by Phyllis Irene Radford
By now, we’ve all heard about the benefits of exercise to keep both the mind and body healthy. I won’t repeat it. But I’m a firm believer.
I grew up in a ballet studio. From the time I was 7 I spent my week waiting for my next dance lessons. I did my homework, finished my chores on time, got decent grades, only because to do less might mean those precious hours in the studio might be taken away from me. Recitals were a glorious release of all the pent up creativity I’d stored while building technique and stamina.
All through grade school, junior high, and high school I lived for my dance classes. They defined me. I joined a pro-am company and danced my heart out. I even auditioned for some professional companies, large and small. Alas I never grew above 5’2”. The dance directors didn’t even see me, just passing over the top of my head to fix their eyes on the leggy, scrawny girls with flat chests and hungry eyes. They’d kill for a chance to dance professionally. As much as I loved dance, I wasn’t as hungry as they were and I’d never be as tall. I could dance anywhere, anytime.
Teaching satisfied me as much as performing. As long as I could move my body in the careful discipline, and commune with the music I was satisfied.
Until I broke my ankle in two places and dislocated it 90 degrees. I had massive tendon trauma as well. I wore a plaster cast from toe to upper thigh for 6 weeks, on crutches. Then I graduated to a walking cast for another 6 weeks. When the casts came off, the ugly, withered leg needed a cane to support it for months longer. I continued teaching—with the cane in the long romantic tradition of the wounded genius looking for a protégée. But I couldn’t move with the same grace and fluidity.
And I hurt all the time. The hurt exhausted me. For the first time in almost 30 years I dreaded dancing.
So I gave up the dance and became a fantasy writer. Other exercises, hiking, biking, and fencing, kept my body fit and helped clear toxins out of my brain so I could write. Other exercises sufficed but did not feed my soul.
I know now that I had to go through a full grief process. It took me twenty years. Somewhere in there I wrote a short story about a dancer facing experimental surgery that could shut short a career already teetering on the edge of disaster because of the damage done to her body by the dance. “Alien voices” was published within weeks of a new dance studio opening ½ mile from my house. That was the final stage in my grief process. I’d been forced to give up the dance and I never dealt with the surgical precision of cutting it out of my life. A part of me had died and I had not grieved properly.
I re-entered the world of dance slowly, cautiously, beginning with a free Worship Dance workshop. Not true ballet, more like a combination of jazz and contemporary with sacred music. Then I added adult tap and gloried in the freedom of expression I found in both. Lastly I taught ballet, at first only to adults then adding younger and younger children as my body re-found posture and resiliency and some flexibility. My dance director asked me to perform at the recitals, as a teacher and a student. Gulp.
My students claim that on stage I lost the careful restraint I exhibited in class and let loose with true melding of dance, drama, music, and me. My soul felt as if it shone!
And my writing became more lyrical and fluid. The part of me that had bottled up all the hurt and grief of giving up dance broke free. My books gained pathos as well as joy.
The economic crunch hit and the studio closed. I kept 4 private students for another year. Those 4 sisters felt like my grandchildren. I learned as much about looking at life with innocent eyes as they learned about controlling their bodies from me. We danced together as a family and I found a new face to the art. Then that family moved to Sacramento. A big hole opened in my life. I have never been one to practice on my own. There is always something else to do. But a commitment to a class keeps me going.
Never fear I found a new outlet. There is a community of country line dancers who meet locally. They are the only organized dance group left in my area. Classes are free. My jazz, tap, and ballet have come in handy. My ability to learn a dance, no matter how arcane the steps, helped me through the awkward learning stages. And I’m teaching again.
My writing has picked up in pace as well. I have contracts and commitments that will easily carry me through another 2 years. And you can bet I will continue to dance in order to feed my muses. They are hungry beasts, almost as hungry as those tall, skinny dancers who got to dance professionally then crashed and burned by the time they were 30. Me, I’m still dancing at 62. And writing, without plans of retiring.
Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of the Book View Café. Though raised in the seaports of America she was born in Portland, Oregon and has lived in and around the city since her junior year in high school. She thrives in the damp and loves the tall trees.
For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Phyllis-Irene-Radford/
Or her personal web page ireneradford.com