I love baseball. I love the pageantry, the suspense, the sense that we are living the game as we watch it. I love the sound of the organ revving up the crowd, the feel of the breeze, and the reflection of the setting sun on the bank buildings downtown. I love that the game is part our own story in real time.
But what I really love is dance. I know people who love that they saw Chipper Jones play with the Atlanta Braves or Cal Ripken with the Baltimore Orioles…. I love that I saw Rudolph Nureyev dance with Margot Fonteyn; Mikail Baryshnikov with Gelsey Kirkland; and Natalia Makarova with Ivan Nagy. I love dance’s broad beautiful brush strokes across the stage, reaching corners that words can’t. Words have a lot to learn from dance.
A ballet teacher that stands out for me is Madame Galina. I was fourteen. My long-legged sister was a very talented dancer. I was not. I had short legs. Madame was mesmerized by my sister and her talent, and we were a package deal. Madame was patient with me. She would walk over to where I stood at the barre and say, “Non, Cherie… more like this (zees).”
“Like this?” I would ask… as I tried again.
“Zees is better, but it is more like zees.”
And she would show me. She would demonstrate how to hold the head. The arms. The hands. And I would learn. Slowly. Deliberately. I learned. She had flaming red hair (which surely should have been gray) and was swathed in colorful silk. We were not allowed to wear jewelry, but Madame wore bangles up and down her arms that made a music of their own as she moved. In our floor work she would walk over to me.
In small leaps, with pointed toes, she moved across the floor. Her steps were punctuated by her staccato voice: Like zees… like zees… like zees… And sometimes she would have my sister demonstrate. My sister moved just like Madame Galina. It was clear that she was not mocking Madame when would say “Like zees, like zees, like zees…” as she moved. It was also clear that I was supposed to keep a straight face when she did that. And out of love for Madame (and for my sister), most of the time, I did.
Yesterday was one of those beautiful September Saturday mornings where you wake up and know you are going to spend the morning outside. It was not the kind of morning where you go to a movie theater. Unless Singing in the Rain is playing and Gene Kelly is one of your favorite dancers of all time. As I sat in the theater eating popcorn for brunch, I thought how dance is a mix of passion and practice; discipline and devotion, tenacity and, yes, talent. It is important for us to know that the most talented dancers practice the most. It is not magic. Practice makes perfect for dancers and baseball players and writers.
We begin Monday mornings with writing workshop in Room 204. I use the model I learned at the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia Teachers College with Lucy Calkins. The model starts with demonstration and is followed by practice with lots of individual conferring.
Tomorrow morning I’ll move from young writer to young writer. Like this. Like this. Like this. Practice is key. Practice makes perfect. Practice sets words free across the page– in broad beautiful brush strokes. Words have a lot to learn from dance. And teachers do too.