You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

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.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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12 Responses to You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

  1. Sparks says:

    It’s heady to have so many great writers in our family!! Here’s what my online Spanish teacher sent me yesterday: ”That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I guess that applies to everything. And it’s so hopeful.

  2. Wanda Brown says:

    Baseball to dance…you should reach a large audienence in this one! I love how you made writing dance for me in this piece.

  3. Stacey says:

    I love the way you talk about your ballet teacher (who you captured beautifully with the “Regardez” and the “like zees” dialogue you wrote) and used it to lead us in to the teaching of writing workshop. Well done, Annie.

  4. jenb says:

    What a PERFECT example of show, don’t tell. I LOVE her red hair that should be gray! 🙂

  5. mag says:

    Enchanted by the connections to ballet-and baseball and writing. Practice -practice – practice!! and you as Madame…..

  6. Gayle Hefty says:

    From singing dogs to baseball to ballet to writing. You do know how to make connections, don’t you. Practice has made perfect!

  7. onesunflower says:

    Your story is a good reminder – of several things. One, when we passionately enjoy something, we forget about the work, dedication and practice that goes into it. Two, without that work, we never find out if we passionately enjoy something. Three, all that demands expertise is related – baseball, dance, flute playing, quilting, painting, writing..

  8. Katherine Henry says:

    Every week I look forward to reading your blog! Your post this week, in particular, really spoke to me. Dancing holds a very special place in my heart. I, too, grew up studying dance. Your story brought back many memories of my own. The dance world can be very critical and demanding. You are so right that “practice makes perfect!” I practiced a lot as a young student and it paid off. I had the opportunity to dance professionally for 11 years with the Richmond Ballet. The practicing part never goes away. There is always room for improvement! I think this is true for anything one chooses to pursue.
    I retired from the Richmond Ballet in 2006 and went to VCU to begin earning my degree to teach elementary school. I will graduate this coming May with my Masters of Teaching. I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit your classroom and observe your Writing Workshop through a class I took a few semester’s ago. I remember being very impressed with the writers in your class. I know it will take a lot of practice, but I hope to incorporate Writing Workshop as effectively as you do. After all, “practice makes perfect!”
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful talent with everyone!

  9. Nicki says:

    You got me again, sister…. I love me some Annie Campbell! Keep dancin’ girl… your rhythm is inspiration! (love the picture–may the LIGHT continue to shine on you and Fox)!

  10. Faithe Mickens says:

    Can’t help the sophomoric humor – sure her name wasn’t Isadora Duncan? haha Seriously practice does make perfect, no short cuts in life, believe me I’ve tried. Love your blog!

  11. elliott says:

    Oh Lord, Annie did you see my blog post about the tissue paper balloons? How did we come out of the same family? Beautiful, beautiful.

  12. Mallory says:

    The way you said “like zees, like zees” I can hear her saying it to you! Great show don’t tell!

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