My Remarkable Friend: The Immigrant

ga landscape
Her first question to me after we met was, “Is everything dead?”  I was taken back, unsure of what she meant.  When she explained that she saw no leaves on trees, or flowers growing, I was relieved to tell her that in Georgia, where she was now living, it was winter! I promised her she’d soon see trees covered with leaves.

sri lanka

She had just arrived in America from Sri Lanka, along with her husband, a newly hired professor of Theology, and an infant son. She had moved from a life of some privilege, to a small garage apartment.  She was relatively clueless about the USA.  But she was a fast learner!

Her husband was a soft spoken former Buddhist priest.  She was a lively vivacious, extravert. She loved to party and loved to dance! For awhile, I helped her navigate her strange new world, wondering, all the while, about how she would survive here.

One day I got a call from her (we were next door neighbors) asking me apologetically, to show her how to bathe her young baby.  She explained that “the servants” had always done it at home. I was of course, eager to comply. She remained grateful for that help until this day!

It wasn’t long before she announced to me that she wanted to become an ESL teacher. Her husband had a pretty hands off attitude and seemed to know better than to try and stop her.

Sure enough, she persisted and got her degree. She mystified many people who met her in Georgia, because they couldn’t determine if she were white or black. I think it surprised her. She endured racism because of it, but plugged on. She is so charming, that she makes friends wherever she goes, despite inherent racism.

rural poverty in GA

She ended up teaching school in one of the state’s poorest counties. A county that few teachers wanted to work in. Her students had few comforts in life and a bleak future. But she was determined to make a difference in their lives. Because of her innovative efforts at working with these kids who most had given up on, she ended up becoming a Georgia Teacher of the Year!

She noted that her students had very few clothes (including shoes) and sometimes would not attend school because they had nothing to wear. She singlehandedly created a special closet in her classroom full of clothing for them she got from friends and neighbors. The children could help themselves to whatever they needed, no questions ever asked.

She did her best to get the parents involved in their child’s education. That was a struggle, but again she persisted and was able to enlist the help of parents in their own child’s educational success. Breakthrough!!

Her beloved husband passed away a few years ago. Although their personalities were very different from one another, they was tremendous respect each had for the other.

She found the courage to move closer to her sons, both of whom lived in California. She left behind many friends and a beautiful home that she and her husband had lived in. She moved into a retirement village not far from her family in California. She began teaching zumba there. She recently managed to buy herself a bright red Tesla. Her son, without telling her,had a stop device installed on the car so it won’t go over 60mph. I laughed when I heard it. Smart man.
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This past weekend, her sons, one now a cardiac pulmonologist and another an attorney, threw her an 80th birthday party at the retirement complex where she now lives. Over 100 people attended her party! She danced through it all, with more energy than seems possible. She’s going strong. The room was charged with the energy and good will she brought to it.
One of the residents told the group that their retirement home had been changed forever for the better when she moved in. I believe it.
When I hear people begrudging immigrants, I think of my beloved friend. The extraordinary commitment she brought along with her to improve the lives of others shines like a universal beacon for the rest of us. Let’s look and learn and welcome.

 

Moving Forward

The Holiday season brings mixed emotions each year.  I imagine the longer one lives, the more mixed it becomes, as losses accumulate. Such is life.

Many years ago my mother passed just before Thanksgiving. Many more years ago my infant son died of crib death at three months of age, just before Christmas. The season can be redolent for me with memories of being very outside the circle of celebration that the world surrounds us with at this time of year. The memories become less weighty as time goes on as does the realization that the season can be viewed as a construct or a launching pad. It too will pass, so I try to enjoy and celebrate what feels real and ditch the rest that becomes cloying.

The annual acknowledgement and assessment of Time passing is sobering as well, but this year, looking back at memories has brought me a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.  The relationships I’ve managed to sustain have brought distinct pleasure and meaning to life.

With that in mind, I want to share with you one of the most joyful moments of my last year.  Of course, it has to do with dance.  For our last and past season of DANCEworks,Doug Varone revived “Lux,”an astonishing work that touched me deeply,created during an earlier DANCEworks residency.

It left me spellbound when I first saw it and continues to work its magic. I felt privileged to be able to commission it and am so happy to continue to share it, even if on a small screen.  I think it’s a tribute to our shared humanity.

LUXURIANT. LUX IS ALL ABOUT FREEDOM. IT IS WHAT DANCING REALLY FEELS LIKE, THE KIND OF DANCING I MIGHT DREAM ABOUT: LOOSE AND SWEEPING IN A SPIRIT OF EXULTATION. VARONE PUTS THE BEATING HEART AT THE CENTER OF HIS WORK. BEGINNING WITH VARONE’S MEDITATIVE, RESILIENT EXPLORATION OF THE SPACE AROUND HIM, LUX SEEMS TO PROGRESS TOWARD OPTIMISM, AS A PROJECTED MOON SLOWLY RISES ON THE BACKDROP, AND THE PERFORMERS TAKE PLEASURE IN THEIR RICHLY CONVIVIAL CELEBRATION. LUX SATES YOU WITH DANCING, BUT YOU’RE STILL RELUCTANT TO LEAVE THE FEAST. -THE WASHINGTON POST

I look forward to living in a kinder, gentler world again soon where we can treasure the earth that’s been given us and give it and its inhabitants the respect and love so deserved!

https://vimeo.com/50294427

HAPPINESS=Dance

DANCEworks 10th reunion, final bow Lobero Theater

Do you ever wonder what part of you has remained unchanged from childhood and what you  lost on the way to adulthood?

For me it’s been quite clear what I’ve held onto.  I began dance class at age three and there is still there is little I enjoy more than watching “good”dance or dancing myself, as it was for me at age three.

Doug Varone, Nocturne

Yesterday, I watched a run through of Doug Varone’s new work, Somewhere, created here at DANCEworks during our 2019 season.  The work is a new interpretation of the musical score from West Side Story.  I was enthralled.  Not only by the dancers, but by the smiles on a few  acquaintances who were watching  it with me.  Then I spied the look of pleasure on the face of its creator, Doug Varone. I felt even happier.

Doug Elkins dancers.

One of the most satisfying parts of the DANCEworks residencies is the joy that comes along with helping to make a choreographer’s dance dreams come true.  In our case, it means providing time and space and other support  for dance artists at the Lobero Theater as they bring their dance dreams to reality.  Often, I learn that these dreams have percolating for years, waiting to be born.

Brian Brooks, I’m Going to Explode

It’s occurred to me during this recent process of introspection, there is  nothing else for the past 21 years that could have bought me more pleasure.  That’s a strong statement, but I stand by it.

Larry Keigwin, Ballad #1

The hurdles, the anxiety, the excitement, the trust we have of each other,  and ultimately the creation of the new work, is a magnificent endeavor to be a part of.  I feel so lucky to have been a participant  for so many years.  I’ve been touched by the magic.

Mark Dendy, Rumsfeld, from Elvis Everywhere

For those reading this, who have come to enjoy and support SUMMERDANCE, I hope you’ve been touched as well.  We’ve done our best to share with you the startling diversity of modern dance, the talent that lies within its walls and the good will we share with the artists.  When great art thrives, we all thrive. I expect, if you attend the DANCEworks performances on September 6 & 7, you will leave the theatre in an elevated mood with a new appreciation for our shared humanity.

A THANK YOU to everyone who has helped make this residency possible!

Adam Barruch, The Worst Pies in London from Sweeney Todd

For right now, buy your tickets to come see Doug Varone’s dance at the Lobero Theater, September 6 & 7.  Go to Lobero.com or call the box office (805) 9630761, for tickets.

photos of our DANCEworks choreographers by David Bazemore.

Use It or Lose It!

Many years ago, in the summer of my youth, I designed an exercise and movement program for older adults.  I even convinced Georgia Public television to film me leading the programs with the intention of broadcasting them as a series and selling them to Senior Centers. It was successful and it was gratifying.  It also became popular. Continue reading “Use It or Lose It!”