Fall 1985. Boulder. Driving down 9th street to Danelle Helander’s Friday afternoon technique class. I think I won’t be able to make it through class on the cigarette and coffee with milk I had for lunch. Eyes on road, left hand on wheel, right hand reaches to floor of the car for something. There in the bottom of a Frito bag a single corn chip. Yes.
The first time I walked into the office of dance director at University of Colorado, Charlotte Irey, she raised her right eyebrow and said, dance students from Sarah Lawrence don’t do well here. The second time I would be on suspension from the CU touring company until I lost five pounds. The third time she handed me back an essay. In my memory there was a red circle and beside the circle, the words, plagiarized! Right before graduation she stopped the music and our dance sequence and pointed at me. She said I was the only dancer who danced from nature. Humphrey/Weidman technique was all gravity and momentum— lift, drop, suspend, fall. Charlotte Irey came from Oklahoma. She lifted the dance department from the gym to the studio, to the dance theater. She fought the University by herself to keep dance alive, to make a place for the art and women, like me, who made dances. She demanded windows in the studios so we could see sky, trees, nature; which, according to her, is what motivated dance. Old fashioned, barefooted, choreographed modern dance.
At Sarah Lawrence there was nothing to prove to anyone. I met with my friends in the studio at midnight and we would make stuff up, and try to leap high and talk about Marley floor versus wood. We showed our work we had made for composition class and lay on the floor half asleep stretching in different positions, drinking water from paper cups, and talked about art and life, and what would we do after college. My plan was to be in the Senta Driver Company; she had large, muscular dancers like me. They turned on heels rather than balls of feet. Or Bill Evans, or another company. I choreographed a solo honoring a special needs person I worked with in high school. I stuttered B b aba … baabarwa, rocked back and forth; my arms flew up and I slapped them down. The musician ran up steps hitting steel railings with a steel pipe, which echoed through the building.
At Sarah Lawrence we wore black and it was grey all February. We walked around in our existential crisis. I saved quarters for the washing machine, wrote essays about the writings of Donald Barthelme, and Gabriel García Márquez. I studied Pragmatism and worked in the music practice rooms. Resting on couch, pillows on my belly, I read Joyce’s Ulysses, and listened through the walls to repetitive patterns of clarinet, piano, viola. Occasionally I looked up. There goes a student into a room with Itzhak Perlman. I hung out in the cafeteria on Sundays with friends, eating multiple French crullers, sometimes staying through lunch. I talked with Percy, the special needs person who clicked us into the cafeteria. He gave me one of those valentine hearts filled with all the kinds of chocolates as big as my desk.
I didn’t know this life was special or privileged or unique. It was what was happening. Sarah Lawrence was beyond me somewhat. I longed for spaces in nature and I went to the park and fed geese and talked with people at the hardware store and put my quarters in the Jukebox at the local bar and played Jack the Knife. I went with my friends to the high- end restaurant and ordered French onion soup, mostly for the accessories to the soup. Now I sense something—a craving for this time. The time is not available. I’m past. It happened and now it is a picture and a feeling of the time. Now this time here, sitting here, Sunday night, quiet, listening to the soft sound of the laptops keys. The now time. Now. The word feels so heavy and old. That’s why I started writing flash bucket. And now flash bucket is overdone. Maybe then a sound, a slap, a step can mean now. Jake perks up and barks with his whole body. Dance is now. And then it’s gone. Boom, over. Here and over. All the training and technique. Dances recorded sit in garage on video tape, losing their color and strength. What do I do with them, put them on DVD and stick them in the machine and sit and watch? What is it for, this dance art. After all the colleges I vowed never to ask what is art and only keep making work! So here I am again saying what is art.
Now I am on another side. Somehow I became this old. What’s left over from those years? I guide students to trust their impulses, show up and listen to the sensations of body. Sit and sense internal nature. I ask them what moves and what doesn’t. If they make something, a dance, or a poem, I think they should follow its course. Collaborate with nature. Nature growing itself.