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Technology

A close, young friend came by for the holidays and looked at my Fujitsu laptop with absolute disgust.  He was horrified that I still had it.  He asked me why. He asked me with the urgency of someone asking why you would keep a chimpanzee in your house, or attempt acupuncture with safety pins.  

I could only shake my head. He wasn’t really interested in an answer of course, no matter how salient. I tried anyway.  You know, because it’s an adorable complete laptop with a DVD drive which is useful to play and copy dance videos from 501(c)(3) companies too poor to upgrade their technology. Or because it has a wonderful keyboard without the obnoxious space the chiclet key platforms offer these days (which always slows down my 80 wpm). Or that it’s small enough to fit into my backpack laptop sleeve with no issues and still large enough to have a real screen that requires no squinting or adjustment to see.

He listened to none of this.  He saw the computer software working and asked what I was doing, his face deepening further with worry.

“I’m archiving dance videos. I convert them from VHS to DVD first then make mp4’s on the laptop and save them to the external hard drive,” I explained, very proud of myself for the successful upgrades.

He was not. He was appalled.  “Why don’t you just send those to a place that does video transfer?”

“Can’t afford it. My way is cheaper. Besides, shipping them runs the risk that they get lost in the mail or that the digital company misplaces them or something.  They aren’t films that I purchased, they are videos of mostly dance works that I can’t replace, hence the digitizing.”

“What makes you think you’re better at protecting them than the couriers or the digitizing company?”

“Because the cassettes only have to make it from the bedroom to the guest room where the machine lives,” I said, confused about this departure from common sense. “And as I said before, I can’t afford it a service”

“I will pay for it,” he said, more gunfire than benevolence in his voice. "I will pay for it and replace this junk."

“That’ll work,” I said. “But I’m still not sure what is particularly unevolved about this method. And as for my computer, when I took it in for a busted screen and asked if I should just replace the machine, the expert said not to, that this has an Intel Core i7 processor that is top notch.”

Then he sat down on the bar stool next to mine, kind of the way that M in Casino Royale did before prefacing with her top agent that what she was about to say “might be too difficult for a blunt object to understand.”  My whippersnapper's version of this went:  “You know how you’re a dancer and if there was anything I needed to know about movement I should just trust you on it? Well, I am an expert on this stuff you’re doing and what I would tell you about this is so far over your head, you should just trust me and let me do this. Let me upgrade all of this.”

It is only because he had volunteered to pay for it—and doesn’t have a fraction of Judi Dench’s shade chops—that I neglected to relegate him to a corner of my house for a time out. Plus, he’s too adorable (most of the time) to throw out the window.

The thing is, it was charming, this kind of love.  And I was fascinated at how earnestly he defended what I realized in that second is the secondary religion of his generation: full technological integration for the sake of forward momentum and convenience.  And general coolness of course.

I am not a fan. I was mad when the market decided that flip phones were obsolete. For me it was already bad enough that I don’t have an actual receiver for the moments I need to slam a phone down to hang up on somebody who pisses me off (remember that joy, anybody?); now I can’t even have a reasonable facsimile.   There was something delicious about the tactility of a blackberry keypad, but the swipe mania has swiped away my options. 

Options.  There it is. We don’t have any.  It scares me that as we move further into the 21st century, the market is not expanding with options but rather diminishing.  I must conform to whatever way of life Apple, Sony and the leading droid and computer companies prescribe. Period.  It’s not the first time I’ve been given this news. The genius boyfriend of one of my proteges told me in a coffee shop in Seattle last December that he was working on micro-chip-in-body integration. It was my turn to be horrified.  He went on to say that I should go ahead and submit to the movement so as not to become a techno-neanderthal, unable to adapt and destined to die off like the other Clan of the Cave Bear hominids (shout out if you’re old enough to know that reference).

Meanwhile, I’m thrilled that he’s willing to pay for my upgrade. But where does that leave the grassroots organizations that are still willing their old technology to hang in there until the miracle of arts funding happens upon them?  I explained to someone recently that since manufacturers are moving away from flash drives—at least this seems to be so based on the lack of ports on portable hardware—it becomes harder to interface with companies that still carry data on them. Unless your grassroots constituents have really solid Wifi. Good enough to facilitate high speed internet…

I took a sip of my drink.  “Sure, come over and upgrade me anytime,” I said.  “I won’t stop you.  But I need you to make sure that whatever machine you purchase has a keyboard similar to this one. And a USB port.  And…”

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Residency

The problem with residencies for me is that I attach. It’s true. I admit it.  I’m supposed to go in and do my job, communicate the information, pass on the steps of the brilliant dance maker whose work I’m entrusted with, give the students tools to do it with integrity and go on about my business.  If there is any inspiration, it should be because of my work ethic, or my physical embodiment of the goals the dancers are trying to realize, but not necessarily because I’ve done anything other than my job.

Not that there is anything wrong with investing in young dancers every chance we get.  A few dancer/teachers I know also do visual diagnostics about body restrictions that might prohibit dancers from getting to the work. We tailor exercises in technique classes to answer specific problems.   We learn names.

But then I start to prescribe fixes for their individual technical quirks, worry about whether they got enough rest,  whether they really understand what they are doing, how they will get jobs in this industry later on, you know stuff I can’t do anything about in a week.

What slowed my roll at George Mason University last week is that I felt  deathly ill the night I arrived to the hotel.  For the first three days of teaching class (and the ballet), I lumbered into the building, and pushed through a grenade-blown immune system. I vowed daily not to search symptoms on the internet and then diagnose myself with a life-threatening disease, which is what the website would have surely confirmed.  So the head cold (let’s go with that) crept into my sinuses and frontal lobe and literally slowed down thought it was so painful.  Sleep was a struggle and negotiating the cold—which must have been the same kind that killed the French when they ignorantly tried to invade the Soviet Union back in the day—left me able to do only the bare minimum.

Still I was determined to get the hallmarks of Byrd’s technique into the dancers' bodies. The work ethic of the dancers and the hospitality of the staff helped.  One of the biggest concepts in his work – and also in life if you want to relieve lower back stress and increase everyday efficiency – is to keep the hips on top of the legs at all times in a neutral configuration as weight gets shifted from leg to leg. By neutral, I mean aligned the way hips would be situated on a hanging skeleton model. Of course, there are muscular imbalances that may displace it, but given the option to drop it likes it hot or clap it, saying no is best if you want to succeed at the glacial physical demands in a Byrd ballet.  Also, it’s important to know where those hips and pelvis are facing at all times so that specificity of steps is achievable.

By Wednesday I was well enough to invest fully and yell at the dancers when their hips were all over the place, sliding back, facing weird angles. I had complained about how orientation of the pelvis helps rudder what happens next and how (mixable into life paradigms as well).  In one of my rude moments, imperative to the thorough development of dancers into great artists, I must have yelled, “Where is your pelvis? Where is your pelvis? WHERE is your pelvis?” Then, before pressing the play button, I thought, “I need a T-shirt that says that…”

Except that it wasn’t just a thought because on the last day of the residency, the dancers presented me with a gift bag containing a card, a GMU sweatshirt and the tee I’m wearing in this photo.  

It made my entire week.  It made any complaints my body may have had worth it.  It made the hours of learning the ballet myself in advance (so that I could teach it) worth it.  It reinforced my belief that the extra investment is not in vain, and that dancers are paying attention and do seek the information. It validated my choice to give back during my dance career vs. once the ballet slippers are buried.  It got to me profoundly,  nudging deeply under my ribcage in the best way.

And on top of it too, as I wore the shirt for the rest of the day starting from when this picture was taken.   It made for very interesting reactions when strangers saw me in it later, but that’s another blog.  Where is your pelvis?  These dancers are going to always know the answer and it warms my heart. 

 

 

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Purple Geisha Returns

Purple 1 dancers Grasan, me, Eric, Darius, James Harkness plus composers Brenda Russell and Stephen Bray (James Brown III was there in spirit)

Purple 1 dancers Grasan, me, Eric, Darius, James Harkness plus composers Brenda Russell and Stephen Bray (James Brown III was there in spirit)

 

                We had already been standing outside of the dark theatre for about an hour and a half.  Earlier, before this second preview, we had joined our Purple family of the original production in becoming a spectacle.  Allee had interviewed and hugged us all, putting us on camera for new documentary footage. We had screamed words of good faith and support upstairs to the current cast members who thrust their heads out of the window with every measure of gladness that we were there.

                We had seen the show, our hearts nudged in every direction by the continuity of this thing we were privileged enough to have started. We marveled at the divinity of this original production reunion occurring 10 years to the day from when the entire cast taped The Oprah Winfrey Show in Chicago.

                Now, Eric Christian was standing on 45th Street recounting flight attendant perils to Grasan, James Harkness, me, and Darius—three of the four other original male dancer ensemble members of the original production and the tour assistant dance captain.  Our full reversion to dressing room re-enactment tendencies fully engaged, Grasan and James had cast themselves (you know, to help out) as an obnoxious star’s assistant and another steward while Eric inserted himself between them and said, “You can tell me directly if there is anything you need.”  He underscored all manner of the passive aggressive star being forced to deal with a flight attendant who aggressively refused to be disrespected.

                This seems a digression, I know.  But it’s important to understand because it cued a shady brother to saunter across the street seconds later aiming directly at our circle.  We gathered our wits as New Yorkers accustomed to post-midnight crazy do, and prepared for what we knew was going to be a situation.

                “Hey, I heard that you’re the person that gives out whatever people need,” he said to Eric, planting himself beside me.

                “I was telling a story,” Eric said.

                Oh, he must just wanted some money, and what a good beg segue.  Except that I could smell traces of cologne still there, and he took too long a beat before the next question.

                “Yeah, but are you the person people ask for what they need?” he said.  “I heard it from across the street and that’s why I came over here.”

                Eric reiterated that this was re-enactment.

                Grasan reiterated too.

                At this point we knew he was probably not homeless and there was no telling what was in his pocket.  And is that a knife scar going from the lip crease to his cheek? We readied our guerilla counterattack protocols, should the need arise, especially since the stranger was now standing, hand in pocket, beside Eric’s plus-one.

                To get us out of the Matrix de ja vu loop, Grasan asked the guy pointedly, “What do you do?”

                “I offer sex?”

                The entire group offered a resounding “Oh,” replete with satisfaction that this had turned the corner indeed.  Of course. And Darius would blame me later, commenting that I always attract the crazy people (please see previous blog about the Sarah Palin/Tweet hybrid who turned a downtown Memphis Denny’s out years back).  

                The hand shoved in the sex offerers pocket pulled out a stack of business cards advertising….a car service?

                I shifted his focus my way, taking the card and speaking for the others. “No, one is good, we’re all together.  But wait. Connect the sex with the car service for me.” I waved the card.

                “The limo will get you to the sex,” he said, smiling.

                Most of us nodded. James Harkness’ face could suffer no pretense.  Before words could follow his train of thought, I suggested the guy go down 45th toward Times Square, that he would get much better business.

                He insisted I take his stack of cards instead, and I assured him I would make sure to distribute them to everyone else there. 

                 “So, how do you like your sex?” he asked.

                And scene.

                Years ago as a present to Oprah, I re-wrote several journal entries as letters to her and to God to celebrate the epistolary approach of Alice Walker's masterpiece and called it  To Walk Past a Field and Notice. Later, as a present to these guys and a few other cast members, I dug up the incriminating letters that I had taken out of the original.  I called it Memoirs of  a Purple Geisha (ask me if you're interested) and it includes dressing room gondola talks, scandals and a few NC-17 Lou Myers stories -  is this hustler one of his exponents?   Anyway, it was clear this night that The Color Purple, its stunning remnants, its artistic legacy, its bonding agency and the “Purple Geisha”  are alive and well.

                “You know I think Iron Bar is still open we should do that…”  Grasan said to initiate our sprint.

                We spent another hour on the corner of 45th and 8th once we made it there.

                And I still have limo/sex business cards for anybody who wants them…

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Dancing #blacklivesmatter

The process of choreographing on uber-talented teenager Jared Brown a response to the problem with #allLivesmatter.  

Imagine for a moment that you broke your left wrist. In excruciating pain, you rush to the emergency room for treatment only to run into a doctor who insists on examining not just your mangled left wrist, but your uninjured right wrist, rib cage, femur, fibula, sacrum, humerus, phalanges, the whole bag of bones that is you.  You say, ‘Doc, it’s just my left wrist that hurts.’ And [the doctor] says ‘Hey, all bones matter.’ If you understand why that remark would be factual, yet also fatuous, silly, patronizing and off-point, then you should understand why ‘All lives matter’ is the same. It’s not about elevating some lives any more than it would be about elevating some bones.  Rather, it’s about treating where it hurts. - Leonard Pitts to the Miami Herald

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things I learned in Zurich

 

Sitting on the co-ed deck of Utoqai, an early 20th century swimming house that Zurich residents often use to relax between dips into the gorgeous freshwater Zurich Lake, I drank a Coke. It was a revelation to be drinking a Coke without the usual acids and chemicals that corrode the teeth. 

There were more revelations. I talked to three wise gentlemen, all in their late 50’s at least, about the state of affairs in Zurich.  We covered other stuff too, such as the dissolution of Czechoslavakia and its mostly sorted residue, along with the scarcity of gorgeous summer days like this one.  But here is what I learned about common perceptions of Americans:

-         A lot of them think we are unscrupulously hypocritical in business, which is one reason Switzerland forbids Americans from opening bank accounts there (effective 2009). They marvel at how we can, after the Loehmann Brothers catastrophe, levy strict policies on others banking with us and follow almost none of them ourselves.

-          We are hilarious when it comes to how we campaign for office over a full year before the elections.  The only thing more absurd to them is Donald Trump.

-          They are outraged at how we allow police officers to get away with murder literally.  They cannot believe that our legal system has in it loopholes that excuse the perpetrators featured in youtube videos of what are essentially snuff shorts.  They are baffled by the counter movement "All lives matter" as a response to #blacklivesmatter

I thought about this last point on the plane ride back, how people lounging on a sun deck on the other side of the planet with probably cursory understanding of deep history of race relations in this country are able to calibrate the idiocy.

After my first Bailey’s and coffee, I opened the copy of USA Today the flight attendant brought and found one of the most beautifully stated, compellingly logical reasons that “All lives matter” is a ridiculous response to hashtag outrage over Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Tamir Rice/etc:  

Imagine for a moment that you broke your left wrist. In excruciating pain, you rush to the emergency room for treatment only to run into a doctor who insists on examining not just your mangled left wrist, but your uninjured right wrist, rib cage, femur, fibula, sacrum, humerus, phalanges, the whole bag of bones that is you.  You say, ‘Doc, it’s just my left wrist that hurts.’ And [the doctor] says ‘Hey, all bones matter.’ If you understand why that remark would be factual, yet also fatuous, silly, patronizing and off-point, then you should understand why ‘All lives matter’ is the same. It’s not about elevating some lives any more than it would be about elevating some bones.  Rather, it’s about treating where it hurts.   

Thank you Leonard Pitts for writing the above in a letter to the editors of the Miami Herald.  

For the record, I agree with Leonard wholeheartedly, and I can't say that I don't understand or agree to a certain extent with the Swiss perceptions above. They are not way off base. In fact, I considered the possibility of moving over there (understanding that they have their own national issues), until I remembered that I wouldn't be able to open a bank account... 

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of margaritas and nylon ceilings

When I got to the restaurant on the night of this photo, it took me a minute to find Misty Copeland.  Nice night, authentic little Spanish tapas bar, beautiful people sitting all around.  But what became clear right away is that in much the same way that a few friends of ours had planned this get together before her historic promotion at ABT, I was simply as happy to join her with a margarita as I would have been on any other occasion.  

      Of course, I got that we were not just celebrating a friend anymore. Her friends/colleagues/peers, represented in that gathering alone by Kylie Lewallen, whose gorgeous lines are featured in Ducati ads, Darius Crenshaw, who danced while black for New York City Ballet for eight years, Ebony Williams, fierce Beyonce “single lady” and mainstay at recently defunct Cedar Lake Dance Company (she skyped in), and me, would understand that Misty Copeland’s meteoric rise is not without its challenges.   We would field Facebook comments about why she “chooses” to identify as black. We would address the bittersweetness of black family members so disconnected from ballet until now that they had no idea we were doing it before this promotion.  We would educate people confused about the significance of principal status at American Ballet Theatre when compared to Dance Theatre of Harlem in the vicious hierarchy of classical ballet, all while explaining that dancers at the latter (historically) were no less good. This was within the first three days of this photo.

      I can only imagine what Misty has had to do.

      Then there is the history.  In a nation exponentially more interested in paying $2,000 for a ticket to the Superbowl than even $20 for a ticket to see Swan Lake, few Americans care who is in the principal tutu.  Few care what a tutu is, or what the lines are supposed to look like beneath it.  So You Think You Can Dance andDancing with the Stars have done little (if anything) to educate the masses about ballet, even when it is presented on their shows.

      For these reasons, the explanation that Misty is not the first black principal in an American ballet company has to be treated carefully, handled like the donor organ in an ER, where the quickness to mistake nuance for hateration can infect like a sneeze.   That there is a legacy of noteworthy black ballerinas in the nation who have been fighting for jobs and acknowledgment for years is not part of the current (or past) PR, which those of us in the know are compelled to address (please read fellow dancer/blogger and formidable ballerina Theresa Howard’s comprehensive article The Misty-rious Case of the Vanishing Ballerinas of Color).

      Then of course there is the irony:  while I have been a fan of Misty Copeland as far back as when she was in the ABT corps de ballet, I have lots of dance colleagues who are suddenly dying to meet her, as if she just got to the scene last year.  She made it to household-name status last year, sure. And yes I did spend at least a few hours total in a thread battling radicals who believe she is denouncing all mixed race individuals by not calling herself mixed, a conversation that might not have happened in 2012. But the truth is, Misty didn’t just learn to dance a few weeks before she got the contract.  She’s been here in New York for a while, on pointe paying dues, with solid membership in the elite company of several black girls excelling in tutus.

      The beautiful part is that Misty wants you to celebrate them all. She is gracious that way. She wants rise for her chocolate sistren in other companies who are striving to stay relevant and en pointe.  She wants you to go and see Princess Grace Award Winner Jenelle Figgins at Aspen Ballet, Ashley Murphy at  The Washington Ballet, and any of the other worthy black ballerinas without PR or hashtag campaign.  She has acknowledged on several occasions mentors like longtime Houston Ballet principal Lauren Anderson, who managed to rip through the pink nylon ceiling of the field decades ago. 

      I’m still giddy over this picture of us. And honestly, the fun conversations we had that night were hardly about tendu and plié. Actually, my biggest challenge was trying to figure out whether she suspected that days later, her port de bras (balletspeak for arm carriage) was going to be burdened with the weight of a heavy rock on her finger... At her engagement party more recently, I congratulated her finally. And explained that I needed her to please return to me that very high attitude derriere line that she borrowed for the cover of Essence Magazine. I'd been wondering where that line went, why my body couldn't do it over the past few weeks. Years.

      "Would you like me to return the hair as well?" she said, laughing at me. 

      "Of course. It's been so confusing when I brush it out of my face and don't feel it in my fingers..."

 

 

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Jeremiah 1:8

"Do not be afraid of them; for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the Lord. 

"Recruitment" (duet from a piece choreographed in 2010)

When Jeremiah was 13 and I was 18, he told me he wanted to be like me.  He committed himself to learning how to gain complete control of his (then) spidery collection of limbs and torso. He would learn to tumble. He would stride with laser focus through any obstacles between him and solid ballet technique.  He tread water and then swam laps under the same paces Lula Washington put me through. 

He didn't stop there.  One year he trained at the San Francisco Ballet school and strove for enviable, in-your-face classical aesthetics (fifth to fifth double tours, textbook lines, etc).  He spent hours with his straddled legs against a wall waiting for his hips to open up.   He grew up, taller and bigger than I, majestic in his presentation. Of course, he added the relentlessly deep perspective of black dance performance and seasoned his craft with it so that every time he stood on stage, he snatched focus, as if channeling both dance ancestors and spiritual saviors alike. 

When Jeremiah was 18 and I was 23, I wanted to be like him.  I would sit before him, even while offering whatever counsel I had, and marvel at how he attacked life with the force of a grande battement (kick).  Unlike me, he was gloriously unafraid of failure.  He put the pursuit of his artistic self—which some of us know as “getting your life”—over worries of how things might turn out.   He made choices. He went after things. He learned lessons.  And then rather than re-spin them into back pedaling pleas of being misunderstood, he had the audacity to own and share his foibles with others.  He was generous that way, as much off stage as he was on it. 

He was also unafraid of what people thought.  He cared perhaps, but he was never afraid to face it.  A pair of daisy dukes and a second-skin tank and a little eyeliner did not stop him from a trek to deeper Brooklyn. “They can bring it if they bad enough,” he told me when I eyed him with worry. “I put these headphones on and press, I'll be fine.”  Who didn’t want to be this brave, this unapologetically unafraid?

So yesterday, when I woke up a 38-year-old artist, I had to remind myself that Jeremiah would not condone my slow slide into an emotional abyss, even if his exit from the world pushed me there.  He would remind me of all the ways that I was more like him than I knew, and that to forego class or an audition or a dance date would be unbecoming.  I’m supposed to go twirl in somebody’s ballet combination, or stomp down a club pumping the right beat. Or turn a prosaic sidewalk into the last great runway…  I’m supposed to press.

I will miss him forever nevertheless.  I loved Jeremy the kid as if he belonged to me and Jeremiah the adult as the brother every only child wants to claim.  But even more, I recognize him as one of the last products of a dance generation too reverent of our predecessors to shirk our responsibility to dance craft.    In a time of commercialized art and a world teeming with young dancers so dangerously submerged in their egos that their service to art suffers, Jeremiah maintained respect.  He never needed our teachers to prove themselves worthy of our attention.  He realized that his expertise was built on the backs, legs, arms, torsos, and physical articulation of our predecessors.  Jeremiah knew names like Ralph Glenmore, Carmen De Lavallade, Talley Beatty, and Gwen Verdun, and honored the artists who owned them. He never complained about the work, he simply did it.   And as confident as he was, he always understood he could be better.

So it’s no wonder he danced up until his last breath, that he had just finished a solo as grand as his most fabulous ensemble.   He was as fully committed and fearless, ancestors on call, dancing at his grandmother’s 80th birthday party as he would have been at the Kennedy Center, or at an elementary school auditorium for a classroom of kids.   Because he knew that he was engaged in his divine purpose on this planet and at the splendid mercy of every bit of God in him.  

We should all want to be like Jeremiah.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                        

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Broadcasts

                It was one of those nice social gatherings with palm tree breeze energy and post-work relaxation, cold be damned. Fairly new, swanky midtown Manhattan hotel bar, plush sofas, accent colors splashed on pillows and end tables, supportive café music, this sort of thing.  The broadcasters were jovial, particularly because the 9 to 5 committee meeting that brought them together from assorted markets was so successful.                 

                One particularly stunning anchor, who had displayed focused brilliance every time she spoke during the meeting, sat waxing with me and a few others about dance, the union, and the TV/Radio Communications degree that made my inner journalist giddy in present company.  It was this anchor, Leticia, who had invited me after all, sparing me the stalker brand I might have sported otherwise.                

A colleague (because now, this is what I considered them) was buying drinks and asked my preference.                

“Coffee, Bailey’s and Frangelico if they have it.”               

“Great,” he said. “If they don’t have it, I’ll just come back.”                

I thanked him, bewildered at this measure. The bar was rather far away actually…                

“You know, you could be missing out,” Leticia told me. “The bartender up there is quite gorgeous.”                

I leaned over beyond a red pillar to scan the bar. I saw immediately a reasonably good-looking guy, but I couldn’t tell from afar if he warranted swift drawers-dropping.  During this split second cruise, Leticia continued.                

“Her name is Nicole and she looks amazing. I met her earlier…”                

More scanning revealed Leticia was right.  Nicole’s eyes are so outstanding, they shone from where she stood. Good reason to buy drinks for everybody.  I decided instantly that they would take a while, that our colleague would sooner convince Nicole to freeze water into cubes and grind the coffee by hand than leave the view of her at the bar.                 

When he returned, he joined Leticia, me and a few others in working out the worlds bigger issues—marriage, parenting, kids.  Leticia asked if I had any and I confessed I did not, that I waffle personally on fathering, that my other half and I weren’t quite ready.                

“How long have you been together?”                

“We’ve been off and on for about seven years,” I said.  “But I would want to have my kids naturally, so the conversation would be complicated.”                

We spoke about this, about how much cheaper it is than in vitro fertilization or surrogacy, and how my and my mothers lack of siblings create a biological compulsion that nags at me from time to time.                

About twenty minutes later, when the conversation died down, Leticia told me that she owed me an apology.  She looked at my bewilderment and, just when I thought I could admire this woman no further, she revealed more integrity.                

“Earlier I made a comment about your missing out on the beautiful bartender, Nicole, and made assumptions about your sexuality that I shouldn’t have. I’m so sorry.”                 

“No offense taken at all,” I said.  Then I confessed that the reason I had no time to be bothered by her assumption is that I was busy making the same one about the colleague who bought us drinks. Tall, subtly good-looking, the slight bend of his nose more charming because he’s not a fan of it, qualities that might snag him a fetching bartendress—I was busy wishing him luck.                

So I was no less guilty, just internalized with my execution of the crime. My method, the kind that allows for crow chewing to be suffered in silence vs. in mortifying surround sound, is more common, eclipsed only by those who spew thoughtlessly from the sides of their necks and then leave the scene.  What struck me is that Leticia did not let herself off the hook with a private oops (with my lack of objection, she could have cozied herself in the idea that either bartender would work for me).  That she owned her broadcasts and their origins completely made her convictions braver.   Then she acknowledged her oops and humbly cleaned up the crime scene herself.                 

This is broadcasting at its finest.                 

I neglected to thank her.  Next time we’re in the same city, I’ll buy the drinks (I owe our subtly good-looking colleague one as well.)                

And just so we’re clear, Nicole is the clear winner behind that bar…

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The Wiz

Sunday morning, during the first all-call rehearsal for the mash-up-medley of “The Wiz,” Brian Harlan Brooks stood in front of the room and explained all the ways it touched him to choreograph this presentation. He represented the majority of us when he confirmed for Andre De Shields, Ken Page, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Lillias White, the four principals from touring and Broadway productions of the original show 40 years ago, that we are direct beneficiaries of their efforts. Some of us saw it when we were kids. A few of us audition with songs from the show. Brian and I have been known to sit with friends and dissect dance sequences for hours, noting the hilarious details only a large flatscreen can show.

 Brian also echoed De Shield’s sentiments that this is an important time for 35 black artists to share the studio and the stage.

 Because days before, when the Eric Garner verdict came out, Brian huddled the dancers to explain that here and now and with this work, we had an opportunity to protest. He confessed that he aimed his palpable anger, ready as anyone else’s (mine, ours) to bulldoze buildings, annihilate police stations and raze legislation, into the creation of every mess around, developpe, passé and spiral.

 And while the concept may not be original – Marvin Gaye recorded “Mercy, Mercy Me” and Nina Simone wrote, well, entire albums – it is effective, and we are its beneficiaries as well. The dowries for our divine marriages of craft to career had been paid by people of color brave enough to perform their discontent or work in spite of it.

 So on Sunday morning, we had church. Not the kind regulated by dogma or judgment, but plunged in the perfect understanding of our assembly and our calling. Our sermon on legacy was delivered in four parts by originals who made clear the good, bad and sustaining impacts the show had on them. Tom Viola and staff at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, ushers unaware until that moment how affirming was their idea to make this the opening number for Gypsy of the Year 2013, sat teary-eyed. And the active congregation of dancers and singers were riveted with our Amens. Because within the privilege of performing, every step is both balm drop and picket, every note both poultice and bullhorn. And we understood that the love and festivity not capturable on video would be felt by a packed New Amsterdam Theatre for whom our worth could not be annexed to some factoid about ticket sales or relegated to a conversation about our color.

 The presentation was spectacular, and I say it with no ego, only excitement to have participated and relief that I did it any justice. It was an even more brilliant investment of mind, heart and nerve, as all of us had consulted the wizard on Sunday for reminders of what we had in spades to begin with.

 Now, Devin’s involuntary, constant full-body (literally) focus pull, Desmond’s chair warm-up and Lillias’ full company class stage left really deserve their own blog, so I’ll save it. And of course there was my stint singing on a handheld microphone for the first time as Dee Dee Bridgewater—all the ambiguity I left in the sentence applies. Another blog.

 And by the way, if there are producers quietly trying to figure out how to revive “The Wiz,” at least 12 minutes of the show are done if you stick with BC/EFA’s choices of choreographer and director….

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Red Cars

There I was at the Hertz car rental desk trying to decide whether to be shuttled to another location to get a car there or take one of the three red vehicles they had in stock to fill my reservation. The woman sitting in the only chair in the place was also waiting for service from the one employee working in this small branch.

           “They are good cars,” the attendant told me. “And I still have to take this woman back to her house.”

            I looked back at the seated black woman, who looked to be in her forties but, per all rules of black-don’t-crack-dom, was old enough to be my mother for sure. She looked back at me and shook her head.

            “You have children don’t you?”

            She nodded.

            “One of them is a son?”

            She nodded again.

            “And you would veto him driving around Los Angeles in a shiny red rental wouldn’t you?”

            She nodded with emphasis. “I’m in no rush. I can wait for you to get the other car.”

            Our conversation of few sentences in even fewer minutes underlines a problem that every woman of color with a son in America understands. I have statistically higher chance of being pulled over for driving while black, and red cars are more likely to attract police. So this woman sat proxy for my mother, who would do anything to mitigate the chances of my being shot by cops.

            I’ve been raised my whole life with intel on how to thwart this possibility. They've happened before, the shootings that go unpunished with scarce atonement.

            So I was not surprised about the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict Wilson. I was there in Los Angeles 20 years ago when, despite the most readily available form of laymen-made footage, four cops were acquitted of the heinous Rodney King beating. I got to sit in P.E. and listen to the adjunct explain why this was not excessive force, argue that it was instead deserved because Rodney resisted arrest. With Ferguson, we have graduated from beating to murder. But the fundamental systemic scaffold that made acquittal possible during my teens is firmly in place now.

            It is why, in the spirit of keeping my discourse above shoddy laws and decrepit legal proceedings, I said to my black friends disgruntled with “Dear White People” that incorporating a sociopolitical definition of racism into the narrative is not mundane or redundant. Sure, the murder of Michael Brown would be no less devastating to his mother if they were white; the human tragedy looms regardless. But until we see this narrative on the national news with opposite gunman/victim race ID's, we cannot ignore the conversation about the evils of racism as if it does not include power and majority as qualifiers.

            It is why, in the spirit of dousing hypocrisy with integrity, I have rallied for a more comprehensive lens through which history can include completely black participation in the erection of America, instead of a decision every February of how much “black history” we will teach. Meanwhile, Texas housed talks of removing slavery from the history curriculum across the state within days of the Oscar-winning “Twelve Years a Slave.”

            It is why no, Iggy Azalea, you cannot use the N word.

             It is why I can find no logic with which to pooh-pooh conspiracy theories that the flagrant lack of consequence for Wilson is in direct proportion to the profuse enmity engorged by many about Obama's White House residence. No legal friend has been able to provide me with an explanation for why prosecutors would pass on such an easy victory.

            It is why the irony and atrocity of black men being perceived as threats continues to make me laugh and cry in tandem.

           This is not new conversation, and we are not done having it. Since racial lines are starting to get blurred by a generation uninterested in adhering to whatever segregationist ideals their parents or grandparents might have recommended, the Michael Brown archetypal tragedy will soon not belong only to the black community. And while the problem is clearly ours now, the profound diversity of protesters indicates to me that our anger is shared.

            Speaking of color, it’s not true about red cars.  Insurance companies report that the highest incidence of drivers ticketed involve gray vehicles. Before Monday, I would have relegated my renting paradigms to paranoia.

            Michael Brown.

            Amadou Diallo.

            Trayvon Martin.

            Kimani Gray.

            Kendrec McDade.

            Timothy Stansbury Jr.

            Sean Bell.

            I will not rent red cars.

 

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Com[mitm]e[n]t

Wednesday morning I woke up in a quiet hotel on the coast of Padre Island in Corpus Christi, turned on CNN and sat riveted as scientists explained the calm but nervous expressions of the people in the a European control room. They were waiting to see if the probe they sent out years ago had landed successfully on a comet. Within five minutes, there were high fives, hugs, smiles as wide as Andromeda: they had succeeded.

The talking heads were poised and ready to comment on this human victory, to spew incredible details about landing a small module on a body moving 140,000 mph, on how the comet has (relatively) only a pinky finger’s worth of the gravity on Earth’s heavenly body. But what moved me more than anything was the statement about the trial and error, the thankless saga of these science devotees who gambled entire careers on the hope that the work therein would payoff. That the misfortune of a bad launch meant the choice of a different comet and then two years more of waiting for a replacement host. That the power on the probe would run out if they did not turn it off in the meantime and hope that when they were ready they could re-engage it.

I am awestruck by the largess of faith and investment these scientists were able to make.

It made me feel much better about my work in Texas this week. I had made a slew of give-back commitments based on the originally scheduled dates for my boss’s “Dressed to Kill” tour, including a round-robin Q&A for dance students at the University of Texas (Austin), a master class for the division of dance at State University of Texas (San Marcos), and master classes at Teffany’s Dance Studio in Corpus Christi. Making good meant researching and booking flights, arranging car rentals, re-routing a box of #TossintheEthers that were meant to land on the tour opening in Lubbock, TX, and driving seven hours in a 24-hour period, among other things.

Since all of my engagements were rewarding, and my imaginary assistant (alterego) Trisha did a good job with logistics, I did not complain. But watching the CNN report about the production staff of this asteroid drama left me no space to (pun intended). It reminds me that there are people who sacrifice galaxies of time and energy for tiny bits of achievement. Of course parents are on the list too, which is why I was determined to offer an assuaging conversation with them about their kids in dance. But with any luck, the kids grow up and give back, unlike this comet, which may refuse to cooperate and then disintegrate without concern for twenty years of investment…

So far so good. I love the beauty of human beings celebrating in different tongues the joy of a human triumph against the mystery of space, which really does put our trifles of war in perspective. Hopefully, the human aspect extends even further into what I long to express to those scientists is an even bigger vestige of their efforts: inspiration.

I got to take it with me to teach two classes that day, and its tail is still hanging around...

 

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Geoffrey's Gala

Having just lost Geoffrey Holder, legendary choreographer, director, actor and artist who was for 7-Up what Stephanie Courtney is for Progessive, I was in a state of mind going to the Gala. It felt sacrilegious not to celebrate him and his work, which includes dazzling spectacles on the Ailey company, and cracking us up in with that miraculously rich voice in “Boomerang.” But the Career Transitions for Dancers program was set to go at City Center, and scrambling a tribute would not have done him justice. Five minutes before the curtain, as I sat in my three-piece suit waiting for fellow SAG-AFTRA Board members, it was too late to volunteer to crash the show line-up with a solo or something in honor.

     So I was feeling a kind of weird regret. Then Mike Hodge, my president, showed up and I stood to let him into the row of seats.

     “Well hello Mr. Jones,” he said to the man behind me. And there he was, James Earl Jones, sitting in the orchestra aisle seat, looking just like himself. If he had opened his mouth and said anything I’d have recognized him right away.

     It was a reprieve – Geoffrey Holder had moved on to some other celestial corner where, amidst directing a few planets maybe, he was laughing at me listening to the last two phenomenal basses on this one. I was excited finally to not only meet him, but be introduced even. But the other Board members arrived, pulled my focus to greetings. A sweet woman behind me got in on it, seasoning my torture with positivity I felt guilty about wanting to postpone.

     I was fully seated in a conversation with Mike Hodge when I realized the moment of introduction had passed.
     I swung around. “Well I know you too sir, or I’m going to say I do anyway,” I said to Mr. Jones.

     He laughed his rumbling laugh. “Oh you know me too?”

     “Of course.”

     Mike then introduced us officially, told me that they had done “Fences” together.

     “Wait a minute, I saw that show,” I said.

     “You were a kid,” Mr. Jones said. “Yes I was,” I said. “I also saw you in—” And this is where I lost my mind literally. I could not remember the name of the show and I felt crazy. Here I was about to offer the man praise on an American classic play I couldn’t remember.

     “Not ‘Streetcar’ but….” “The other Tennessee…” Mr. Jones said. And that’s when I knew from the expressions on their faces that they had drawn the same blank. Long seconds passed. “Maggie the cat,” Mr. Jones finally said.

     “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof!” I said, as relieved at the fact that we got this out as I was by the fact that it was a group effort. We nodded as if we'd raised the Dow Jones.

      I was also relieved that I got to meet him before he left. When he disappeared mid-show, it was to present the Rolex Award to Angela Lansbury. I was ecstatic. She mentioned that she and Mr. Jones had just done "Driving Ms. Daisy" or six months in Australia. Not prone to star "struckedness," I was immeasurably moved by the fact that these artists, fame be damned, believe in working for the art of it, and love what they do enough not to retire just because they can. It is one of the philosophies that motivates me to not think in terms of retirement.

     Geoffrey Holder, who literally choreographed a dance from his bed the other night before transcending, had visited me this night once again. He wasn't done. The Dance Theatre of Harlem, whom I have come to adore over the years of rehearsing their curtain closer, shone. Ballet Hispanico was stunning. Kirven Boyd’s “Takedeme” was stellar and so were the other presentations.

     Then I saw Keisa, one of my students from my hometown on stage as a Rockette. I was thrilled! Later we had a great reunion and I got to watch her explain to her old boss that I had some influence over her development.

      After even the wealthiest and decadently dressed were unconcerned about sweated gowns, a tall, beautiful dancer from Ballet Hispanico came over to me.

     “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt your dancing,” he said. I begged him not to worry, told him I probably needed to be interrupted before I split my suit pants. He continued, “I know you’re Jamal Story. I have to tell you that I saw you dance years ago in a show at Central Park.”

       “Francesca Harper’s show?” He nodded. “It had a really big impact on my dancing. Very big. You have no idea how much. I wanted to tell you that.”

     I was moved. The fact that we seldom know the level of impact we have is clear, but I felt this on a visceral level. I had paid it forward and had the pleasure of seeing the flowers in full bloom on stage. Mr. Holder’s grand finale for the life experience he directed for me this night.

     I thanked the dancer for sharing this with me, thanked God, and then thanked Mr. Holder. I suspect he will be choreographing and directing quite a few other life productions posthumously. And to think that there I was worried that he wouldn't be there...

 

P.S. It was a celebration indeed; we commandeered the DJ, taught a few millionaires how to wobble, closed the ballroom.

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Handy-ish

     Home improvement can be very Game of Thrones around this time.  Lots of things are threatening the sanctity of the realm. Brute force is always necessary. It gets dirty. Winter is coming.

        But I did not know there were so many lessons to be learned in this. Here is a list of a few that came out of trying to install a kitchen faucet, re-install window shades and sponge-paint my bedroom:

 

1)      More than one kind of wrench is necessary if your goal is to unscrew a rusted nut from a screw so short on surround space, manipulating the tool handle is impossible.

2)      Youtube provides instructions on how to remove your current faucet, because there are none in the box with the new one you just bought.

3)      The manual with the new one has parts and diagrams you will scarcely understand without a magnifying glass.

4)      The 3-D glasses that you brought home from “Godzilla” and did not recycle can work in lieu of the suggested goggles you forgot to buy, at least to minimize the amount of potential damage to your eyes.

5)      Buckets are necessary when efforts to turn off the water valve are not enough to stop the flow completely, no matter what that Youtube tutorial suggests (see #2).

6)      The sponge is a living thing even when it comes out of the plastic packaging; how could it behave differently from day to day with my paint otherwise?

7)      The Autobiography of Mark Twain, though functionally thick enough for height, is not quite wide enough in surface area to provide a good booster for the step-stool when you have 9-ft walls. Releve  (for you Toss in the Ether readers) is the position of the foot that high heels put women in, only with no heel.  This is how I edged the top of the wall…

7.5)      This is still better than the bakers rack on wheels as far as ladder replacements go.

8)    Installing window shade brackets without anchors means that one day you will yank the cord and pull down the entire fixture, leaving a mess of traumatized drywall in the bay frame. 

9)      There are paint spirits who guarantee that unless you are blessed by them, whatever brilliant sponge pattern you did the first day is inimitable from then on.

10)   Sponge technique improved tremendously when besieged by the goal of trying to apply the second layer during commercial breaks from “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.”

11)   Massive do-it-yourself projects like this, precipitated by what I call “artist budgetry” needs (not to be confused with starving artist syndrome), are often exacerbated by a learning curve and desperate OCD.

12)   I have been to the Home Depot in Brooklyn and/or Bed Bath & Beyond so many times that my best friend is calling me a lesbian.  Is that a thing? I try to be up on my gay/lesbian stereotypes, although I get my gay card revoked on a pretty regular basis, so...

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And before we leave hair...

            Since God knows I had a few hair adventures on Cher's "Living Proof: the Farewell Tour," it would be unfair not to share one from this D2K. Same bat channel, same bat problem:  I'm touring with a legend whose status began during an era of lots of hair, which I try to maintain;  before our break, mine grew to a length that could only be tamed in a braid; after two weeks, the new growth happened between the rows so that the corn and the soil (my scalp) were indistinguishable.

            And what to do on tour when looking for a hurr stylist?

            You find one. You super-sleuth it. In Chicago ten years ago, it was the cashier at the Walgreens on Michigan Avenue who took me to her west suburb home where I ate fried fish, played with her kids, and got my hurr did. 

            To my knowledge there is no app for this, and it wouldn't have mattered on my service-less phone in scenically spectacular Vancouver, B.C., which gives beaches, green-tree-carpeted mountains and bays within walking distance of the Shangri La Hotel.  I could get entrees for $4.95 at the Capitol Grill on Davie Street and go down the hill four blocks for a sensible beach lounge.  It’s fabulous. 

            So is the friend of the friend I met.  Via FB message—and here is where I’m happy with social-networking—Lydia, a very amazing woman I met in Montreal back in 2003 on the last tour told me that a very good friend of hers owns an Italian men's boutique near the Waterfront District. Lydia has never steered me wrong as far as friend recommendations (her last introduction had me jumping over the fence ten years ago).

            Off I went to cute boutique Alfie Italia, messy braids be damned, and met Kenyan-born Grace.  True to her name in every way, she recognized me right away and, free of make-up and pretense, hugged me on the spot.  She offered me a latte, insisted I get comfortable and chatted with me about Vancouver. When I got back after lunch, I was helping her sell couture leather skirts to a cluster of guys on a relocation from Anchorage to Los Angeles (ask if you want to know more on that).

            I digress. Hurr.  Grace understood my problem.

            “You’re in the wrong city,” she said. “I have to go way out of the vicinity to get my hair done.

            “But how far are we talking?”

            “Way far,” she said. “And I’d get it done more often but people are not as informed about black hair here and can’t recognize a weave that needs to come out. When I was in New York it was a crime, but here I can get away with it.”

            I laughed as she combed her tresses between her fingers, a startling self-indictment. I officially adored this woman, just real on top of real...

            Anyway, now I was on a mission. I walked up the street to a store that sells extension hair, but they were closed.  A random woman at a hostess stand close to the sidewalk told me about a black hair boutique on the perimeter, a mere bus ride away. Off I went the next morning.

            It was one stop shopping.  Afro Hair Studio on Commercial Drive got me hooked up with a hairstylist to braid my hair, a barber to edge me up after and products to keep it looking good on stage.  

             When I took the bus back to Alfie Italia—because of course I was an expert on the city after one day off—Grace was stunned.  And how could I not share the spoils of my find?  I made sure to pass her the business card so that she could cheat on her stylist effectively if she so chose.  I had graduated from scrambling desperately around Chicago on the Farewell Tour trying to solve my hair issues to offering advice to locals about how they could solve theirs.

            Progress! 

            And if you’re ever in Vancouver, please drop by Alfie Italia. Browse, buy a garment, learn some stuff (Grace is smart as hell), drink a latte. Meanwhile, I have to send a thank you card to Lydia for the second time, on a second tour…

 

For hair:  http://afrohairstudio.com/

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Cher-ing Blackness

              She likes long hair.

In fact, in every iteration of every Cher concert I have ever performed in, she insisted that I grow mine out. Before D2K, as was the case with our three-year stint at Caesar’s Palace, I had just come from a Broadway show    whose period conventions    (and headwear) made it necessary to start my tresses from next to nothing.

But she wanted them long anyway, unbothered by the degree    to which my unruly hair kinked and curled on to itself through its torturous in-between stage. And on me, a very fair-skinned dancer otherwise difficult to distinguish as black under lighting, my hair always tells the story. In an afro, out and free, or in cornrows, it screams my heritage loud and proud.

So I am disheartened to know that racism is part of the charge leveled in a lawsuit    at my boss. To read in various news outlets that the quality of the racism is so specific, that skin color is the platform, is baffling. First, there is my general    irritation with the quite trite marginalization that happens when a darker brother or sister, or anyone else really, discounts me (and in this case, a caramel female counterpart still employed on the tour) in the conversation about blackness. But even if there is some shred of merit here, the lack of consideration for the three brown band members (of which there are only seven) still in Cher's camp befuddles me.

In fact, one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had dealing with the color quota represented on stage happened on Cher’s stage in Vegas years ago. A brunette out for her wedding was replaced by the cousin of another black dancer on the gig. Adding two of the plaintiffs (who were also there) brought the count of bona fide chocolate up to four, and then there were the two of us too light to figure in. Among the other six dancers were a Latino and a Tongan, both with enough pigment to type them out of a Mayflower Voyage film. We didn’t know whether to take a picture (because who would believe it) or accuse our boss of Blaxploitation. Because of course there were also the two black backup    singers, the keyboardist and the drummer…

                This doesn’t happen with a racist performer.                                                                              

               In fact, since my first gig with Cher twelve years ago, I have missed only 2 of her 568 full stage shows. Never in any of them have I experienced any form of racial or sexist prejudice. 

It’s not her style. I was there every time she strutted around stage in a Native American feathered headdress singing about her Cherokee heritage. Early in a career older than all of her dancers, she was notorious for entering the back door of venues and restaurants that would not allow her colored staff through their front. She argued with her fans via Twitter that the Tea    Party supports racist policies. She funds the Peace Village School in Kenya for black orphans. And the available dance captain promotion    on this tour came to me, not the white guy.

You know, there was a budget for my hair. When I ran out of Mixed Chicks conditioner    on the road, or couldn’t find a barber for a manicured fro, Cher reimbursed receipts for cornrows. It did not bother her any when I walked on stage wearing them, black pants and    a white tank—a look that might have gotten me shot by police in Ferguson—to stand in her spotlight and present her a stool. This is the conversation we should be having instead, how my "Burlesque" costume with this hairstyle    is life-threatening around those who would see a dangerous, uber-sexualized Negro thug.

                Cher was simply happy that it was Jamal bringing her the stool.

During a delay in the tech rehearsal for the number “Dressed to Kill,” she sat waiting on the chandelier    and smiled at me.

                “I’m getting a weave,” I told her.

                “Really??!!” she said, ecstatic.

                I laughed uproariously.  Although if she finds out about my hair cut I might need a weave… (don’t tell her ;-)

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#whyIstayed

Alexander Stabler, Damien Joseph, Ashley Frances Hoffman.

Alexander Stabler, Damien Joseph, Ashley Frances Hoffman.

     Several years back, as a favor to a dear friend, I created a piece on a fledgling company for their Gala. Well, that’s not entirely true; by “created,” I mean that I revived the better parts of my undergrad senior comp project about tumultuous relationships and re-investigated them on a company.

     Anyway, the ballet was so well-received that the artistic director insisted I come back and finish it - a blessing that happened once before that same year, probably less an ego token and more a sign from God that my enslavement to things that needed my attention would not end until I brought them to completion. I digress. The point is, the ballet, “If the Walls Could Scream,” became a curtain closer and major staple for the company from then on. Able to oversee only a few of the second generation cast changes, I was out of touch with how securely these new folks owned the parts. It was difficult at times to remember, for example, that the dancer in the most tumultuous relationship of the ballet, did not originate the part, so sturdy was her performance in it.

     So it is with a great sense of irony (and divine intervention) that I should find out now, years later, that “Walls,” helped get her through a divorce from an emotionally heavy-handed husband. Sure, levels of abuse can be subjective, and her relationship fortunately lacked the volatility that her character endured on stage. Still, there were pieces of herself that were chipped at, that she lost. The art that life ultimately imitated to some less dramatic degree resolves in a section that allows her to leave, to triumph, to literally push the male dancer to the floor.

     The other day as I combed through tweets about domestic violence, activism reheated this time by Ray Rice’s idiocy, I avoided commenting in solidarity on Meredith Vieira’s cause. How could I justifying adding

#whyIstayed or #whyIleft to a tweet? But I did not realize the degree to which I had already participated in the dialogue. 

It’s not about credit (in this case it belongs to God), but more about how the consequences of our actions – and art – having wider, deeper impact than we know. [My first book of fiction, “12:34,” was a tome on this causality theme.] The steps I choreographed were my commentary about whyshestayed and whysheleft. And hearing recently of the stunning dancer finding profound inspiration in her craft reminded me that the conversation about ills going on in the world and trending on Twitter belongs to us all. Each time someone speaks, in person or on social media, the words have impact somehow, just as every step a dancer does, and every line an actor delivers, and every note a violinist plays has the power to change the temperature of a soul.

     So while we’re on the subject of responsibility, mine is to comment on Ray Rice, to be unabashed in my disagreement with those who lament his expulsion from the NFL. Other sports figures have escaped various levels of punishment behind their crimes and indecencies in the past. But the cost of adding privilege and/or sports stardom to national adoration in a digital society rife with technological conveniences (i.e., insta-share footage) is that leveling your wife in an elevator means your instant demise. Instant.

     Ask the Delta Kappa Epsilon frat boys at Yale whose pro-rape, “No means yes, yes means anal” chant went viral. Or Donald Sterling, enough said. Except (apparently) in cop vs. unarmed-black-person shootings, or any crime in Florida, accountability rises with the speed and spread at which ones actions can be “televised.” When the touchdown happens and the trophy goes with the team, the positive consequences are plain. God forbid we deprive sports figures of negative ones for wrong-doing.

     I have no sympathy. Because if I, a dancer whose income and individual art have little impact on the economy of a city, punch a woman in the face, nobody is going to have a conversation about whether I should at last be permitted to continue my career. Few are going to wait for my words of contrition to thereafter offer me the blessing of getting on stage with any living legend including Cher, the one I work for.

     The blessing is that now there is an instant dialogue trending about domestic violence. It is the kind of thing that gives me hope, and makes me more conscientious about the emotional abuse I explore in “Toss in the Ether.” Social responsibility is still alive and hanging on. And it one of the reasons #whyIwrite.

Luminario Ballet performs excerpts of "If the Walls Could Scream" September 19th - 21st at El Portal Theater in West Hollywood. 

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Stool Carry

            Our legendary lady has in the show a set of songs she sings in succession without the intervention of costume changes, set moves or other production number logistics.  Well except for the minor issue of the stool.  For the longest time it was a crewman who performed this task, ill-equipped with a costume or any formal introduction to the audience prior to make the moment easy on Cher, who is in a set of follow-spots (lights).  He would come out after “Walking in Memphis” and sort of finagle the stool into the center of the Mandala as inconspicuously as he could, but to no avail. Someone made the suggestion that a dancer do this. And somehow I was the pick.  So I now make a costume change after “Take it Like a Man” and come back out to present our icon a seat for what we call the “Unplugged” section of her show.  The picture above is from the second or third time this occurred. We have fun with it, and graciously, she always identifies me by name when she thanks me. 

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Maleficent



Warning: I'm careful here but if you're extremely thoughtful and know the references below, you might infer spoilers so read the following at your own risk. What I saw in the Disney's brilliant "MALEFICENT" tonight: the interests of greed over "otherness" in kingdoms anxious to exploit civilizations and pillage resources (i.e., Pizarro/the Incas, Cortez/the Aztecs, etc. etc. etc.) heart-breakingly played out; the truth that romantic love is not the only kind with umph; that violating and mutilating the trust of someone is dangerous for all parties involved, especially if the someone is female (hell hath no fury, etc.) and the emotional assailant is male; the effects of revenge can never be controlled, only measured (i.e., The Count of Monte Cristo); evil and good as anything other than absolute, with shades of gray that conspire to create rounded, multi-dimensional individuals; an own-it-on-video worthy performance by Angelina Jolie that was right up there with Charlize Theron's in "Snow White and the Huntsman," only Jolie had more help because the vehicle was better all the way around. Yep, that's what I saw. But that's just me...


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Maya

  Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m sitting in the outdoor area of Panera in the sleepy downtown across from an ancient theatre and a Starbucks. I have a book sitting on the table next to the computer, which is at the complete disposal of my Maya Angelou considerations. Of course I am devastated (but not surprised) by her passing, and as she has inspired me to do so much of what I have done in my life, I must put pen to paper about it.

            While I cogitate, an older man walks by me with way too much pep to be called elderly. He sports a simple, long red t-shirt tank showing off an Eagle tattoo on an arm that still had some fraction of the big power it must have had back in the day.  The baseball cap on his head reads "Functional Veteran."   

            “That looks like a good book,” he says, looking at the cover of Toss in the Ether.

            I decide not to tell him it was mine, luxuriating in the affirmation.  “I hope so. It’s a good read so far,” I say, indicating that I am on page 37.

            “Man, I love to read, I go through lots of books. I sit over there and just read,” he said, pointing to what I thought was the Starbucks on the corner of 12th and P Street.

            “Do you work over there sir?”

            “I’m a panhandler,” he says.  “I do Walgreens on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then I’m at the Smoke Shop on some of the other days. But I read a lot, go through a book a day, something like that. I see these college kids and they bring me stuff and we talk about it.”

            “Wow,” I say, noticing the length of the ponytail and the warmth of his Santa beard.

            “Yeah, I was in Vietnam. When He brought me home from Vietnam, I said I’m going to serve Your word with every person who wants to hear it, but You have to make them adhere to it.  I can't do that part. So we deal with the Good Book a lot.”

            “That’s good news, sir.”

            “You’re not lost, but you will be found.”       

            “Amen.”

            He introduces himself, and as I shake his hand I am too stunned sorting out the moment to actually hear his name.

            Perhaps it is Maya. 

            Perhaps this is both my blessing and an answer to my questions.

            As he walks away, I realize he has identified himself as a panhandler with the same erection in his spine that any other person would have about his/her profession; service in Vietnam may have been sufficient. Panhandler. Yet he has asked for nothing, and given me everything.

            Thank you Maya Angelou.

            Thank you God. 

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