Using Dance

When I told an acquaintance I was taking classical dance lessons — ballet, jazz, tap — she gave me a blank-eyed stare and said, “How do you use it?” From her point of view, the question apparently seemed logical. She had once taken ballroom dancing, and she could use her skill if/when she went to a ballroom or nightclub or wherever such dancing takes place. I have no corresponding “use” for classical dancing, though I have been invited to participate in a few performances so I have used some of the dances I know.

danceStill, in the year and a third that I’ve been going to class, I never once considered whether there was a use for dancing. If anything, it’s more that dance has a use for me. It takes me beyond myself and at the same time, takes me into myself, making me more comfortable with who I am than I’ve ever been in my entire life. (I think it has something to do with living in front of a mirror for all those hours each week.) It’s the only thing I’ve ever done that demands all of me — mind, body, spirit, strength, dedication, loyalty. (I listed “mind” first without even thinking about it, and I was going to change the order to put body first, but this is the right order. Without the mind — learning, memory, imagining — there is no dance.)

Dance is a generous taskmaster and gives back more than it demands. Although I am nowhere near as graceful, balanced, and strong as I would like to be, I have come a long way since I began taking lessons. I can feel muscles now where there used to be . . . whatever there used to be. And I am a bit more balanced and graceful than I was before. Best of all, these benefits will remain with me even when I can no longer take dance classes.

There’s no need to “use” dance. Dance is its own reason for being.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Trauma and Conflict vs. Happiness And Harmony

Trauma and conflict are much more compelling than happiness and harmony, which is why fiction is filled with terrible events such as murder, wars, killer weather, and other horrors. It’s the same in every day life, or at least the life we write about. Grief, pain, illness, conflict make for great news stories and blog posts. But happiness and harmony? Not so much.

danceToday was a great day for me. I took two dance classes: ballet and jazz. The combination of steps we practiced in ballet was especially hard for me. I knew the steps, but there was a glitch somewhere between my brain and my feet that kept me from getting the proper sequence and rhythm. And we’ve been learning a new dance in jazz, which is always tough for me — it takes all my concentration to keep up with the rest of the class, most of whom have a background in dance. But still, despite those problems, there’s not much to write about. It’s the difficulties I encountered today that made them good classes — learning is what galvanizes me. (And oh! The joy when I finally get the steps right!)

When I got back from class, my sister (who is here helping take care of my father) and I went shopping. She wanted art supplies and I wanted paper raffia to make i’is (Tahitian hand tassels) for Tahitian class. We got neither, though I ended up with a multi-colored feather boa to decorate a hat. (A wild purchase for me!) Later we fixed a meal together. I’ve heard it said that two women can’t share a kitchen, but the few meals we’ve cooked together have been harmonious events. She does what she wants, I do what I want, and we end up with something special. In this case, tuna melts with sunflower bread and gouda cheese, and fabulous double-cocoa brownies studded with chunks of 70% Belgian chocolate for dessert.

In fact, after a rocky beginning (although we had talked frequently on the phone over the past year, we hadn’t seen each other for many years and didn’t know each other’s habits or the meaning of each other’s gestures, and we had the added problem that we disagreed on how to deal with my problematic brother), we’ve consistently been dealing harmoniously with each other. She’s leaving next week, unless, of course, I can talk her into staying. My father doesn’t really need care. He’s ambulatory, still fairly strong, stays up most of the day, but he refuses to get himself food — he doesn’t want to be bothered, though he has no objection to bothering us when he’s hungry — so it’s been nice having someone else help wait on him. (Such duties irritate me. I will gladly do anything he needs done, but I have no interest in simply indulging him, though he finds that surprising. He keeps saying he thought I liked doing for him. I wonder if he’s confusing me with my mother?)

So, no wild emotions today. No grief. No trauma. No conflict. Just happiness and harmony.

I hope you had a harmonious day too.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Where Things Make Sense

Dance class still remains the one bright spot of my days, a place I can go where things make sense, where music and beauty are more important than death and sickness, where choreographed movement is powerful enough to tame even the chaos of my life. (Even though my abusive brother is gone, my 97-year-old father is still riding the rollercoaster of old age, alternating between neediness and the need to control, between accepting God’s will and clawing to live, between practiced saintliness and grumpiness.)

During the 3000 miles I traveled on my recent journey, I never once felt at home, not even when I returned to my home state (where technically I am still a resident). I certainly didn’t feel at home when I came back to my father’s house — for me this lovely house has always been a place of death and dying, mental imbalance and grief. (Only the grief was mine. The death, dying, and mental imbalance belonged, in order, to my mother, father, brother.) The one time I felt I had arrived anywhere was when I stopped by the dance studio after my trip. The teacher and my fellow students greeted me with delighted smiles and hugs, held me while I wept, took me to lunch. (Even though they didn’t all understand my tears, considering the abuse I’d been subjected to by my brother, they did understand grief.)

jazz shoesI’m still fighting an allergy-induced sinus infection that kept me from class yesterday, but I was determined to go to jazz class today. I’m glad I went. After we did our warm-ups, we started learning a new dance.

A year ago, when I took my first jazz lesson, I wasn’t sure I’d ever learn the steps. I couldn’t tell what the teacher was doing, couldn’t pick up her cues fast enough, couldn’t make my arms and feet do different things at the same time. By the end of the month, I knew enough so I could write down the first steps of the dance, and I practiced. Now I know that dance plus two others. And today we started a fourth.

During class, while she was counting out the beat as I’ve seen so often in movies — five, six, seven, eight — joy welled up inside me. I was dancing! Actually dancing. Me, who previously could only balter. (Means dance clumsily, for those of you who don’t want to look it up.) Actually, that’s not exactly true. I just wanted to use the word “balter”. I was simply a neophyte. My dancing up to a year ago had mostly been bobbing to a beat, though I did sort of know a polka step that my Polish mother had once tried to teach me before losing patience with my lack of rhythm. (Around that same time, my once-upon-a-time tennis champion father tried for an hour one day to teach me tennis before losing patience with my lack of talent.)

I don’t know where my life is headed. Well, obviously, none of us do. But big changes are coming and soon I won’t have a place to go, nowhere to call home, no place I particularly want to live, no one in particular to make a life with.

But for now, there is one thing I want (need!) to be . . .

Dancing.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.