Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Brief History On How I Learned to Dance

This weekend we received news that my neighbor and hero, Becky Ellis, died after a long battle with cancer. I wrote this post in memory of her.

When I was a fifth grader at Wasatch Elementary School ("the best school in the land!") I surrounded myself with a group of friends who were dancers. I mean, their moms took them to dance every day after school and crimped their hair and bought them green sparkly leotards that only had one sleeve. They all went to the same dance studio which was called something like "Stars Dance Club" but they just called it "Stars."

Like this: After school I have to go to Stars for ballet and jazz. I am so busy.

And oh boy was it competitive. There were different levels at Stars and everyone hoped to dance their way up to the top group which made you a SUPER STAR! As I remember it, first you had to be a Starfish and then you became a Starburst and if you were good enough you could be a Starlight, then maybe a Starflower and if you could dance better than almost anyone else you were a SUPER STAR!

Not me though, I was nothing but stardust.

My mom wouldn't sign me up for dance classes. Not sparkly leotard dance classes, anyway. Instead, my hippie mother sent me to BYU's modern dance clinics where I was taught to sway like trees in an autumn wind and flip about like a half-fish evolving into a reptile. It wasn't really me, I didn't have the confidence.

But I did love to dance--free spirit style. To flail my body about and hit beats using my own rhythmic language. So I continued on, and those nights when my friends went to Stars I stayed home in my basement and danced alone for hours.

Now, when you are a student at Wasatch Elementary School you learn to dance. Dance is a staple, a tradition as old as the building. Every May--at the close of school--the graduating sixth graders perform a maypole which is proceeded by grade level dances. The Kindergartners do a Jell-O dance and there is always a parachute dance and the fun never ends (or so it seems).

In my 5th grade year Jake's mom Becky taught us a new end-of-the-year dance. She was a real dancer who had never been a SUPER STAR. She loved to dance freely, like me. For weeks before the performance she would meet us in the gym with her big drum.




Her drum would sound.

With every BOOM! she required us to shape our bodies into different positions. She taught us to listen to beats with our hearts. Sometimes we'd collapse with the BOOMS and sometimes we'd jump. Sometimes our movements were as small as a twitch, sometimes as big as a sweeping leap.




For me, it was exhilarating. I was in a new dimension where dance had no rules except what came from inside of me. I felt very uninhibited with Becky because every move I made she praised. She loved every one's shapes and pulses. There, in the gym we were moving entirely originally. No Roger Rabbits, no Snakes, and no Running Man. No Starbursts or Star ladders to climb. No leaders, no followers, just Becky and her drum.


Finally, someone who spoke my language! I came to a place, inside my vivacious fifth grade soul, where dance wasn't about costumes, or crimped hair or even radio-ready music. It was simply about feeling good.

Ten years after that experience I decided to take a dance class in college. It wasn't nearly as fun as Becky's classes in the gym, but for the record I earned myself a "A." When receiving my report card I silently dedicated my well-earned grade to Becky.

It was she who made me feel like a super star.

Read more about Becky on Mindy Gledhill's blog