my energy to concentrate on minutes passing between pills and the hospital routines that had to do with food, toilet, bathing, combing my hair. I didn't ask for a mirror -- didn't want to see what I looked like. Watching the clock ... what a torture it was, staring at the second hand, watching the minute hand, waiting for the hour hand to move. Only after three-and-a-half hours had past, could I start asking for the pills that let me disappear for a while.

It was a orderly who noticed a reddish, swollen area on my arm. A sliver of glass, probably from the shattered windshield of the car, was removed and treated. By the next day, the fever was gone.

JC was onstage in New York when the two surgeons examined me head-to-toe with a needle, instead of feather. Frowning, one of them said, "Well, we can operate in the morning. The other surgeon smiled, and joked -- "I'm the best bone fixer around town -- this is the hospital where we fix the racers from the Indy 500. My friend here is a neurological specialist -- best in the country, figuring out nerve endings."

I tried to say something about marching. The way they were talking, one frowning, the other smiling frightened me. They said ... maybe a year ... two years ... maybe five ... hope for best ... "Wheelchair" was mentioned twice.

After they left, Mom pulled her chair in. Squeezing my hand, she said, "Recovering from surgery is easier than waiting like you've been waiting. What you need to do is get a good night's sleep, and wake up strong, looking forward to the operation."

"Is that what you did, Mom?" She'd hadn't mentioned her mastectomy. I was thinking ... five years ... wheelchair ... hope for the best ... I wanted to say I don't want to live if I'm going to be in a wheelchair.

Mom spoke softly. "Don't think about what you fear. Try to give yourself to the doctors, dear, like you'd give yourself to a lover." She kissed me, and said it again, louder and very clearly. "The doctors need you to trust them, dear. It will help them, if you give yourself to them like you'd give yourself to a lover."

I never talked about lovers or my love life with my mother.

How did my mother, married to my father -- for so many years the hard-working, faithful adoring, good wife -- find the knowledge, the words, the wisdom to say what she did? And help me -- give me the command, and then, the power to look forward to tomorrow.

Happy birthday, Mom -- you gave me health, a body, resilience, a healing capacity, a powerful life force that's in my bones, my muscles, my blood, my skin, my pores, and you were always, always, always there when I needed you.''

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Take a look at the map of Iowa -- Des Moines, the tiny town of Pella, the tiny town of Oskaloosa.

It was 7 a.m. Friday. There were snow flurries. Four foot, five foot snowdrifts were on both sides of state highway 163, that was taking us to William Penn College in Oskaloosa. I'd booked a 9:30 a.m. lecture-demonstration for a tiny $125 fee. (Lectures or master classes, between engagements, helped balance the budget.)

The college president's convocations committee was expecting us to arrive at 7:30 a.m. to setup sound and dressing facilities (access to a toilet was a big deal for dancers arriving for a morning show). We'd spent the night in a dorm in Pella. (Free accommodations were also a big deal for the dancers.)

Oskaloosa was 17 miles southeast of Pella. After the lecture-demonstration, we were going to head back north, then west to Des Moines -- return the rented station wagon bus and the U-Haul trailer -- board a train for Denver, and three performances in Colorado.

It had been snowing off and on. The tire chains were on. I was driving. Bill the stage manager was sleeping off his busy night. (Bill fell in love with someone new in every town we visited.) The dancers (four girls, four guys ) were clutching their thermos jugs, sipping and smoking. (In those days a lot of dancers smoked, though I'd asked them not to -- the smoke made me cough).

My breath made vapor on the windshield. The snow flurries worried me. The edge of the road was almost invisible. I thanked God for the telephone poles -- they were my guidelines.

I took off a glove to check the defroster -- felt cold air coming up through the rim. Did I forget to turn on the heater? I reached for the heater's dial. The car skidded. My foot reflexively went for the brake -- whoa -- DON'T BRAKE, never brake on a skid!

I put my foot on the gas pedal ... Nothing happened. Was it stuck? Were we out of gas? The gauge said half full. I needed to drive faster -- the convocations committee and the president himself, were probably waiting. WHOA! Where were the telephone poles? Had I turned off the main road?

I tucked the toe of my right foot under the gas pedal to lift it -- my God -- it was frozen. The windshield was fogged over. I switched on the wipers. Wipers didn't go on! I couldn't see the road! Tapping the brake, skidding, I managed to stop the station wagon -- with a U-Haul attached to the axle, it was heart-racing, tricky.

In a fake, hearty, cheery tone, I said, "Hey kids, someone has to go outside and clean the windshield!"

No one moved.

I got out. I didn't have a tool, just my gloved hand. One of the girls got out and went to work. With a comb wrapped in a hanky she cleared the driver's side of the windshield. Back in the car, though her work helped, I saw the glass starting to cloud up again.

"Jeez, it's cold!" Bill groaned and opened his eyes. "How 'bout a little more heat, Em? Are we here? Where are we?"

"We're nowhere -- maybe on the road, maybe not," murmured dancer, artistic director Em. I wanted to explain, didn't dare explain, or share with the dancers, the terror that came over me. I was sweating, scared. Would the people in Oskaloosa realize something was wrong when we didn't show up? Would they phone the state police? Would anyone find us before nightfall? Find us tomorrow?

I opened my window, reached as far as I could -- used my knitted hat to wipe the windshield and clear a see-through hole to use if -- IF I managed to start the car again.

The girls caught on. "This is horrible!" "I"m scared!" "We could freeze to death here!"

The boys, all good-looking, manly, tall guys wearing more elegant outfits than the girls, discussed the warm clothes in their suitcases, wondering if the bags in the U-Haul could be accessed. "Jeez, it's too cold to go out." "I'm chilled to the bone!" "I'm going to catch a bad cold."

I got the weak-sounding starter to get the engine putt-putting. With my toe lifting up the gas pedal, the tires whirled. With me reaching out of the open window, ignoring the moans from the kids, I maintained a see-through circle on the windshield. We were traveling maybe 3 m.p.h.

The boys moaned. "I need a bathroom!" "Wish I had a donut." "I gotta do a barre before the show!" "Truck is coming," someone yelled. "Is it going to hit us?"

I tapped the brake. Opened my door. Flew out onto the road, and waved and waved and waved at the truck. There hadn't been any other vehicles on the road. It was a tall yellow and white bread truck, red letters proclaiming "Butternut" on its sides.

The truck stopped. I looked up at the driver. "Hi! Can you help us? We're lost. We're stuck. We're going to Oskaloosa."

"I'm headin'' for Des Moines -- got a dozen deliveries to make. You musta missed the turn-off, lady. You're headin' north."

"Oh dear. We'll have to turn around. Can you give us a push?"

"U turn here? Be kinda hard. I can give you a pull." The ruddy-cheeked, heavyset, truck driver had a crucifix and a toy dog hanging from his mirror. He wasn't going to leave a lady in distress. He attached his chain to our front axle, and told me, "Get into first gear."

Bill jumped onto the Butternut truck's running board, took a dancer-like pose pointing up the hill as if he were Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, in a winged-cap, winged-shoes, pointing with a caduceus.

When Butternut Bread pulled into a Shell Gas station on the outskirts of Des Moines, we were fifty miles west of Oskaloosa. The driver accepted our effusive thanks, detached the chain and waved farewell. One hour and two taxi rides later, we were on the train to Denver.

I closed my eyes. All day I'd felt like a soldier on highway 163 -- on the front line in a war -- a private first class, leading the army, fighting for my life and the lives of my wounded buddies. I told myself, "Never, never, ever again, am I going to do what I had to do today."

Little did I know that it was a life lesson, preparing me for more, for bigger, tougher challenges. Teaching me that Butternut trucks do come along, but don't count on it.

I never did call the convocations committee. Maybe I'll send a copy of this post to the President of William Penn College -- the lesson I learned it more important than the lecture-demonstration I never got around to doing in Oskaloosa.