Portrait of the Artist as a
Young Girl Woman – Age 33
I was an awkward but active kid. I tumbled across out living room floor, flipped on the bar in our closet, broke more pairs of glasses than my parents probably care to remember rolling down the hill outside our elementary school after the “Walkers bell” rang at 3:18. I loved to skate and relished the Sunday School parties at the local rink, and I held court on the monkey bars at recess.
Coordination came slow for me. I got in trouble for pouring the kool aid with my left hand which felt natural to me—except that I’m right handed and my mother thought I was up to my usual awkward. In kick ball, I was the lat picked because I was slow on the draw—kick then run required two steps for me rather than the usual overlapping of actions required of a hearty player. Add to that my knock knees which displeased me aesthetically and made me self conscious about running therefore excluding me from nearly any sport in gym class.
By middle school I made some decisions for myself and one of those was that I wasn’t cut out to do anything remotely physical, graceful, or requiring coordination. I gave up on gym almost altogether and turned to more cerebral activities in my afterschool time—books and writing and drawing poor imitations of my older sister’s Ebony Jr. characters. My twin could be the active one—people seemed to like to split us down the either/or middle anyway.
The decisions followed me; maybe even haunted me. When I would see activities I wanted to try, I hesitated if they broke my stay-in your-lane rule. My lane was the cerebral one.
Then came college.
I took college to be my opportunity to do everything that I had wanted to do but had before seemed ill fitting to what was expected of me—nothing crazier than a couple of extra piercings, really. Oh and chopping all my hair off.
And I joined our dorm’s dance squad.
We were hosting a party with our “brothers” from Graves Hall and planned a grand entrance complete with a dance routine to Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.” We practiced nightly in the basement and I pretended not to be nervous, pretended that I had done more than a two step before and that I didn’t notice that my knees were crooked to the other girls’ straight. I bought my black Graves hall tee shirt and tied it tight in the back to create a perfectly rouched crop shirt, ironed up my black bell bottoms—the ones with the silver buttons down the leg—laced the black chucks (some things never change!), shook what my mama gave me, and met the cutest boy that night. Oh yeah, back to the story…
I counted the experience an exception to the rule. But I knew from then, if I had never known it before, that I loved dancing. I didn’t trust my knees not give me away and I didn’t trust that to like something doesn’t mean you have to be the best or even all that good at it. I tried modern dance in college, joining the liturgical group at my church (they couldn’t kick me out), and taking a class to fulfill one of my fitness credits. Mr. Bryce was impressed by my final—a choreographed interpretation of Curtis Mayfield’s “Think” and told me that I “might have a career in dance…journalism.”
If anyone would’ve told me back then that I would be doing polyrhythmic movements I would’ve laughed. I have to work at them, no doubt. Am still the remedial student in every class and group I’ve ever belonged to, chasing the drum with my hips (and sometimes still not catching it)! But I do the best I can.
When I decided, as an adult, to join a community dance class I was brinking my cool. So-o-o-o on the ledge a strong whisper might’ve provided enough air to tip my balance. And I decided that dying tomorrow was not all that big a deal, so living today couldn’t be either. My version of reckless was showing off my flaws—hated my belly so I signed up for a belly dance class; was scared of heights so I sky-dived; was scared of being reminded that I was never the athletic type so I joined a gym; was scared of being called a health nut so I shopped all manner of soy, gluten free and vegan; stared cameras in the face and refused Hope a seat in my house. In my mind all I had was now.
And if it wasn’t the best attitude, it was the attitude that kept me afloat for that year.
… and the next year: