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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Dance competition madness.

I went to a dance competition this weekend, the first I’ve attended in 7 years. Basically, I went to appease a parent of a student who has been longing to get involved in competitions again and to scope out this arena of the dance world with fresh eyes. My daughter wanted to go and I thought it might be good for my few of my new to dance students to see the level of dance that exists beyond the borders of my very small, beginner studio. Unfortunately, what might have been an easygoing, gentle exploratory weekend went sour.  One student from my group (who has already chosen to leave my school) allowed attitude and grievances to rear an ugly head. I’ve acknowledged her choice to change schools gracefully- even told her it was a good decision and made it clear she is going with my blessing. Still, the parent and child started acting weird and finding reasons to complain to justify their choice. Sigh. 

I do not embrace self-created crises in my life anymore, and I certainly have no tolerance for dance school drama, so it’s hard to draw me into an emotional tug of war. I do not get defensive or offended or even bothered as this stuff happens. I guess you can say I look at the world through yoga eyes now, and if anything, all I feel is a subtle sadness when people act out because they are wrapped up in ego and social expectation and false assumptions.  Anyway, I felt rather removed from the swirl of talk and action around me, as if I was watching it all from a distance.   
 
It was an interesting weekend. Not a good one, and yet not a bad one either. I have long since evolved past the point of believing experiences must be successful to be positive. Sometimes failures and challenges provide the insight we need to make good choices.  I was deeply appreciative of the fact that I’ve had time and distance to clear residual attachments so I could see the entire competition experience as it is.
 
There was this added element to stir further reflection. A brand new school from our area was there. The school is made up of approximately 60 students who have become a tight knit competitive dance team. They have been dancing for years together – beginning at my school years ago. They left  FLEX after we sold and the school went down, then went to a new school opened by one of our former student’s.  They trained there primarily with two of my former students – now grown and good teachers in their own right. But the school owner was so focused on the dance team rather than on growing the business in a practical way that this school folded too. The dancers went to another school run by yet another one of our former student’s. Left that school a year later to help another teacher start a new school and they stayed one year. Leaving her abruptly (and it looks like her business will fold as well) they have backed yet another teacher –and so it continues with another young teacher starting a new school to hang onto this group and give them what they want . For the time being, everyone is happy.
 
I find it fascinating that this group has such influence over the ultimate success or failure of the local dance scene. It’s like baby boomers impacting the world simply because they are big in number and have purchasing power. This group of parents insist they have been through so much, but so have all the people they support and later leave in some quest to find an alternate home . They just want to stay together and have control over their dance experience, but they’ve done this by backing teachers, encouraging them to open a school designed to cater to their needs and desires, with little thought to the long term. Survival is the teacher’s problem….  

I am glad I am not a part of the madness – but then, I couldn’t possibly be because my understanding of both the dance business and human nature means I would never design a school to meet the needs of one focus group. Since I would never put a single group of dancers above more practrical considerations that would secure the business for the long term, I’m sure they would never land with me.  It doesn’t make a difference. This wave of “power students” and the drama that unfolds in the wake of their slippery judgment will pass in time, not unlike the bad economy. Phenomenon like this are better explained in the book the Tipping Point- the influence of certain individuals can set off a reaction to influence large groups and that can impact lives, social structure and the business environment. They are causing change in the local dance world, but eventually, they will go off to college and things will return to normal.
 
Anyway, the students are beautiful and talented and they have evolved to become strong competition dancers. They are flexible, can turn like tops, and have a lovely grasp on the popular contemporary styles that are considered cutting edge cool today.  I see technical weaknesses and artistry problems, of course, but they are irrelevant in the competitive dance arena, so what difference does it make? Frankly, I was impressed and enjoyed watching them perform. I am, after all, the artistic grandmother to this crowd. I am in no way taking credit for them as dancers, because I haven’t trained them since they were 7, but my own students were their primary teachers and inspiration, so these dancers are my students once removed. Knowing this, I feel the pride of being central to their dance journey. Frankly, I sat there in the audience watching them and couldn’t help smile at how deeply I’ve impacted the Sarasota dance world. I do not feel obsolete or finished or “old school” or anything else. I just see this complicated timeline of dance evolution that began when I moved from New York to Sarasota. I would never have guessed….
 
I came to the competition with 5 dancers – all beginners in my estimation. One very talented boy who has only danced for 7 months, my daughter ,who has only trained for a year and has had some personal problems standing in the way of her focus, a daughter of a former teacher of mine who has not trained for 3 years, another 13 year old beginner, and one 12 year old dancer who dared come to my school when no one else would. Her mother broke from the fold of the tipping point group because she was independent of mob influence, and she had faith enough in my background to be the renegade. (She is the one who is leaving now.) 7 months ago, I was teaching these kids how to do a single pirouette. The kids didn’t know how to point their feet or straighten their legs, and their alignment and line and transition were so weak that I was like, “Lets lie on the floor and learn how to contract properly… and maybe soon we can learn to stand up…… “I was starting from scratch, working slowly, which is totally boring to young people…  At this stage, I’m no fun.
 
Anyway, the kids danced beautifully in my opinion. I wasn’t looking at them in comparison to the other groups of experienced competitors in this high level event – dancers who have sunk 10 grand into the process of vying for plastic trophies and bragging rights this year alone. I was looking at my beautiful students with an eye to how far they’ve come. I was busy assessing what they need to continue evolving – making plans for their future training to get them where I want them to be. They did not score well. I did not care. Others did. Apparently, the world around me was looking at them differently – judging, feeling smug, losing faith… there were lots of different responses.
 
I will share a few of the things I experienced because I was presumptuous enough to attend this competition.
Students from the “other school” took my dancers aside and told them they really had to change schools and join their new studio
because I was giving them work that was dated. They were told they should be embarrassed by their scores because it proved I was inadequate as a teacher.  (As if my beginner dancers would perform with the same proficiency as their team just by association if they changed schools.  As if the seven years of practice and the wads of money spent and events attended by this group were not accountable for the difference in level today. And as if my beginners would get there faster by moving to a school where they couldn’t possibly get the personal attention and same opportunity to be featured as they have now.) Silly really.
 
My student’s shared the conversations they had with the other school’s dancers and parents with me openly on the way home, telling me they were directly solicited and it made them feel icky.  I told them that if they wanted to become competitive dancers and had the resources to keep up with this crowd, they should go……
They said, “I rather stay where I am and work hard with you…..”
David (my fiance) said, “It’s like dance survivor…. everyone is trying to steal members of your team… Crazy.”


We discussed the “dated” concept. I am older now. Fact. I explained that most of the contemporary work popular today is rooted in basic modern dance, combined with lyrical elements and a smattering of hip hop. I have a foundation in all of the above, and the more the work sways towards modern, the easier it is for me to understand and emulate. Actually, it is circling back to styles that I can teach much easier than what was popular 7 years ago.  Not like it would take me long to study what is popular and find the best way to pass it on to students. But perhaps this work is better left to the younger crowd.  I told the kids that I’d be happy to hire a contemporary teacher and perhaps step out of the training process altogether. I will just be the director of the school and keep it healthy and growing through management and program design. I have an entire yoga career blooming and other responsibilities. I am not the only person who can build a dancer…. 
They looked mortified. We still want you training us……. Yes, we’d love you to find us a young, kick butt contemporary teacher, sure, but that would be in addition to your class not instead of it.
 
This made me laugh. It is a little like people who believe in God, not because  they are religious, but just in case there is a heaven – they chose to “believe” as insurance to be sure they get in.  I said, “You all want my class not because you are convinced I have anything to offer, but just in case everything they say about me is true and I am indeed the ticket to your becoming a sophisticated, stronger dancer.”
 
That’s about it,” They admitted.
Can I tell you how much I love their honesty and the fact that the communication we share is gut honest and real? So I am on the lookout for new teaching talent…. but I am picky…..
 
Other things that I was subject to this weekend….
The parent who is already leaving with my blessing (and I truly like her and her blunt quality thus no reason to start problems) came into my room at ten the night before the kids danced to complain that about how mortified she is by the impending failure that would ensue the next day. She explained her daughter would feel like shit because of me. She wanted me to know that she spends 10 grand a year on competition and for that she expects better results.  I told her perhaps she should wait until they actually danced before complaining about how badly they perform…..  and I asked her if devoting so much of a family’s resources into this superficial dance high was really worth it – was it truly in the best long term interest to her child? Perhaps we should take a moment to put things in perspective…. But nothing I said calmed her agitation…. She was hell bent on making this experience negative. David was in the room, and he said it was the most odd thing he’d ever heard. “We are only getting started, Dear, This is nothing. Imagine 50 of those parents all needing diffusing….. “

I couldn’t help but notice that the hotel and ranks of the audience was filled with mothers and daughters, but the fathers – often the ones footing the bill, are sadly missing. I imagined the drain on each family’s resources for this ego trip. Frankly, the mom’s justify this cash drain by pretending the kids are training for a career in dance – but I seriously doubt it. That is the subject for another philosophical essay all its own, not something I will address today.
 
Anyway, I thought about what these people spend on costumes, tuition, competition and convention fees, hotels and food – not to mention the cost of their being away from their family and work and their homes etc…There is no way this obsessive, expensive hobby doesn’t strain a family budget or a marriage. But since these moms are all in it together, it feels natural – like “everyone does it”… They are sucked in and don’t have enough space to see that everyone doesn’t. And this is not the only way to become a great dancer.
 
There is an opportunity cost to every choice you make that goes beyond the physical cost (something you learn in business school) When resources are devoted to one project, you pay the price of missed opportunity by not devoting them to another area that might have a greater return on the investment.   Paying 10 grand a year for competitive dance might be fun, create some great memories, and might make the kid feel special, but over the course of 7 or ten years, that same money invested in other opportunity for your child could have a powerful impact.  I have witnessed people spending droves on dance, but when that same child turns 18 and is ready for college, the family suddenly says, “She needs a scholarship. We really don’t have money for school.” And the kid gets laden with school loans that bleed them dry when they graduate, so they really can’t afford to follow their dream to be an artist – they need to get a “real job” to pay for their now useless college dance education. Or they have to wise up and forgo the dream because suddenly, the reality of dance not being a road towards financial security is made plainly clear.
 
Imagine that same money put into a trust and left to build over the next 50 years. The child would never have to worry about retirement, because millions would be there for future security. This means they could do what they love for a living rather than something practical because their long term needs were already taken care of. Money invested now means future freedom; – they never would have to stay in a bad marriage or a bad job because they can’t afford go get out. It means a life without so much stress, more opportunity. Yes, I imagine having the discipline and foresight to put 10 grand a year aside for your child (and still enjoying dance but not so aggressively) might be a gift that supersedes any scrapbook of pictures from ten dozen competitions where the kid performed the same dances over and over, swam in similar hotel pools, ate sandwiches from your cooler (suppose ably to save money).
But the weakness in that scenario is discipline, because few parents would actually put the money aside if they didn’t have a costume bill consuming their expendable income. And where is the fun in saving?
 
If you love competition, I think it’s great, but I will always be a bit skeptical at the drain on resources. You are in effect paying for a chance to have an audience. In real life, it’s the other way around.
Imagine that money used to purchase a second home for the family – and rather than weekends devoted to a child and mom getting away, the time and the resources would now be devoted to building more family memories.  The vacation home could be later sold to buy that dancing daughter her
first house outright.
Oh, the mind reels with the possibilities of lost opportunity costs.
 
But I guess it is good to pay it all to the dance people who made a business out of exploiting young dancers and enthusiastic moms too…… At least they found a way to make dance work for them.
 
Anyway, a former student of mine’s parent came up to me at competition and said, “Do you really want to do all this again?”   I shrugged and said “We’ll see…” But inside I was thinking, “No way in hell. At least not this way.” My life is about balance now and teaching others to embrace it. That is what the entire yoga element of my business is – it’s helping people dig underneath ego and drama and social expectation to pursue a life that is poignant and responsible and filled it joy.
Dance can be joyous – inspirational – self-esteem building – it can be an expression of the self. The artistry of dance is remarkable – but it isn’t something you get at competition. Dance should not drive families into financial stress, or be filled with emotional intrigue, drama and subterfuge. 
I don’t believe you can get to the place where dance is a source of deep joy through obsessive dance competition pursuits. I can play the game and go once in a while, but I will never feel the attraction to competition these people feel.
 
Because I know the world is filled with professional dancers and amazing talent that never set foot on a competition stage. Perhaps that needs to be considered when building a business model for leading young people into the dance world. Or perhaps I should pack it in and leave the dance world to a different mindset. Perhaps I should be just damn grateful for all dance has given me, personally and professionally and leave everyone else to figure it out on their own…. Sometimes swimming upstream gets exhausting…..   
 
I think the entire weekend could be summed up in one conversation.
The dance school parents from the new school were talking to me and they said, “So, aren’t you shocked about how much the dance world has changed? How do you feel about what you see here?”
 
I sort of shrugged and said I was rather surprised that the dance world was so stagnant – nothing seemed changed at all to me. I mean, the movement has evolved and is more contemporary now – costumes and trends have changed. The bar has been raised regarding physical ability too. But other than that (elements which have been a consistently changing factor in the arts for as long as I’ve danced) everything seems stagnant. All around me were kids wearing team jackets, overstimulated and hyper excited, they danced around the halls and gathered at the vendors. The same schools were there that I knew from the past – Robyn Dawn, Rolanes School of Dance, Mary Joes and others. Moms were doting on their kids, bringing them lunch during breaks. The teachers on stages were working the crowds, keeping things exciting; hyping up the energy and acting cool (I remembered teaching on those stages for years doing the same thing to be popular). Money was exchanging hands – fights occured, laughter… gossip……  The only thing that changed was the faces of the kids and moms….. It was just a new crew of people who all feel as if all this is new and exciting and different because it is new, exciting and different to them.  
 
I have no doubt that my comment came across as arrogant and like I was some kind of dinosaur refusing to admit that the dance world moved on without me. They wanted me to sigh and say, “Yea, it’s amazing. So much better than it used to be. So sorry I left… I could never catch up now at my age…… ”
But that is not how I felt.
I had just had a different conversation before running into these dance moms ……
 
A dance teacher with a power school whom I’ve known for years saw me at the registration table and about fell over. She was sort of our friendly nemesis years ago – at competitions the battle really got down to her students or ours, and we had a mutual respect and appreciation for each other as the two heavy hitters in the dance school competitive world. She said, “Ginny, I haven’t seen you in years. Where have you been?”
 
 “I sold my school and retired 7 years ago. I’ve just opened a small school so I’m back, checking things out.”
 
She nudged the man running the competition and said, “You should have seen her school – it was amazing. I went there to work with her kids once. It was huge, beautiful and the students were remarkable. Never seen anything like it.” She turned to me and said, “What in the world has happened to you since? How could you leave that fantastic successful school? Tell me everything..,”
 
I paused and said, “You first. What have you been up to?”
 
“Things are great – the same. Mom’s good. The school is doing good. We are in the same space. The kids always win now….”
I asked a few questions and found out that she is living in the same home, still unmarried, still doing dozens of competitions, only with new dancers since the other ones have all gone to college to become accountants or nurses …. Some tried dance but eventually landed in a more practical career. The big change is that she lost 25 pounds.
 
I made an excuse to go and said I would talk to her later and we would catch up. I had no intention of telling her my story. I really didn’t see the point in my sharing what would be the flipside of that conversation.
 
Because, it would go like this….
 
“Well, I sold my school 7 years ago and walked away with 2.4 million dollars. Was supposed to be more, but we never got the balance owed. Greatest financial success story ever told in the dance studio business nevertheless. Our students were not happy however, and a volatile series of events unfolded that tarnished our reputation and relationships with people we cared deeply about. The school went down within three years and broke into 7 new schools and a dance war began. We were blamed for much of what happened next, even though we were now in Georgia. 
The plan for Mark and I was that we would simplify and live in a humble home in the mountains, pursue our artistic dreams and focus on family. Unfortunately, from the moment we moved, Mark and I didn’t see eye to eye on how to manifest this simple life we discussed. I wanted to let someone else build us a humble cabin so we could travel and celebrate our freedom and just live. He promised he could build our home less expensively and better. Instead, he went crazy spending a million more than we had on his exciting home building project and the obsession took him away emotionally for two years. I got an MFA degree and quietly worked on writing, lonely as I experimented with farm life waiting for him to come back to earth. I got involved in yoga. Meanwhile, Mark made increasingly erratic financial decisions and we started disagreeing on how to save what we now had to acknowledge as a serious mistake. He plowed on, building and spending a second house until he lost everything we had (Only took three years) creating financial and emotional stress that was worse than anything we ever experienced running a dance school. Our life fell apart as he cut me out emotionally, physically and financially. Still, I was willing to regroup and work things out. 

He explained he couldn’t stand to be around me anymore because I was unhappy and cried often, worrying about my kids and our future since we had no career and lived in a place where we couldn’t make a living, and rather than taking my grief as evidence that his wife needed him more than ever, he considered my unhappiness a drag. I was a witness to his failure and he thought it would be easier to start over than deal with repairing our wounded love so he asked for a divorce. B
y then, I was ready too. We agreed to do so without a fight. I had no choice but to move back to Florida to get back to work because of financial issues and Mark helped me pack and hugged me and sent me away with a promise that when school was out in a few months, after I found a place to live, my daughter would join me. A month later I was hit with a lawsuit claiming abandonment and a lawsuit suit for custody. A huge expensive and ugly fight ensued, and I lost my children for two years due to his accusations. ( My fault- I was naive and I trusted him to follow our “plan” for the second time).
At this time, I haven’t talked to my oldest daughter in over two years and I have to accept the fact that we probably will never reconcile because time makes it worse and builds more resentment, at least for me – Meanwhile, the other two kids and I had our struggles. I went crazy with grief and depression over all this. I wrote a book about the experience and it won the Royal Palm Book award.  Art is where we pour our souls, I guess. Some good comes out of all pain.
Mark continued to make erratic and irresponsible decisions and the mistakes mounted up even faster now that I was gone, because my role was always the voice of reason and the devil’s advocate stopping him from himself. The kids were soon living on food stamps, every man out for himself, and they were subject to all kinds of changes and emotional challenges that left them confused, lost and feeling insecure. I was the now the full fledged enemy so I couldn’t help or console them. I suffered, watching their life tank more and more, as any mother would.
Mark got married the same week we got divorced – he’d been dating a family friend for less than a year. She is only the second girl he has ever dated (me being the first). He made this decision on a whim, without asking the kids blessing, or even telling them his plans. Only a month before, he insisted he had no interest in marriage to this person. Suddenly, my kids had a new mom – new living conditions and more stress. My son went to college, and as he broke free from the influence at home, we reconciled – a huge and important step for us. My youngest continued to resent me, barely visited and she was subject to more and more turmoil. She developed severe depression and emotional problems and got involved with a friend that was a bad influence.Mark was wrapped up in a new building project now that he had money again.  Meanwhile, Neva was getting worse. She ended up hospitalized on suicide watch and only then did the kids and I find out Mark had gotten married secretly. He claimed he did it for insurance and because that was the only way to get a house . I soon discovered he and his new wife had lots of secrets, their marriage being the least shocking… they knew my youngest was self-mutilating and she had two attempted suicides (minor incidents, but certainly a huge warning sign), but they didn’t share this information with me. I was cut out of my child’s life just as I had been cut out of my marriage. Later, my daughter told me lots of “secrets” she had with her new stepmom – simple things that was kept just between them – like things about her health and money and intimate, inappropriate relationships. Needlesstosay, I was not amused. 
Now things had come to a head. The therapist in the hospital suggested my daughter try a different living situation and overnight, arrangements were made for my child to come to Sarasota to live with me – only now we had all kinds of emotional and trust issues to work through and health issues etc… Financially, things were beyond dire – which makes it scary to have a child with problems. I had just moved in with my boyfriend, and I kicked him out – not nice but necessary. I put my relationship, my business and everything on hold to attend to the broken relationship with my daughter and help her regain feelings of security . I was unprepared, but delighted for this gift of motherhood again. Thankfully my boyfriend proved understanding, supportive, patient, and caring, a good revelation at a time I needed it.
Thankfully, I also had yoga to help me deal with the stress, confusion and anger.
Mark’s new wife left him for another man within three months.  He told everyone about it. Then, when things didn’t work out, she came back – but by now Mark had told me and everyone else about “her issues” which makes reconciling awkward. My children now know too much to about her and what transpired to ever accept her as they once did. Another mistake. Since then, Mark has gotten two hip replacement surgeries. He has been trying real-estate for years, but it hasn’t been successful. He is going through physical therapy and health issues, as well as facing a financial crisis (because he took his settlement and overextended himself on another house building project rather than paying his debts again, believe it or not, thus continuing his pattern of financial mayhem.&nbsp. IIssues in his private life point to further adjustments he will have to wade through. I try to be friends, but he wants no part of that. He refuses to answer my calls or e-mails or respond to my attempts to be nice. I am still struggling to get to a place where we can work together to raise our daughter to meet her emotional needs, but I am on my own.  I miss him often, still care deeply for him as the father of my children, but distance has shown me the serious problems I worked to hide from others for years are so ingrained that nothing will change them. That makes me sad – for him, for those that count on him. But I am relieved to be off the roller coaster after twenty years of struggling to make life work. Frankly, I’m exhausted from it all and some days I wonder if I will ever feel free of the emotional depletion that transpired over years and years of drama .
 
I am back in Sarasota. I used my settlement to open a business, a dance and yoga studio, but it hasn’t been easy. The yoga element of the school is successful, but getting the dance off the ground has been a challenge (not something I saw coming.) I have dug into yoga so intently that somehow I’ve become a master in the field and now I do trainings in yin yoga, RYT training, chair & yoga therapy and more. I am the leader in aerial yoga training in the south – a long story. A reiki healer. All kinds of new agey, health things have eased into my life and world . Don’t know how I got here professionally, but that is where my choices have led. I love my work, am excited  by all I”ve learned, and have ambition to grow into something unique that combines dance and yoga and holistc healing. Still it’s a day to day struggle to keep my business afloat.  I am learning a lot though – about people, how the body and brain works, and about myself. I’ve seen my past with remarkable clarity thanks to yoga and the way it sheds ego, excuses, justifications, and social training.   
Once Neva healed (she is doing marvelously now), I felt it would be appropriate to get engaged to my boyfriend, a man with the highest IQ if anyone I’ve ever known. He is remarkably accomplished – an engineer, computer programer, balloon & plane pilot, master gardner, builder, sailor, athlete, and more. (More on him another day) Most importantly he is kind, honest, wise, and has a gentle spirit. But I am still healing so I need time before I can set a date for a wedding. I guess I am afraid to take the plunge because I keep imagining Mark’s & his wife’s scenario – I don’t want to make the mistake of thinking someone is perfect for me when the truth is, it  takes time to know someone – to learn the truth of their story.  David, my fiancé, is a source of support, encouragement and healing. He is deeply loving – his attent
iveness and good treatment is something out of my comfort zone after years in a different kind of relationship.  I am tip toeing along…… cautious… it is hard for me to believe that a happy, loving relationship can really come so easily. 
And now, I am here at a dance competition for the first time in years. Someone made a smug comment that it must be hard for me to show up with these unaccomplished dancers considering what a big wig I once was…. as if I should crawl under my chair because I haven’t go the biggest school or best dancers in the room. I am treated with respect for the past, but at the same time as if I am obsolete and have no promise in this field. Ha.
I look at those beautiful students, so fresh and with such great attitudes and I know they have come farther with me in a short time than they could have come with anyone else. I am very proud. I look at my daughter, smiling (and above ground) and know that in a few moments, after she gets off stage, she will run to me and hug me and make a joke about her mistakes. She has a killer sense of humor and we have rediscovered our loving relationship at long last. The people around me have no clue that I feel much more successful now than I ever felt when I was here with ten dozen dancers who could do multiple pirouettes.

I have a new house. A new relationship, no debt, a dog, a business with promise, a good relationship with two out of three of my kids (not perfect, but not bad). All things considered, I feel I’m on track towards happiness at last. 


You see – that would be my side of the story. The other teacher’s big change is that she lost 25 pounds. My big change is that I have 25 pounds of emotional luggage attached to my ribs now and I am back at square one, facing a long hard road if I want to ever retire and pursue my dream to write again. In two years Mark knocked me back twenty.  Ah well. 
 
The point is, when I said the dance world seems stagnant to me, it is not because I can’t appreciate or see that the style popular today is different than what was winning gold trophies 7 years ago. Get real. I see. I process. I learn. Quick. People shouldn’t underestimate me. The thing is – the dance world really hasn’t changed. But I HAVE CHANGED. I’ve evolved. I’ve had additional training in physical movement and anatomy with yoga that makes me see bodies and movement differently. I do not react to others as I once did and my patience has expanded thanks to yoga. I feel a sense of poignancy and tenderness when I see young children. I worry about the psyche of young artists and their future with dance…I deeply honor the relationship between mothers and daughters in a whole new way. I see everything about dance differently now, more clearly. I have wisdom and experience and a whole different perspective on life and art. Frankly, I’m teaching better than ever before, and I can still dance thanks to yoga and some weird force in the universe that makes my body sing when music starts playing. The other day, a parent shook her head and laughed as I left my class and said, “I’d like to see the lady on dance mom’s do what you just did.”
Recently,Neva looked at me and said, “It’s weird that my mom can be so fierce on the dance floor. But you are…. ”
Yes, I’m older but I can still dance. And I believe the dance world needs me more than ever before.
 
Am I ever going to be a heavy hitter again – the mover and shaker of the dance world.  Do I even want to be? Not really. Am I “important” as I once was? It all depends on what benchmark you use to define “important.” I certainly am not here to make money and prove myself as I once was.         
I think the real question is “am I going to make a difference in other people’s lives by returning to the danced world? Have I made a good choice for me, for students, for my kids, and for dance as an art? Can I use what I’ve learned to be a better teacher or to create a great school that has an important place in the bigger scheme of life?
I’ve thought a lot about that this weekend and I have an answer.
 
You betcha. A better question might be,  will I ……  or will I decide that the opportunity costs of building a strong school are too much for someone who wants to live a life that is balanced and happy?
Time will tell.

My life as art


 


    After two years of living in a small apartment, I finally got a house. Halleluiah!
   


    I hadn’t lived in an apartment since my early 20’s when I lived in New York City. While many people appreciate the low maintenance and convenience of apartment living, it was agony for me. Going from 50 beautiful acres (my life’s dream) and a gigantic house (my life’s nightmare) to a tiny place without a functional kitchen and the only outdoor living a 4 foot lani overlooking a busy parking lot, was a huge, heart wrenching adjustment. The period of time spent in the apartment was deeply sad and filled with personal angst over the loss of my children too (no longer an issue, Thank God), so I needed to get out of that apartment and the shadows associated to it more than I can say. My new house represents a fresh beginning and the promise of a life that I’ve aspired to for many years – a financially responsible, artistic, crisis-free life – a life in balance where work, leisure and love is given equal attention.  Every day I feel more grounded and secure – for the first time in as long as I can remember, I don’t feel my stability is threatened or as if the other shoe is going to drop as a new drama sets me back dare I relax. This house (and my new life) is filled with peace and promise.



 
I should mention here that the biggest change involved with my getting this house was inviting my boyfriend, David, to live here as well. I’ve been deeply resistant to commitment of any kind in the past two years, because if there is one thing life has taught me, it’s that relationships are easy to get into but very, very hard to get out of. Finances, friends, history, future plans, real estate, business interests, kids, you name it – the small connections you make with someone while romantically involved quickly add up and become ropes that complicate love. If there is one thing I will never do again it is become an object of convenience, habit or utility, rather than a deeply cared about and appreciated partner. That said, I’ve been a rather difficult girlfriend the past two years, practically having a panic attack anytime I sensed things were heating up emotionally with a man.



My friend, George, told me when I got divorced that no matter what, I should wait two years before starting up a new relationship. Before that, undercurrents of desperation, loneliness or recklessness will lead a person into a union founded on all the wrong stuff. A new love might work as a band aid to your wounded heart and ego, but an open air wound heals faster. Also, it isn’t fair to lay beside a new lover at night pretending to be present, when in truth; you are ruminating with anger or sadness as your mind endlessly wanders to the past. I was definitely guilty of that.




Nevertheless, I pleaded a case that it is always possible you’ll meet “the one” right out of the starting box, in which case, why not act? And I’m not getting any younger, so I might as well get my new life underway ASAP to fast track to domestic bliss, I argued. But George has more experience in divorce than I, and he assured me that only time and distance would clear the fog so I’d see potential mates for who they are rather than who I want them to be. I didn’t like his advice, but I recognized the truth in his words, (and he reads this blog, so it pains me to admit he is right) so I forced myself to stand on the edge of the love cliff without jumping off. 

Not that I shut down romantically, mind you.  I’ve enjoyed a warm and loving relationship with two different men since becoming single – but despite temptation, I didn’t cave to my emotional longing for security or protection and get serious too soon. That was proven to be a good decision. Hey, if it’s real, it will last, and if it isn’t, I rather not discover I’ve made rash decisions early on that ended up creating the very obstacle that stands in the way of my actualizing the life and mate that truly will lead to long term happiness . Like I said, I’m not getting any younger so rather than face the disruption of unraveling a serious mistake again, taking it slow is the quickest path to true happiness.




Which brings me to David, the most competent, accomplished, smart, and loving man I’ve ever known.  We’ve dated for more than a year now and there certainly doesn’t seem to be any reason to drag my feet regarding building a future with him, and yet, when he had asked me to marry him the first time (we were on a romantic vacation in Belize), I had to say no. Well, that isn’t’ true. I said yes, then I got home and back peddled and reneged, which made me seem flighty I suppose, but what could I do? I wasn’t ready. David wasn’t happy about my change of heart, but he is an ultimately patient man, and he knew what he wanted from life… remarkably, that happens to be me.



Months later, after I got this house, we began talking about living together. Inspired by my softening about keeping distance between us, he decided to ask again, this time with a big fat diamond and a highly romantic proposal no girl could resist.
 
I said yes – but only if he understood I still needed time before I’ll set a date. I know we have the potential for a remarkable, creative and adventurous life, but there are still things we have to take care of if we want to come together without dragging financial and emotional baggage that will no doubt stress our fresh beginning. We agreed to work as a couple towards our goals to create a life we both dream of, taking it slow so there will be no surprises or disappointments to weaken the foundation of our new journey.

I’m convinced it takes time to discover what a life partner is truly made of. Every new lover seems fantastic in the beginning when fueled with the excitement of infatuation. There is such sincerity in the explanations for the luggage someone drags with them. You swap stories, believing past problems were circumstance rather than evidence of a character flaw, because you so desperately want to believe you’e found a diamond someone else was stupid enough to cast aside. And filled the glow of great sex and positive attention, you feel compelled to be the instrument of healing – you want to be “the one” they’ve been waiting for all their life.
 
Let me point out here that it’s not that I don’t believe in David’s story or that I’ve offered anything less than absolute truth in mine, but I’m evoved enough to know that there is no such thing as a definate truth. That said, if you really want to know if someone is right for you in the long term, (and I’m talking the rest of your days on earth) it takes time. You need to see how your lover will respond to adverse conditions – the test of how a person reacts to real life tells the truth more than any whispered conversation in bed.  So, when I asked David for patience he understood I was asking for time to see how he handles stress and the unique  challenges that come our way. I want time to see how he treats my family (and his), handles money, illness, maintains his impressive work ethic, etc…  that is the only way I’ll have a clue of what real life will be like with him in the long term. And it is the only way he can know that I am indeed what he wants too.




I feared dragging my feet on his proposal would make David assume I was conflicted about my feelings, but he knows enough about my history to understand the source of my reservations. Love isn’t enough to guarentee a good life or happiness. I know that firsthand.  




He said, “You want to wait to see if all the promises and plans I’ve shared with you about what life will be like with me is just talk or if I’m the kind of man who can follow through and deliver. You want to be sure I’m not hiding serious character flaws….. No problem. I can wait as long as it takes… I know who I am and what I’m capable of and I will do everything I’ve said and more. You are going to be so happy with me that when you finally do say “I do”, it will be with total conviction and undying commitment. Frankly I wouldn’t want you any other way.”


His patience and his confidence made me want to marry him on the spot. Ha. If that isn’t evidence of how smart he is, nothing is.




Anyway, together (with Neva, who was all in favor or the decision for us all to cohabitate after she and I talked about it) we moved into this lovely, humble, three bedroom home. It was a great find – a short sale only days from foreclosure.




The house has big spacious closets, an amazing master bathroom, cathedral ceilings and recessed lighting. It features lots of extra’s – like a 4 zone state of the art sprinkler system and home security system. There are a few things that need to be done to make it “just right” – new wood flooring in the great room and kitchen, Mexican tile on the lani, a new stove (we are both serious cooks and having great appliances and a functional kitchen is high on our priority list) landscaping, etc. – All these upgrades are on our agenda as time and money allows, but as it is, the home is charming. 




The thing that makes the house so appealing is the setting. The small but private yard has a wooden privacy fence on both sides that opens to a back chain link fence covered with a tangle of vines. This affords a view of what lies beyond the property line – a wide creak dividing the property from a natural preserve boundary area. Looking out from my porch, mature trees and heavily wooded terrain make it seem as if this house is nestled in a jungle away from everything. Most striking is our own magnificent tree – the focal point of the backyard (I’ll talk more about the tree in a future post).

 The backyard is bustling with wildlife – geese and ducks land in the creek behind our fence, a huge owl lives in our tree and hoots loudly every morning, a raccoon feeds nightly off our compost pile, and birds and squirrels abound and can be so loud they all but drown out the music I keep softly floating from my I-pod in the bedroom .




My back yard is overgrown, but loving nature as I do, that only heightens the appeal. Filled with bromeliads, flowering bushes and a palm that fans out like a showgirl’s feathers in Vegas, the foliage feels wildly lush. An overly generous spill of Spanish moss hangs from the stately branches of the great tree and a huge elephant leaf vine shoots up the trunk 50 feet or more making the tree seem prehistoric. I sit outside on a new porch swing (David’s birthday present) with coffee and imagine the possibilities for turning this wild area into an inviting outdoor space. We recently acquired a stone fireplace for ambiance, but right now it sits out on the mulched yard seeming oddly out of place.
We have plans to add a stone patio, textured landscaping with ferns and orchids, and an arbor covered in flowering vines. We look forward to getting a hot tub and David plans to build an Asian influenced water feature both in the front and the back. For now, we have lights hanging in the trees, candles and some outdoor lighting highlighting plants.




It is not uncommon for couples to take pride in their home and to make long terms plans for improvements, but David is both an electrical and physical engineer with advanced building skills and I’ve seen pictures of the places he has remodeled or built (they are impressive -especially when I’m told how little he invested because he does so much of the work himself) so I have every confidence that our visions will manifest – sooner rather than later. 

But our greatest aspiration is our plans for a state of the art tree house with multi levels– a workshop in the air for writing, contemplating and entertaining. We both think outside the box – and the moment we saw that powerful tree with thick supportive branches splayed out in every direction, we had the exact same idea. Apparently, we have both have always wanted a tree house, so our shared vision was one more delightful discovery.  I’ve given him several books on creative tree house architecture and we’ve lain in bed at night, glancing through the pages to discuss ideas. Occasionally, we stare up into the branches of this huge monster tree to talk about ideas for when and exactly how we will build a funky space made with recycled materials so far up. Fun! Our only obstacle will be securing permission from the homeowners association since this kind of stucture isn’t exactly covered in the bylaws. Does a treehouse qualify as a playhouse? David happens to be a new board member, he’ll see. Hummmm……  Anyway, enough for now. I’ll wait to talk about the tree house when we actually get to the project next year.




More on the house now….. One side of the house has sun exposure to support a huge tangerine and grapefruit tree. The limbs span out to create a graceful canapé over the walkway.

These beauties are such good producers they are dripping with flowers even though we’re still enjoying the big bowl of fruit we picked not long ago. David makes us fresh orange juice and broiled grapefruit because he knows I get a thrill out of consuming something that grows on my own land. (I may have left Georgia and the land I loved, but the farmer in me lives on.) Before buying this house, I brought him over here on his lunch break from work and we snagged some fruit and sampled the citrus in the driveway – the succulent, sweet fruit made us want the house even more. We sat there visualizing what and where we could plant more organic trees or veggies. I so wanted a home that offered the space and opportunity to get dirt under my fingernails again –not easy to find considering my limited budget.  This humble house fit the bill.




The first week here I planted two avocado trees (one was David’s Valentine’s day present), a lime and lemon tree, one tangelo and we set up a garden with a dozen tomato and pepper plants (which are already laden with not quite ripe produce).

David is a master gardener, so he has taught me the correct way to plant and care for the new trees. I fumble through, learning as I go, loving every minute outside. Last weekend David dug out a second cook’s garden for me and I planted zucchini and squash, cucumber, brussel sprouts and string beans (which don’t seem very promising…. in fact, who am I kidding – they’re dead, so I’ll no doubt have to try something else.) With his urging, I planted watermelon and cantaloupe as ground covering among the new hibiscus, bougainvillea and other flowering bushes and decorative leaf plants that grace front  gardens now. Hanging baskets and decorative pots feature annuals for a colorful splash here and there.  Our wind chimes feature gongs, bells and bamboo – all day there is a gentle serenade of calming music filtering through my windows.

A new bird feeder awaits discovery by the birds – so far only the squirrels have feasted from the sunflower seed extravaganza, but it looks pretty all the same.

This place is taking shape… and it seems that every day one of us comes home with something new to add. Last night David showed up with a tray full of Irish moss, three azalea plants and a flowing vine for an empty space along our back fence. I painted a budda to match the front door. Fun.




David and I are both cooks, so it was a given we’d plant an herb garden. I now have fresh rosemary, basil, mint, sage, parsley, and lavender just outside the front door. And all this has happened in a mere six weeks on a small patch of yard in suburbia.

The fact is, it’s not where you live that counts, but how you live. I feel at home here – alive again. If all this can happen in six weeks (while we are both working like demons and handling lots of financial and personal challenges), I suppose it is only a matter of time before our home will be the slice of heaven we imagine.  




Obviously, I’m having fun as I at long last return to my deepest loves and interests. Today I’m canning a year’s worth of strawberry jam (gotta catch the season on these things) because I once again have a real kitchen- and currently, it’s overrun with 12 trays of strawberries that I picked up last night – I have to finish this post pretty soon or risk my strawberries going bad. While I’m making a mess of things, I plan to start a new batch of wine too– my first since Georgia. The concoction will have to sit for months, but I have the space for a few carboys now and David is fascinated with the winemaking process and can’t wait to help me bottle wine when the time comes. We’ve finished off most all my Georgia wine – but since I’ve changed my name and where I live, I have to come up with a new name for my label. We been throwing out ideas. So far we are leaning towards Gindavi. (A combination of our names that sounds like a fancy wine  – ha, a perfect ruse to make my rot gut homemade booze seem delightfully sophisticated.) But who knows…I’m always open to suggestions.




This is the essence of my new home and how it makes me feel  –At long last I’ve found a place to mindfully garden, cook, write and clean, all the while enjoying the simple pleasures of nature, hard work,  creativity and purpose. I began today with a 2 mile jog at 5am with my daughter (her idea to get in shape, not mine, but I welcome the excuse to get started). It was cool and dark and the conversation was intimate and natural – a sweet chance to connect. After taking her to school, I’\ve spending time writing again. Long past time I let the flodgates open artistically. I next will spend time in the kitchen while the laundry gently tumbles and dinner simmers in a crockpot.  At 4 today, I’ll go to the studio and begin my work day. On Monday’s, I begin with teaching a complimentary class for special needs kids (a chance to give of myself to the community) and today I’m expecting a new student. This kind of thing has always filled me with a sense of deeper purpose. I’m proud I’ve kept room for personal contribution in my life no matter how busy or stressed or tempted I am to put giving aside. At 5, I will dig into the serious work of building my business and teach until late – but I’m not complaning – I love what I do.


This day is a perfect example of the balance I’m determined to hold onto… each day a blend of work, pleasure, contribution, and caring – no one element of living drowning out another.




Tony Robbins teaches that we all live the life of our own design. We have to take responsibility for the lives we have and remember it’s our own choices and actions that create our world.  In my case, the canvas of my life was wiped clean, leaving me barren and empty. There was nothing to do but begin adding paint. I guess you can say I’ve started with broad strokes, filling the canvas with the colors I love. Tentatively. Thoughtfully. Sometimes, even nervously. But paint, I will. I’ll add greater detail later, and in the end, the picture I create will not have happened by accident or be a sloppy mess.
 
Life is a work of art, and great art can’t be rushed, after all.