We are home from Sarasota. It always takes a few days to “shake off” that town. The ick factor is a combination of the environment (traffic and overbuilding and absence of nature) aggressive cultural attitudes and the entire dance thing. As always, we hear about actions taken by former friends and acquaintances that are so disturbing we feel almost as if we are visiting a place we’ve never been before. (Soap Opera town or something.)
Anyway, the nice part of the trip was the actual teaching. I watched Mark in his classes, and it was a nice reminder of what a remarkable ballet teacher he was (is). The students actually physically changed within the two hours as understanding of placement hit them like a wave. He watched my class and commented that I was still a lovely teacher, but what amazed him was that I’m still a strong dancer. I am lucky that way. My body seems to hold up well even when I ignore it. For me, all it takes is a bit of music and open space and it’s as if I never stopped. I wasn’t any more sore the next day than I was every day of my life (from 35 on) working as a dance teacher. It was a different story for Mark, however, and watching him hobble to the car, popping Advil like candy, made it very clear that he could not have continued in the field even if he wanted to.
He said, “I love teaching, and even today, after only a few hours, I truly care about those students, even though I’ve just met them. I connect and immediately feel impassioned to help them understand dance. But the pain connected to moving for me is a nightmare. And while some people can teach from a chair, I’m not one.”
We left once again with validation that we made the right choice by retiring when we did. For lots of reasons.
The most interesting thing about the trip was a two hour interview we had with a writer from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Bill Hutchinson. We were warned not to dare talk to him, because he will turn our honesty against us, but we figured we haven’t done anything wrong, so there is no reason not to speak plainly about what we’ve experienced. He is writing an article about the Sarasota Dance Community and how it is changing. We were central to this huge dance community for many years, so we are important to the piece. I certainly didn’t feel threatened or concerned about what he might say, because in the end, he is a very thorough writer and he doesn’t react to hearsay or pass rumor on as fact. Newspaper men document everything and circle the subject matter from all angles to get a clear picture of truth – at least in theory. To be honest, I trust him far more than our friends and/or family who we’ve watched jump to conclusions with only snippets of information that for unexplainable reasons, they chose to embrace without question or without seeking logical explanations.
I suppose the fellow could “sink us” as we were forewarned, and twist things to make us look like the dance school felons again, but hey, we’ve already been put in that position by people we once cared about – it can’t be half as bad when the person hurting you is a stranger. The paper took pictures of us and we are told the article will come out at the end of the month.
I must admit, I’ll be deeply disappointed if Bill does paint a dark picture of us, but not for the reasons you’d expect. We don’t live in Sarasota anymore, and frankly, we no longer care what anyone thinks. But I liked the man so much and so enjoyed talking to him that I’ll be disappointed to learn our exchange was not authentic, but some fact finding mission to promote more scandal.
As we were leaving the interview, I said to Mark, “I wish I’d known this guy when we lived here. I’d have appreciated a friend like him. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have been so lonely and felt so isolated if I ever had the opportunity to meet normal, down to earth, non-dance people like him while we were running FLEX.”
“Of course you’d feel that way. This guy is everything you admire and appreciate in a friend – not to mention he is a writer, so you have something in common. He is intelligent, down to earth, worldly, and has wit. He was supposed to be interviewing us, but every time there was a lull in the conversation, you asked HIM questions. It was kind of funny.”
“Was that inappropriate? Was I obnoxious, like I was trying to avoid the subject of dance or something?” I asked, worried that I didn’t respect formal distance or something. The truth is, other subjects interest me more than dance at this stage in life.
“It’s who you are. I’m used to it. I don’t think he minded.”
“I didn’t ask that many questions,” I said.
Mark laughed then and said, “Well, let’s see…. We now know that Bill likes his job, especially the freedom to explore those stories he feels are interesting. We know what else he is working on now, a piece about a world class wine appraiser – another thing fascinating to you. He went to the Sarasota Wine festival once, and that was enough for him – as it was for you. We know the title and year his two books were published (now out of print.) We know the piece he most enjoyed writing was a 30 part piece on the Myakka River, which you suggested would make a good book. He likes to write about history and cultural change, which you also appreciate. He describes himself as “not that ambitious anymore” (he is 60, no longer a youth with a need to share his personal opinion with the world) when you asked if there are any subjects he feels a longing to someday write a book about. He has a million stories he could tell, but none feel urgent, and fiction isn’t his thing. We know he once taught someone to read just as you did, and it was a remarkable experience. We know he lived in Paris for a year and a half when he was a younger man. He said you must visit Europe before you turn 50, and you ate that up. Trust me; I very much doubt anyone else left their interviews knowing anything personal about the guy. You were still asking questions as we pulled up to the SRQ parking lot – you’d know even more about him if only you had the time.”
OK, so I was curious about this Sarasota writer. The fact is, the world is filled with interesting people, and my greatest joy since retiring from dance is that now I have the time and freedom to make friends with them. He seemed to relate to us as people, not dance gurus. Anyway, lunch with Bill was fun – he was even natural enough to gently kid me a bit about my new interests. When I told him I was taking a soap making class when I got home, he said, “You can buy that stuff now, you know. Even in Georgia.”
He did ask some interesting questions, such as if we miss the limelight (we don’t) and if we are partially at fault for all that happened because we should have done more research about the people who purchased our business. Perhaps we could have questioned the background of the new owners more, but heck, we are dancers. We trusted our advisors, who included accountants, bankers, business consultants, lawyers, and my father, our financial advisor. Besides which, we still feel they were lovely people with good intentions (even though they did their best to break down our reputation moments after we left). They just made some serious mistakes and we feel badly for them even now. We are opening a new business now, and this makes me think of them a lot. It is a risky thing, putting yourself and your savings on the line for a dream… I admire anyone who takes a chance like that. But it is true that we have done our share of self reflection to question how we might be at fault for the people who clearly felt betrayed by our choices. What else would explain the madness?
Bill was very insightful in assessing what motivated people to behave as they did, and he seems to have a fair, unbiased idea of how and why the dance community is changing. I expect his article will put things in perspective and be interesting. I will post it when it comes out – even if it does “sink us”.
It is nice to be home. Today, I am taking a quilting class at a very established quilt shop in the area. I already took a quilting basics class, and today I’m starting a two part series to piece together a traditional hourglass pattern throw in colors I think will go well on our porch. I plan to work on several traditional quilt patterns this winter and while most people do machine quilting nowadays, I’ve talked the store into arranging a hand quilting class for me with a very knowledgeable teacher. (I guess I like doing things the hard way.) They say they don’t offer the class much, because people rarely want to do the work of hand quilting. I think it will be interesting.
You may laugh and think I have gone off the deep end with all these crafts and animal interests. “One more?” You may be thinking – get a job! But I feel as if everything I’m doing is connected. My interests seem to circle history and creativity and nature, and I am enjoying this renaissance to explore new interests (well, in most cases, they are old interests that I let wane when I opened a business and had kids.) more than I can describe. I hope to weave everything I’m learning together in some kind of writing project soon. This weekend I’m taking a soap making class at the Campbell school – the class always fills, so I had to sign up 9 months ago. Can’t wait. I don’t know how well I’ll do, considering I was born without a sense of smell and so much of the craft relies on picking scents and herbs to make the soap lovely. Ah well, I will have fun trying something new anyway, and I’ll borrow a friends nose when I need it.
In conclusion, with the Florida trip behind us, I’m off to continue the project of building a new life in Georgia – piecing it together like the quilt. Satisfaction is all about designing something functional yet pretty, which hopefully, will represent who you are and what you value most.