Fin in a Waste of Waters

"These moments of escape are not to be despised. They come too seldom....Leaning over this parapet I see far out a waste of water. A fin turns....I note under 'F.,' therefore, 'Fin in a waste of waters.' I, who am perpetually making notes in the margin of my mind for some final statement, make this mark, waiting for some winter's evening." (from Woolf's THE WAVES)

15 September 2006

Kindred (dancing) spirits

For the last few weeks, my younger cousin, Cait, has been learning to swing dance with me. I invited her to come with me when I learned she was having kind of a rough time at home (but what 13-year-old doesn't?), and that she might sometimes feel kind of lonely. So I wanted to give her one of the greatest gifts I've relied on when I've been my loneliest: dance. It's something that she'll still be able to keep close even when I'm not around, back in the UK.

I often speak of having a dancing soul or spirit, and while many people interpret it this way, and while it certainly encompasses joyfulness and buoyancy, it cuts so much deeper that just this. There are many people who like or love to dance, and there are so many who are good at it, but then, there are a few who have what I think of as this dancing spirit, and these are the dancers who know that it is more than joy. Dancing is about pain, too, and loss; sometimes regret and forgiveness; love and melancholy - a single dance might be all of life concentrated. Dancing like this means feeling every moment of it so intensely that sometimes it threatens to be too much, almost so much that it makes you know that if death were to come to you at that moment, you might accept it. But not quite: it is a way of living on the edge. To dance with a dancing soul means you cannot live without the dance. I only began to really dance after my surgery; true, I had "been dancing" lots of times before that, but only after my surgery did I discover my dancing soul. Since then, I have discovered a couple of others: Elsie, Paul, perhaps Rannier.

Elsie is perhaps the truest dancing spirit I know. She used to dance when she was young - but then, married & had children, and ceased to dance. Now, a widow in her 80s, does she dance again, and probably like she never did before. Only after her husband died did she start dancing again, she told me. Listening to her talk about him, I know that they were one of those couples who were lucky to be very deeply in love. When she lost him, she went into a deep depression, and perhaps she still dips in and out of it - but the answer became dance. She lives in a tiny farmtown outside of Champaign, where all of the residents think she's crazy, this tiny old woman driving into the "big" city just to go dancing late at night! She dresses up, skirts and dancing shoes and lots of jewelry, and though (like me) she may not follow all of the really smooth moves, she always looks like she's having the time of her life on the floor! Some of my best dances have been with Elsie.

I first suspected Cait of having a dancing spirit after the first time she came to swing: my aunt/her Nana told me that as soon as she got in the car, she turned to Nana & declared: "Nana! I'm going to need some dancing shoes!" I told her that while she looked for her own, she could use a pair of mine, a light pair of ballet softshoes that I use when I think the dancing floor at any particular venue might be questionable. Over the past couple of weeks, I've watched her become more confident on the dance floor, dancing more & sitting with the "old people" (my aunt & mom) less. Last night, my aunt confided that the other night, she caught Cait sleeping in those dance shoes! When we said goodbye before I head back to England on Sunday, Cait returned my shoes. "Keep them," I told her. "Really?!" Excitement flashed across her face. "Just keep practicing!" I am so proud of her, this kindred spirit. (If I didn't do my own laundry, there are nights when I would have slept in my shoes, too!)


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