When I was a little girl, I took dance lessons. From the age of 4 or so, I took, tap, jazz and ballet. I have vague memories of doing some kind of moving across the floor and the teacher saying “Jeté, jeté!” as we stepped from foot to foot.
I loved those lessons. There was a big dance recital, where my mom made costumes for me: I played a bumblebee and a munchkin.
When we moved to Dallas when I was 5, for some reason, the dance lessons stopped. It was a hectic year, and the business venture that my Dad had moved us there for failed, so after the year, we moved back to Houston, to a different part of town and a different set of circumstances. Finances were tight, so extras like lessons were put to the side.
But. I did not stop dancing. I would put my parents’ albums on the record player and dance my little heart out. This was way before MTV or dance videos. The only references I had were old Hollywood musicals, which I adored. So my dances were my own versions of what I had grown up watching: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn moving dramatically across streets and fields in passionate, emotive and song-filled scenes.
I had plenty to be working out. In my young life I had already suffered a great deal. But my trauma had been locked away tight in a safe room of my psyche, so I wasn’t consciously trying to tell any particular story through these dances. My body-mind just needed to move and my soul just needed to express through that movement.
Favorite songs were Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and most of the album “Whipped Cream” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band. But I would dance to just about anything.
The dancing stopped somewhere around age 11. By that time, I had discovered food and TV and they became a kind of narcotic, a way to numb out the confusing feelings and thoughts that made life difficult. They became my number one coping mechanism, and saw me through until the teen years when other substances became available and appealing to me.
Did I dance again? Sure. At dance clubs in the 80’s and 90’s, where alcohol and often drugs were a part of the mix. At weddings, always somewhat self-consciously. There were a few attempts to go back to dance lessons so that as an actor I could be more marketable for musical theatre. I’ve danced in musicals and loved every moment. But the kind of dancing that I did in that living room back when? Nope.
Through my 20’s and 30’s, I had pics of me from that recital in my costumes, beaming. I think I even still have a bumblebee wing. Over the years, I have often used those pictures as self-reference, proof that there had been a time when I had been confident, happy in my body and free-feeling. I looked to those pictures to try to find hope that perhaps one day, I could find those ways of being again. Through much healing over the years, I have made a lot of progress. I go deep in my work as an actor and singer, and work from a place of a great deal of freedom often. But it has always still seemed to me that the girl I had been – with her total lack of self-consciousness, innocence and creative freedom – was to be forever out of my reach no matter how hard I worked for it.
Then. Last week, a young director reached out to me and asked me to do his film. He’d had me in mind for the Woman in the script, he said, and he really, really wanted me to play her.
In the script, during the character’s most private inner moment, she transports herself through fantasy from her home bathroom to a gorgeous copper bathtub in a tiled tunnel in Central Park by the Bethesda Fountain. She is wearing a beautiful dress and a sax player is playing music in the background as she has this very free, very private, very joyful moment.
From the moment I read the scene, I imagined the woman dancing around the fountain.
I asked the director had he imagined the Woman staying in the tub in her private moment. He said yes, but that it was my private moment, and he wanted me to have complete freedom. (What a wonderful gift he gave me, that freedom. So grateful for his desire to collaborate.) So I had imagined my moments in the tub and was excited and curious for how the shoot would go.
I had not seen the location, so did not know that the tiled tunnel was a beautifully lit space that had arches in the background and copper hues, and that the tub would be placed in it, not near the fountain.
So that morning, as we arrived on location, when I saw the actual scene – the brick tunnel and the beautiful space that was surrounding the copper tub – and then heard the song the saxaphone player was to play, I knew that I had to dance out of the tub and around that beautiful tunnel.
And so on the first take, as the camera began to film, I began my private moment, made my way out of the tub, and I began to dance.
It was one of the most magical experiences I have ever lived. In the moments of my improvised dance, with the sax player playing for me and with me, the sun beginning to come up behind the fountain in the distance, hearing only the music and the echo of my own laughter, I felt myself dancing simultaneously as the woman I am right now and the little girl I was then. The tunnel and that living room became one across space and time. The joy that bubbled up through my body was total and whole, and it was such an honor to be in those moments bringing the Woman of the film and the director/writer’s vision to life.
Afterwards, we did more takes, and they were each wonderful but different in their own ways. There was no way to repeat that first take, and that was perfect too.
But I walked away from that shoot forever changed.
There are moments in life where you feel that you are in the exact right place at the exact right time doing exactly what you were meant to do. In those moments, you can see that every other moment of your life has been a part of the making of this one magical moment. Every thing you’ve lived, every person you’ve met — the good, the bad, the ugly — it all makes total sense in those moments.
Those moments are astonishing. They are when I know I am a wondrous creation, a part of the whole that is this incredible Universe. I know in those moments that my life has been intricately designed, just as a rose has, or a peacock, or snowflakes. That nothing in my life – from the worst trauma to the most brutal pain – has been for naught. That it has all led to this moment in time, to this me that I have become.
That dance is forever in my heart now. It lives inside me, and it is the beginning of a whole new level of personal and creative freedom. I do not know what will grow from it, but I know that I have re-awakened something important inside, and I am so very grateful for that role finding its way to me, for giving me back the Dance.
#actorslife #danceforever #theheartremembers #itsnevertoolate #TheDanceoftheHeart