December 11, 2011

The Poet as a Dancer and Other Things

For many years I have signed onto the internet intending to keep a steady account of my current events, my life as an artist, and the ebbs and flows of local art and culture. These efforts have, at times, proven to be successful, however I usually get involved in a thousand and one things and my blog falls to the bottom of the priority list. Well, I would like for that to not happen again.

I have every intention of writing in this blog weekly (or at least, bi-weekly), giving an update on how my work is going, what events I find especially cool and worthwhile, and little tidbits of cultural memes to (perhaps) hang onto.

So, for those unfamiliar with who I am or why I am writing, let me explain.

My name is Melissa West. In 2006, at age nineteen, I was in my sophomore year of college when a friend of mine asked me to sign up for a dance class with her. The dance program at Hunter College is an open program so I signed up right away and (haphazardly) chasse'd through the fall spring semester. Well, I fell in love. I had previously been a student of poetry and classical literature, so dance was a bit of stretch... but not by much. You see, for years I had been a closeted dancer. Any close friends can attest to my constant dancing in the New Dorp High School gymnasium, the trials and tribulations of my decision to dance in SING of my senior year at high school, even the one year stint of classical ballet I took at age fourteen. And I can even admit (now) that I spent many years dancing on my front lawn, in my backyard, in my living room, kitchen, bedroom, and even bathroom. Yes, I was someone who loved dance from the moment I was able to crawl.

I had many run-ins with dance in my formative years. I saw Giselle performed by the newly formed Staten Island Ballet in 1993. My parents signed me up for ballet lessons with Ms. Ellen Tharp, the founder and Artistic Director. I attended the school (then operating out of the basement of the New Dorp Moravian Church) for about two years. The summer seasons were filled with summer intensives, lunches out on the lawn with daddy long legs crawling up our legs as we practiced our plies and degages. Yet, all good things must come to an end. And my early dance training ended quite tragically.

Being one of the first students, I was invited to be in the annual production of The Nutcracker. I was thoroughly excited. I attended the rehearsals for a few weeks, parading around, the little mouse that I was. I must have been seven going on eight. And then it happened. I have a vague memory of this event but I will try to be as descriptive as possible. I remember the black leotard. The green and grey checkered gymnasium floor. The sounds of the Tchaikovsky bellowing from the boombox. I remember running in a circle, as mice urgently do (?). And I remember that voice. The wretched swelling from the lungs of the rehearsal mistress echoing throughout the room, echoing into my red ears. I had been scolded. My line was off; I was running out of place; I was not following the specificity and rigidity that ballet had set up centuries before me.

I quit. I was a quitter. I am not proud of this. For many years I lived with the regret of a young dancer. I was no longer identifiable as a dancer;  I was too short and for many years too pudgy. My mind gravitated toward other things. Toward Horace and James Joyce; Melville and Michael Pollan. I toyed with being an architect, a fashion designer, a homegrown grocer. Stories poured out of me; stories of ancient civilizations that existed only in my mind and on maps drawn into napkins at dinner time. I played teacher to imaginary students. I wrote poems in iambic tetrameter. I listened to birds as I sat on my front lawn. The lines and rhythms poured out in other ways. But I always danced.

When I decided, in my nineteenth year, that I wanted to be a dancer, you could say that I was naive; that I did not know what I was getting myself into. To that I say you are probably right. Then again, my naivety never stops me. I studied each semester, working harder and harder to accentuate the minute details of my body and mind. My summers were spent in the studio, as were my nights and mostly any waken moments I had. I devoured the biographies and memoirs of Paul Taylor, José Limón, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan... any bit of dance I could find in any form I could find it in, was a source of immediate kinesthetic inspiration.

So, this is my blog. A virtual place of many things. I will present to you my stories, my processes, my struggles and triumphs within the fields of art and life. My community outreach will be detailed here as well. I hope to inspire a sense of community here.

From me to you,

No comments:

Post a Comment