Day Twenty: Try a Little Tenderness

pace-osu-craft-cideryOk, as Super Tuesday looms, I’m gonna take another stab at the body politic thing. But it’s going to take me some time to wade through the complexity of my own responses to the wild ride that is the 2016 race to the nomination. So stay tuned. Aren’t I becoming a savvy self-marketer?

Speaking of which, I’ve heard that the way to really make your blog catch on is by endorsing stuff. If you’ve been reading along, even just casually, my guess is you know that I endorse the following: dance regularly (even if it’s just to Motown in your kitchen), befriend your body, be on the lookout for serendipity in the smallest things, be there for those you love, and be compassionate towards everybody, especially people you find yourself recoiling from. (More about that in the upcoming body politic post which—TEASER—will endorse a candidate. So stick around…) Other things I endorse: a well-timed, well-placed F-bomb, a muscular sense of humor, the examined life, and dogs. Granted, these are not the kind of endorsements that are going to land me a fat advertising contract. What I don’t endorse, although I admit I am as susceptible to its sway as an insomniac QVC viewer with a closet full of chachkis: stuff.

I will, though, turn you on to a great, young recording artist I’ve come across. Her name is 0602517564510Lizz Wright, and the album you need to download is called “The Orchard.” Her cover of Carole King’s classic “I Feel the Earth Move” is falling-off-the-bone tender. She also covers Led Zepplin’s “Thank You,” her earthy, rich alto giving the song a surprisingly gentle-yet-forceful passion. This album makes me want to make loooove. And I’m post-menopausal and have zero hormones. So that’s saying something.

I first heard about Lizz Wright from a friend, and then my friend Maria Skinner choreographed a gobsmackingly beautiful Nia class to “The Orchard,” movements as meltingly delicious as the music itself. A bunch of teacher colleagues all clamored to learn it.

I’ve been working with it off and on for a while now, including this morning. It’s my eighth day in a row teaching a class (usually I have at least one day off), and this morning my body felt tight and fatigued. My Tuesday morning class has never really packed ‘em in for some reason, and I found myself thinking it would be okay, just this once, if nobody showed up and I could take the morning to rest.

As luck would have it, though, I did have one student. I’ll call her Stella, although that’s not her true name, but she shines in a very particular way, so I think it suits her. Stella has a cognitive impairment. I don’t know the precise nature of her disability. She’s maybe in her fifties, like me, but she is quite childlike in some ways and almost elderly in others. She processes language in fits and spurts, and her speech is slurry. When she’s talking to you, she has a myopic way of looking just over your shoulder from behind her smudged eyeglasses. She comes to almost every class the studio offers. We have a “no shoes inside the space” policy to keep the grit of the New England winters outside, and we all leave our boots in the hallway and come into the studio waiting area barefoot. But Stella always changes from her boots into slippers covered in gold sequins. I call them her sparkle shoes, which makes her laugh.

One thing I’ve noticed about Stella in some of the more energetic Nia classes I teach is that she is concentrating very hard on making her feet do the steps. Her movements are awkward and stuttering. But she is beautifully present. She hums along with the music, which being a singer, I love to see, even though her voice isn’t musical, strictly speaking. What I most love about Stella when she dances is how she moves her hands, with incredible delicacy.

Because it was just the two of us, and it seemed to fit each of our needs, I switched the play list I’d been planning to teach—a high-energy, complicated hip-hoppy sort of an affair—for “The Orchard.” Our focus was moving gently and slowly. I spoke very little. I sense that processing language while moving isn’t pleasurable to her the way it may be for other students. Self-editing (in teaching, writing and life in general) is an “improvement area” for me, so today, Stella was my teacher. She helped me lean into the silence. It seemed right for the two of us to take it slow this morning, like an apple ripening in the sun.

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