Dance For Your Life


Dance For Your Life:

The first time I set foot in a dance studio I lost my heart.  I think I was 7.  We lived in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  My mother had signed me up for a combined tap and ballet class in Portland because it coincided with my sister’s modeling class–she had scoliosis and some idiot thought posture exercises would help.

While my sister walked with a book on her head, I shuffled and pliéd and boureé my way to bliss.

Alas, my Coast Guard father got transferred. Again and again.  I’d wait impatiently for the telephone installation man to arrive after each move.  Before he’d finished setting up the ordinary black phone with a rotary dial I’d have found the nearest dance studio in the Yellow Pages.  No more watered down ½ hour of tap followed by ½ hour ballet for me (though I now know that’s all a 7 year old can handle).  I wanted ballet and nothing but ballet; hardcore, mind wiping exhaustion while my heart and my imagination soared.  I leaped and jumped and twisted in a mock wind.  I became flowers, or a jewel in a necklace, any number of abstract and real characters.

But always the dance, that perfect melding of movement, music, costumes, lights, sets, and an audience to complete the art form.

I grew into the Ballet du Lac, a now defunct pro-am company in Lake Oswego, Oregon — outside a different big city Portland.  I found my limitations and built upon them.  One year I performed 11 Nutcracker Suites in 14 days.  We traveled to local schools, Christmas luncheons, anyone who would have us.  I thrived and could not imagine myself doing anything else with my life.  I literally danced down the halls of my high school between classes.  I danced in school musicals.  And I danced to psalms at retreats.

Except…I’m short.  My torso is as long as my legs.  At the time, the Balanchine ideal of dancing beauty wanted anorexic, 5’10” women with no bust, and legs that went all the way to the arm pits.  Audition after audition brought me rejection.  How could dance director after choreographer not see how vital dance was to me?  How could they deny me this life affirming creative outlet?

Time to fall back on plan B.  BA in History, marriage, motherhood, and teaching.

Then disaster.  I slipped on wet pavement, breaking my right ankle in two places and dislocating it 90 degrees.  Major tendon trauma from the dislocation.  I was in a plaster cast from toe to hip for 6 weeks, then a walking cast for another 6 weeks.

I tried teaching for two more years, but for every day in the studio I paid for it with 3 days of icing the ankle and walking with a cane.   I left the studio in tears more often than not.  Time to channel my creativity elsewhere.

So I became a science fiction/fantasy writer.  Which helped.  At least I’d learned how to take rejection and turn it to something positive.

I hiked, I rode bicycles.  I even learned to fence — research for the novels.  Not enough.  For 20 + years, nothing was enough.

And then a miracle happened.  A new dance studio opened in my community.  I’d given up fencing, which I loved, because of the 81 mile round trip to the salle d’armes, and the fatigue factor was more than the exhilaration.  I desperately need a new form of exercise that taxed my mind as much as my body.  The studio was new, with mostly beginner classes.  No advanced or adult ballet.  I passed by the signs several times a week on my walks.  I always looked for a class I might try, and left with a heavy heart.

Inspiration struck.  Thursday evening a free worship dance workshop.  I’d done a bit of sacred dance decades before.  I’d give this a try.

And I found myself.  Jazz/Contemporary dance to spiritual music opened a new world to me, taught me a new way to pray.  The director asked me to teach adult ballet for exercise.  Sure.  I felt like my heart started beating again in the proper rhythm after hibernating for 2 decades.  I added a tap class — taking not teaching — the most alien thing I’ve ever asked of my body.  And I leave each class laughing with exhilaration.

I perform with my students at the recital.  Because I need to take the class to the fullest level of completion.

My computer shoulder is almost gone without the aid of a chiropractor or massage therapist.  The surgery scar from back surgery 4 years ago no longer pulls or bites.  My weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar are all now stable.

My life is my own again because I can dance.


Visit Phyllis Irene Radford’s Bookshelf at Book View Cafe. Section 6 (chapters 16, 17, 18) of Lacing up for Murder is featured on the BVC front page on Saturday, 21 February 2008.


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Dance For Your Life — 5 Comments

  1. Dancing is like writing, isn’t it, Phyllis? It hurts when you don’t do it.

    Like you, I was the wrong build, with legs barely as long as my torso. I did the “tits and feathers” thing for a few years as a young woman, but classical ballet was what I really wanted. As second best choice, I taught that for nearly thirty years and n mid-lfe completed a degree, but eventually it became too wearing on an old body with a scoliosis (and that’s the least of its problems) so I had to stop when I was 48. But by jingo, I missed it! I tried sacred dance, too, but didnt care for it much and eventually I settled for Belly Dancing.

    Belly Dance is great fun and good exercise, and nobody minds what shape you are – or what shape you’re in! In fact, I laugh at the fact that I have lots of belly to dance with:-) At 65 I still do it and it’s a great complement to my writing. It’s all too easy when you spend eight or ten hours a day at the computer to become terribly, terribly unfit, but a bit of shimmying and shaking does wonders!

  2. Satima,

    Dance is more than addiction. It’s life. I wrote about that in my short story “Alien Voices” in the “Future We Wish We Had” anthology edited by Greenberg and Lickiss (who’s a member of BVC) That story was part of my grieving process for having to give up dance. I had to write that story (and receive 7 Nebula recs) before I could dance again.

    And I am thinking about adding Belly Dancing to my repetoire, but I think I want to do more tap first.

  3. Thank you. You give me hope, Phyl — I stopped ballet when a teacher told me I could never go any further than the chorus because I was knock-kneed — not obviously, but enough that in the basic positions, I had to overlap my knees for full position. A child’s thinking — if I was automatically barred from being the best, I wanted another goal!

    I lost my heart to ballroom dance almost ten years ago, and kept at it, no matter what, until sheer illness-related fatigue took it away from me. I still aim to return (although I’ve thought about belly dancing, if I never regain the energy.)

    I understand the yellow pages attack. If I was in a new town for work, I always took my shoes. You never knew if you’d find someplace to dance!

  4. WOW! Your story is soo amazing! I am touched by what you have been through and thrilled that you have your life again. I think you are such an inspiration! Next time I see you, I am going to give you a big hug! 🙂