When I was a little girl, Mondays were one of the best days of the week. In the afternoon, I could change into a leotard, climb into the back of my mother’s big pale blue Chevy Impala and arrive a few minutes later at an arts building on our local college campus. For the next hour, my bare feet would pound the floor in a light-filled dance studio, springing with a dozen other little girls in ecstatic motion, collapsing happily at the end to stretch while the gravelly voice of Neil Diamond serenaded us.
Yesterday, I sat side by side with those memories while sitting in a darkened auditorium watching members of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company 2 perform a series of dance pieces exploring the theme ‘The Ways of Humanity.” For a couple of hours, I watched as talented dancers gracefully and purposefully swept across the black stage, wearing simple costumes, their movements revealing just how beautiful our bodies can be when we put our minds toward combining art with sport.
Modern dance isn’t for all tastes. Sometimes the movements are pleasing to the eye, with dancers leaping and twisting around one another in exquisite patterns, but just as often it can be abstract, with dancers twitching and bending and interacting with each other in ways that have little in common with natural movements. It isn’t always pretty and lovely and packaged into a neat story – as ballet can be – and it isn’t necessarily sexy and rhythmic – as we’re used to seeing in pop and hip hop videos. But that’s not to say that it isn’t beautiful to watch. Sometimes you can see things more clearly in the abstract than you can in reality. Even when I don’t necessarily grasp the exact meaning the choreographer meant to convey, I find myself moved by the grace of the dancers, something deep inside of me connecting with what I see on stage. I am anxious, sad, entranced, delighted, transported. As Martha Graham, one of modern dance’s founders, once said, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”
I’ve danced on and off throughout my life, never getting particularly good at it, but always enjoying it. I danced in high school and college theater productions, in Saturday morning classes at Ohio State University when I was employed there, and evening sessions at a small private studio when we lived in Cambridge, England. These days, the closest I get to formal class is when I gyrate along in my living room to a Wii Zumba program. Although I’ve studied it as a dancer myself, my real dance education was prompted by my writing career. As an arts reporter for Ohio State’s faculty-staff newspaper, I was given an insider’s view of its acclaimed MFA program in dance as well as exposure to the many world-class companies that performed at the Wexner Center. I devoured the New York Times arts section, keeping track of who won Bessies (the dance world’s Oscars) and which companies were considered up-and-coming. When those companies came to Columbus, I sometimes had the privilege of interviewing the dancers and choreographers.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, I’ve drifted away from the bigger world of dance. First, living abroad, my interests shifted. I was more interested in travel than dance concerts. Once back in Dayton, I was preoccupied by my pregnancy and then the demands of raising a little one. I knew that the city was home to a well-respected modern dance company – DCDC – but failed to attend any performances.
DCDC will be celebrating a milestone season next year. For nearly 45 years, the company has been creating and presenting contemporary dance that is rooted in the African-American experience. The troupe I saw perform yesterday was its training company, comprised of university students and recent graduates. I’m looking forward to seeing the professional company perform in the fall. Far from New York, here in one of Ohio’s smaller cities, this company has a long history of working with world-class choreographers and dancers. They strive for excellence and – from what I observed yesterday – they’re achieving it.
It’s good to take time now and then for the things we love, to step out of our routine and experience something uplifting, however impractical it may be. Bless him, Wil shouldered the mundane yesterday, taking Liam with him to the grocery store while I went to float untethered for a few hours, immersed in an art form I’d forgotten how much I loved.