Today’s cup of decaf is with my dance friends. (This photo is from 1981 during a rehearsal for my Skidmore College senior dance recital.)
Community comes in many shapes and colors. I am a fairly social being, so it has been important for me to create community and maintain friend groups across the many phases of my life. I don’t think I am unusual in this way. It is not uncommon for women to join groups, make friends, and nurture those relationships. When moving to a new place and starting fresh, however, it can be a bit daunting to insert oneself into an existing group with the hopes of fitting in. I took that chance about 35 years ago and am reflecting on how grateful I am for the “leap” I took. Pun intended.
When I left New York in the 1980’s, I also left the life of professional dance and found it very challenging and often anxiety producing. The thought of having dance as a “hobby” rather than a career path was complicated and unsettling. When I eventually moved to California, I was finally ready to shift my identity around dance, and bring it back into my life without all the baggage and strings attached. As the universe often proves, the perfect opportunity presented itself.
New and Familiar
It was 1987, I had made a new friend through my then boyfriend, and now husband of 29 years! The friend told me about a modern/jazz class she was going to try. She had heard of it through a coworker, and so, we ventured off to the studio in Oakland on a week night. The teacher, Bayan, greeted us at the door to tell us that class was cancelled because the heat was not working and the studio was too cold. She was teaching at a different space later in the week, also in Oakland, and we could try that class. Bayan later told me that she thought I would never return after the unfortunate cold night. I did, however, show up to class, and instantly felt like I belonged.
Immediately my body and I understood the structure of the class. It was both new and familiar, challenging, and comfortable. Not only could I actually manage the technique and the style, I just loved the vibe that Bayan and her partner Elvia created.
They had cultivated a large following for many years before I had joined the class, and yet always welcomed newcomers. This was key, because when people have been dancing together for a long time, the energy and flow of the room takes on a life of its own. That can make it very difficult to connect and build confidence if you haven’t been part of that evolution.
I had tried several dance classes in San Francisco and had not found one that felt right. At Bayan’s class, however, I never felt unwelcome, incapable, or competitive, at all. I attribute that to the brilliance of Bayan’s and Elvia’s teaching style and their ability to embrace dancers of all ages and skill levels. In my experience, they are able to create and maintain a safe space.
Eventually, the East Bay classes no longer continued and I had to create the time in my schedule to get to the San Francisco classes. Like many, I diligently, and loyally, crossed the bridge and danced twice weekly for many years.
I danced through job changes and life changes. After my miscarriages, dance class was the only place I could move my body and weep without judgement. During pregnancies, dance class was the best relief I could find in my growing body. My husband came and strolled around the studio when we brought our newborn to class. That way, I could feed her and still dance. When our youngest was born on a Saturday morning, Bayan announced to class that I had worked hard all night and asked that they all dance for me that day.
Motherhood and injuries interrupted my consistent attendance, and the twice a week became once a week. More interference, and the once per week became once a month, once every few months, every six months, and then I missed an entire year!
I recently returned after that long year. With a healed foot and a new attitude, I marched into class and was greeted with all kinds of love. Bayan and Elvia were genuinely happy to see me. Friends came to hug me. And, almost best of all, the faces that are so familiar, showed me I hadn’t missed a beat, as if I hadn’t been gone at all.
I knew I was supposed to be focused and concentrating on what I was doing, or what I was trying to do during that first class back. But instead, I was flooded with emotion. These people have embraced me, and me them, for almost 35 years. They have seen me through all the life events that make me, me. They are always there when I leave, and are still there when I return. In that room, we witness our ever-changing and aging bodies complete with aches and pains.
Sadly, some of our dance companions have passed away, and others have moved on. There is always a new crop of dancers, however, who trickle in and out. Together we have shared the world’s emotional and political upheaval. Bayan and Elvia have created something so unique that those of us who are privy to the world of their dance classes, are among the most fortunate and special communities that exists.
I can say with confidence, that we are all there because we honor the form of dance and try to keep it present in our lives as an expressive and creative tool. And while I don’t know what the others would say, I can also bet that they, like me, show up because of the profound and beautiful sense of community.
Thank you Bayan and Elvia. Love you always.