Tag Archives: 4-chicks-and-a-muse

Who’s Your Fire Escape?

17 Dec

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part One)

This month, the Chicks and I have been mulling over Chapter 8 of Julia Cameron’s Walking in This World. It’s all about what Julia calls Discernment, that is, learning to “name our true supporters more accurately.” The task: Make Something for Someone Else, Not to Be Somebody.

Jennifer and I have been having "Field Days" for as long as we've known each other.

In truth, I bought the material for a new quilt months ago and have wanted to make it for much longer. Maybe since I was in first grade. That’s when I first met my friend, Jennifer, although I wouldn’t know for another decade that we were destined to be BFFs.

For thirty years, Jennifer has been my fire escape. And I think I've been hers, too.

When I picked out the pattern for the quilt I wanted to make Jennifer, I saw the word fire and thought I might name it something like “The Flames of Friendship”. But when my tweenage daughter, who’s much more observant than I, looked at the pattern picture last week and said “Oh, I get it. The little squares are like stairs,” I looked more closely at the name: FIRE ESCAPE. Huh. I didn’t get that before. At any rate, I decided it was the perfect (what else?) metaphor for our friendship.

My 16th birthday at Medieval Times.

Although sharing so many similar experiences together at St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Hollywood, Florida (tragically closed just last year), we didn’t grow especially close until high school. I was the loud and outgoing one. She was the quiet and disciplined one. But as we faced the daunting perils of pre-adulthood, our differences became complements. Our strengths and weaknesses fit together, like well-cut pieces of fabric.

My last quilt, made with love in 2009, was for my mom.

This will be my fourth quilt. Wanting to give something special to my sister, niece and mom were my motivations before. My favorite part of making a quilt is the stream of brainless mental wanderings that occur over the hours of cutting, pinning, sewing and ironing. It’s impossible to put so much into a gift without thinking fondly of its future recipient.

Good friends meet equally, at right angles.

Right Angles: One of my ethereal epiphanies came as I was cutting. We all have so many people we call friends, don’t we? The onset of Facebook and other social media has further eroded the term, which used to be a step above mere acquaintance. Perhaps the litmus test is this: is your friendship cut at right angles? Some relationships just aren’t. One person gives more than the other, making them (wait for it)–obtuse.

Before I became one of the 4 Chicks, I was the "co-owner" of a cutting-edge fashion enterprise. We paid for these labels with babysitting money.

But the fundamental starting point of any quilt is right angles. Meeting equally at a point. Over and over and over. That’s the first step of a friendship, too. More about both to come.

See also: Pieces of Us (Part Two) and What’s Your Block? (Part Three).

Personal Territory

19 Jul

The 4 Chicks Chat about Julia Cameron’s Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity – Chapter 5: Discovering a Sense of Personal Territory

Recently, my dear Chicks set out to create more boundaries.  That might sound counter-intuitive.  After all, creativity is about going to new places, drawing outside the lines, right?  Yes, but these boundaries are the ones artists must put in place to ensure their energies are not sapped, misdirected or squandered.  If you want golden eggs, you must protect the goose who lays them.

The Joy of Discovery

21 Jun

Last week, I finally went to a place I’ve been wanting to visit for years.  Each time I drove by, I’ d think, “someday I’m going to make time and go there.”  Well, that ‘someday’ finally arrived.  It was the second day of summer break and we had the whole day to play with. 

The place is the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens.  The museum is small and the gardens are large.  Perfect for kids.  And they have picnic tables down by the lake.  What could be better?  So, Vivi and I packed sandwiches, and then the kids, into the car and off we went.  I’m so glad we did!

What a cornucopia of delights.  The gardens are beautiful and everything is in bloom.  They slope from the museum and house down to the shore of Lake Osceola.   There are winding paths, sunny lawns and plenty of shady spots to rest under the trees.  I felt lighter and more creative the moment I stepped into the gardens.  Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get back home and write.

We enjoyed our picnic under the trees by the lake.  Then, crafty mothers that we are, we managed to extend our lounging time and sneak some learning in for the kids by challenging them to a scavenger hunt for various types of sculpture.  We sat and chatted while they ran off in search of sculptures in bronze, concrete, terracotta and more, reporting back to us with the name of each sculpture to prove they had found one. 

Then, the boys led us on a tour of the gardens, showing us their found treasures.  Last, they tried their hands at becoming part of the exhibit, as you can see in the picture here. 

Another pleasant discovery was the exhibit in the museum gallery.  It was the work of a father and son.  The father, Arthur Jones, creates wood art and the son, Sam Jones, uses mixed media.   I love wood art and this was amazing – whimsical, educational and so smooth, you just want to reach out and touch it. (Of course, we didn’t!)  We even got to meet Mr. Jones (the father), as he was there that day.   The son’s work was both fun in some cases and insightful in others and sometimes both.   Mr. Jones (the son) had worn a magnet on his shoe for one year, and there was a display of what he picked up day by day.  Funny to see how many safety pins and bobby pins there were along with screws, metal filings and the occasional leaf stuck between objects.   

I personally felt synchronicity at work, as I found out the son lives in my hometown of Houston and we are around the same age, and the father lives near Orlando, my adopted town.   It was fun learning of these two artists.  To see some of their work, check out  the exhibits section of http://polasek.org/ and Sam’s work at his gallery at http://www.ivgallery.com/

So many enjoyable discoveries were made that day and isn’t that what art is all about?       

 Art is a path to the superior ~Albin Polasek

The Upside of Falling

18 Jun

There are worse things than falling. Giving up when faced with adversity, for example, and living safely within one’s certain boundaries of success, as another. I recently learned of these through beautiful and tangible illustrations worthy of sharing.

Last weekend, I went to see some friends perform from Delibes’ famously charming ballet, Coppelia. You may recall my friend Caroline and our ballet mistress, Stella, from my past posts about breaking the Guinness World Record. So the first excerpt was a lovely duet with Caroline and another dancer. Next came a male solo by Stella’s young and talented grandson, Lashard.

Then, at about (3:20) in this video, Lashard’s music stopped. For a second, my heart stopped with it. But then something truly remarkable happened: Lashard kept dancing. For what seemed like a frozen eternity but was really only another seventy-five seconds, he kept dancing. Even though the music played only in his head, Lashard orchestrated every leap, jump and turn on beat, causing a stunned and appreciative audience to applause throughout. Their spontaneous clapping punctuated the intimidating silence, during which could only be heard the deft workings of Lashard’s feet, as they landed in their prescribed positions on the vast and empty stage. I was incredibly proud of my young friend and deeply moved by his courageous perseverance.

Next came Caroline’s solo, which was executed gracefully and flawlessly. Finally, the three dancers joined together on the stage. After about four minutes of challenging choreography, however, the unthinkable happened to Caroline. As seen in this video, she fell to the ground. It was only for a second, and she was back up again in her final pose as if it had never happened, but I was devastated for her. An otherwise perfect performance had been ruined at the very end. Or had it?

When I afterwards attempted to console my friend, expecting her to be very upset, she surprised me yet again with her casual, good-humored reaction. She laughed and explained how falling is actually a good thing. While not ideal for a performance, of course, it does help you know that you’re stretching the limits of what you can do. She had gone for the double pirouette, feeling it within her grasp. This time, it didn’t work out, but that was okay. Or to grossly misquote Lord Tennyson: ‘Tis better to have tried and fallen than never to have tried at all.

What’s more, Caroline’s theory means that never falling is actually bad, a sure sign of complacency. Yikes! The metaphorical mandate for my life is clear. I must reprogram my brain accordingly.

FALLING IS NOT FAILING. They are two different things. Trying and then falling is growth, and hence, succeeding. So here is my challenge–and yours, if you want to take it: Let’s see if, the next time things don’t go according to plan in our lives, you and I can embrace falling with more perspective and, yes, with more grace.

Embracing a Multi-Dimensional Life

11 Jun

I believe being an artist typically means living a multi-dimensional life. 

 An artist’s creative mind often goes in many different directions, and they find themselves working on a variety of projects at the same time.   Does this sound like you?  It definitely sounds like me.  It can be a challenge, though, to find and allow time and space for many dimensions.

Many artists do not make a living from their art alone.  So they work at full-time  jobs, frequently in positions unrelated to their art.  Their work is an important dimension of their lives if they wish to keep a roof over their heads.   

Family is another dimension which some people spend more time on than others.  For mothers of young children, for example, this dimension takes a great portion of time though it is generally gladly given.  In fact, many mothers wish they could spend even more time on this dimension.  However, between the demands of family and work, there is relatively little time for much else.  

This describes my life as it was a few years ago.  It felt very one-dimensional because one dimension (work) took up a sinful amount of time and energy.  Even when I was home, my family didn’t really get my energy or focus, because I was still thinking about work.  And, forget about taking time for creative work, or exercise, or just having down time.   I was drained and it was affecting my health.

To an artist, making their art is as essential to living as the proverbial roof.  They truly require it to be healthy.  Julia Cameron talks about art being therapeutic.  And so it is.  An artist must make time for their art.

“We call ourselves neurotic – this is not the case.  We are not neurotic, we are miserable – miserable because we have stifled our creative selves.  Those selves are alive-well-and too large for the cage we have put them in.” ~Julia Cameron Walking in This World

If they are fortunate, the artist may be able to work part-time or in some kind of flexible situation, thus creating more “space” to create.  This is what happened to me. 

Here are the dimensions in my life now which all get time and energy regularly:  my husband, my two kids in two different schools, consulting on assignment for a management consulting company, independent consulting work for corporations and individuals, kids’ sports and extracurricular activities, my own exercise, volunteering at kids’ schools, chairing a school advisory council, editing and marketing a YA novel with Vivi, participating in the 4 Chicks including monthly meetings and regular posts on the blog and Twitter, writing a separate career wellness blog and attendant social media efforts.  Oh, and I cook now – almost every night – which I didn’t do before (see my earlier post Creativity in the Kitchen.)  Does this list sound overwhelming?  For me, it’s not – it’s exhilarating!

My life is less predictable now, but the inherent stress that can come with that has almost no effect on my well-being.  Things I never thought of as my strong suits I now do on a weekly or daily basis, and do them competently and even happily, because they are done in service of this amazing life I’ve been able to build. 

Though there are days when I realize I’m pulled a little thin, I feel more energized than ever.   Getting to experience so much feeds me rather than drains me.   When my life was far simpler, I was not as happy.  How about you?  Are you living a multi-dimensional life?

Caroline – Frostproof, Florida

6 Jun

This Chick Story is submitted by Caroline, the mother of Peggy (pursuingthemuse), who is pleased to have her mother involved in this community of Chicks.  In addition to the creative work she discusses below, Caroline has been a folk dancer for over 35 years.  She has also taught folk dancing throughout the years on a volunteer basis, and is currently enjoying her first paid teaching role.  

My story of creativity is something of a memoir.  And to the 4 Chicks and readers of their generation, it may sound like ancient history.

What words come to mind when you think of a computer programmer?  Nerd? Geek?  Ever think, “creative”?  To me, programming a computer is absolutely creative. 

Since this is to be a story, not an essay, let me start at the beginning.  In 1963, I was a junior in college and a math major.  Computer programming as a profession was in its infancy.  I’d never heard of a degree in computer science and my university didn’t offer one.  It had one lone course in computer programming and that was in the Electrical Engineering department.  Well, I took it.  The one working computer in the university computer lab was old even then.  We punched our programs into paper tape to feed them into the computer.   The computer’s memory at that time was undoubtedly smaller than my present-day cell phone’s.  It was unbelievably primitive by today’s standards.  But, by the time I completed the course, I was hooked.  I knew I wanted to program computers.

I went on to complete my college education with a Master’s degree in 1965.  At that time, the space program was in high gear and I got the opportunity to go to work as a computer programmer at the beginning of the Apollo project.  You know – the NASA project that sent men to the moon.  My job was to write programs for the computers at the NASA facility in Houston.  My department developed the programs that received data from radar sites all around the world, processed it, computed the position and velocity of the spacecraft at particular points in time, and displayed the results to all the controllers.  Some of the results were displayed in the Mission Control room that was shown on TV. 

When you think about it, it’s easy to see why computer programming is creative. Without a program, a computer can do nothing.   But with programs, the NASA computers could track the spacecraft and tell where it was and where it was going.  People create those programs.

For those who are not trained in computer programming, the creative process goes something like this.  First you need a definition of what the program is supposed to do. Then you do a rough design of how many different tasks there are to be done and how they fit together.  For example, receiving radar data, filtering the data to remove “noise”, doing some complicated mathematical calculations to compute the position and velocity of the spacecraft, and displaying the results are separate tasks that have to be done in order.  Each program developed in my mind as I developed the design in more detail and, finally, wrote the individual instructions.  At last, the program could run on a computer.   Working, as I did, on large computer systems over a long time, it felt as if my programs became extensions of my mind.  I could not have recreated every single instruction from memory, but I kept a detailed map of the program in my head. 

Later, I moved on to another project: developing a system to run large industrial plants such as oil refineries and petrochemical plants.   When I was working on the Apollo project, as exciting as it was, my programs were not really making anything happen in the real world.  They were processing data to give information to people. But the industrial system I worked on actually initiated commands to open and close valves or electrical circuits that controlled real physical processes in an oil refinery.    As the programs I wrote seemed like extensions of my mind, it was rather thrilling to feel that those extensions of me were actually controlling oil refineries.  To be clear, I wouldn’t know how to actually run an oil refinery myself.  Chemical engineers gave us the requirements and mathematical formulas for the programs and we wrote the instructions that fulfilled those requirements.  But, still, my “mind extension” was actually running on computers making oil refineries operate. 

I worked in computer software development for a total of 33 years; for about 20 years I was actually writing computer code.  Since retiring, I’ve continued to do creative things.  I drew the plans for the house my engineer husband and I designed and now live in.  I’m currently editing the newsletter for one non-profit organization and doing the layout for a second newsletter.  But my experiences writing computer programs for the space program and industry remain the most exciting creative endeavors of my life. 

To see my current creative work, go to www.folkdance.org and look for the link to “Florida FolkDancer Newsletters (and archive)” to see the newsletter of the Florida Folk Dance Council and go to www.friendspeaceteams.org and look for the link to download PeaceWays, the newsletter of Friends Peace Teams.

Mapping Your Interests – Task Chapter 3

4 Jun

In Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity Chapter 3: Discovering a Sense of Perspective, Julia Cameron assigns the task: Mapping Your Interests. She asserts that “the mapmaking of art points the human compass straighter toward home.”  In this task, all you have to do is list five items on each topic she sets forth.  Easy, no?  

For me, no.  In my normal habit of overthinking things, I struggled with this one, until I said to myself “Relax!  It doesn’t have to be the absolute top five things ever-since-the-beginning-of-time.  Just five things.”  So, here goes.  These lists could change tomorrow, or an hour from now, but here they are:

Five topics that interest me are:

1.  Language/linguistics/etymology (yes, I’m lumping them all together – call me a cheater if you will)

2.  Behavioral economics

3.  Archaeology

4. Psychology

5.  Music

Five people who interest me are:

1.  Maya Angelou

2.  Dan Ariely

3.  Jane Goodall 

4.  Adam Levine (yes, I’ve been watching The Voice)

5.  Julie Taymor

Five art forms that interest me are:

1.  Writing

2.  Photography

3.  Painting

4.  Dance

5.  Music

Five projects I could try out are:

1.  Take a photography class

2.  Enter a writing contest

3.  Start a new novel

4.  Write a song/score on piano

5.  Paint a picture

At least one of my items listed above will actually happen.  I have signed up for a photography workshop along with my fellow Chick, Eva.  It’s a one-night workshop in the middle of June.  I am really excited and perhaps we’ll share some of what we learn there on this blog later in the month.

MaryBeth – Orlando, Florida

1 Jun

This Chick Story comes straight from the heart. It addresses the opportunity to create despite and amid times of painful change. As MaryBeth reminds us, any creative action forward is better than “Kybosh”!

Did you ever notice how creativity sometimes (more than not) comes from some kind of adversity? Maybe it’s the human penchant for curiosities, or maybe it’s just me. The most popular TV shows are ‘reality shows’. We slow down and watch accidents on the roads. And if you look at music lyrics, some of the most popular songs for an artist are written at the worst or lowest points of their lives.

I am no exception. It seems that I have loads to say when things don’t go right for me, or when I’m at my busiest. It’s then that I always seem to have the time and inclination to write it all down, every swirly thought in my head. It pours like water down a mountain. Pulling and pushing other things along while forming indelible creases in the ‘face’ of my spirit and along the trails of my soul. You’d think when things are ‘good’, or at least not full of turmoil, it’d be a peaceful place to be in, and to create from, but I typically don’t have much going through my head to keep the swirl going I guess. Sounds vapid I know, but it’s like a storm needs to churn up the water to get things moving. It’s funny, I use lots of water imagery in my thoughts but I was afraid of the water as a kid! So I’m trying to re-focus and come at my creative process from a place of peace and contentment rather than angst, yet it doesn’t seem to be the wellspring I was hoping for!

So I journal, and that helps to get it all out. I can extract some interesting thoughts later like, “I write when I’m angry, I clean when I’m nervous, I craft/create when I’m happy. It’s like my spiritual mood ring”.

In all of this I find my outlets and paths that constantly change. My focus for the last few years has been directing theatre, or even facilitating opportunities for others to excel or contribute their talents in new places with my introduction, (I’m an artistic Yenta!), while writing and crafting have been secondary, and acting had been kept at a far away last place. This is where the phrase “_____ is my middle name” comes in for me.

Unlike my siblings, I wasn’t given a middle name at my adoption. I remember once my mom saying “…you don’t need one, I don’t have one…”. So much for explanations! Well, not having one officially, it changes, and lately mine is Kybosh, because it’s become ingrained into my vernacular as surely as my name! Kybosh is actually a word (it may be used more in Yiddish, to my Irish/Slovak Catholic upbringing it’s not common, but I tend to glean and retain lots!) meaning: to put a stop to, halt, to prevent from continuing.

Not that I’m self deprecating or crying out for sympathy, I just tend to face the realities of my life as a pessimist in attempt to not get hurt when things out of my control change my path in life.

In my 42 years it’s been a long climb to independence as a person in an earthly sense, so I still need to work my moves emotionally as well. As I try to make plans and do some creative work, it always seems that’s when kybosh happens. While waiting for ‘what’s next’, pretty much everything is changed. It seems my directing aspect is going to be taking the backseat forcibly, and my writing and acting sides are moving back to the forefront right now. A short story from a vague idea a friend asked me to expand and write about is actually being pitched to animate! From that, other related stories are stepping into my head. Along with that, several auditions have come up and no matter what else is going on for me, since I was old enough to talk and walk, I was singing and dancing and acting like other people, so there is nothing like being on stage or in a show!

Having made the cut for one part, I’m very happy to be acting again, and the excitement of these possibilities has been giving me some positive aim as I once again seem to be perpetually changing my “middle name” to something…anything is better than kybosh!

Not-So-Great Expectations [Part 2]

26 May

Play by play of the day I helped break a Guinness World Record.
Let’s face it, while Orlando is the widely hailed vacation capital of the world, it’s not exactly thought of as a cultural Mecca.  So how did the city manage to unseat New York for a ballet world record last Sunday? For starters, 245 people–ranging in age from 11 to 71–defied low expectations and showed up at the Orlando Convention Center anyway.

L to R: Caroline, me, Judi, Sandra and Jennifer

The Most Dancers en Pointe for a Minute. NYC’s 230 was the record to beat. Orlando’s planned record attempt started as the brainchild of one proud local grandfather named Doug Nawrath, whose granddaughter is active in Dr. Phillips High School’s dance program.  I learned of the event through Orlando Ballet School, where my daughter attends, although she is not en pointe yet. When I told my husband about it, I think he knew how much just going meant to me. Without hesitating, he agreed to watch not only our kids but also my friend Caroline’s daughter for the day.

I had convinced three of my ballet compeers, other of Stella Mawoussi’s loyal adult students, to come with me.  My friend Sandra’s sister had also joined us, planning to watch. When we arrived after church at what was supposed to be the latest check-in time, we were dismayed to see our numbers: 161, 162, 163, 164. Meanwhile, there were myriad performances going on in front of us.  Local studios were showcasing their best talent in diverse dances from classical ballet and lyrical to modern jazz, funky hip-hop and rhythmic African. Between each dance and the subsequent emcee banter, organizers tried to relay with increasing urgency the importance of texting anyone we knew who could come to help us make the record.

As time passed and the count was still not even near where it needed to be, our little group fitted Sandra’s sister with an extra pair of Caroline’s pointe shoes. We gave Jennifer a quick lesson on posture and weight shifting before registering her: 194. Still short.

Mom Lisa was at first reluctant but then enthusiastic to don an extra pair of pointe shoes.

Not long after, this strategy was made official. The local dance supply store, N’Style, arrived with a slew of new pointe shoes.  For just $25, shoes were made available for sale to complete ballet novices. Mothers and sisters in good physical condition were encouraged to partake. The risk of injury was overshadowed by the urgency to beat the record and not make the day to have been in vain. Still, the number lingered around 200, with not long before the scheduled record attempt time. Hence my friends and I encouraged as many hesitant moms as we could to participate, including a reluctant mom named Lisa, whom we managed to fit with yet another pair of Caroline’s pointe shoes. Lisa was added to the list: 226.

Then I met the woman who literally wrote the book on pointe shoes.  Trained by ballet masters throughout Europe and just returned from a London book-signing, Patricia Storelli is a Registered Ballet Teacher of the Royal Academy of Dance among her many credits. Patricia’s book, The Magic of Pointe Shoes, came out just last month. She was attending the Orlando event to promote the new book, as well as to lead the warm-up class which had been intended by the event organizers. As Patricia spoke, I began to realize the full depth and caliber of her extensive experience. I felt honored to be meeting her, and frankly, I could easily understand if one such as she viewed the forum of a Guinness record attempt as incongruent with the disciplined dignity of a classical ballet performance. Perhaps that is why many (if not all) professional local ballet company members were not to be found in attendance. It may even help explain why even the Big Apple could muster only 230 record-breakers.  Either way, without 231 even semi-experienced dancers in Orlando’s Convention Center and the deadline approaching, the free-for-all grew, abetted by the ever-humorous male and female emcees.

Our humble group meets the extraordinary Patricia Storelli.

At last all the dancers–experienced or not–were summoned to the observation pit.  As we entered, we each spoke our name into an emcee’s microphone, one by one for the official recording. Unlike the scores of teenagers, I squealed after my friends and I passed through. We were quickly shuffled into rows and lines. Mom Lisa was near the front with her daughter. Beside me was Sandra’s sister, who had never been worn pointe shoes in her life. When I turned behind, I saw Patricia, who had worn pointe shoes almost her entire life. Even she ultimately succumbed to the excitement of the moment. Pinned to her chiffon-layered ballet dress was her registration number: 245.  I’d later learn that this was the total, a mere 15 bodies ahead of New York’s record.

Then the moment came. There was a very quiet minute of stationary bourees with alternating cornering croisse. Afterwards, the crowd exploded into excitement. Cheers and spontaneous embraces erupted.  The Guinness adjudicators soon confirmed what we all knew: Everyone had stayed up for the full minute.

I hugged Patricia first followed by Sandra’s sister, immediately struck by the odd-but-poignant juxtaposition of the beautiful ballet veteran and the beautiful ballet beginner. When I joined my separated friends a few seconds later, we celebrated our shared triumph, having worked in class with each other over years of a shared journey.

On the ride home, we reflected on the synchronous events leading each of us to Stella, to ballet, to this day. Orlando had become the world record holder, and we had played our small part. It was something none of us would have ever expected, making it all the more perfect.

Not-So-Great Expectations [Part 1]

24 May

I Have Found the Secret to True Creative Success: Don’t Expect Anything Great.

That said, I haven’t actually learned to apply this profundity to most of my life, with one notable exception. It’s the one thing I was expected not to do well, and hence the one thing I have been truly free to work at without the slightest expectation of greatness.

You see, I have a congenital hip defect. I was born without a left hip socket, and my left femur was 180-degrees backwards. There were numerous surgeries to diagnose and eventually attempt to correct the problem, as well as several body casts. When my mom wasn’t pulling me around in a red wagon, however, I was pulling myself and my twenty odd pounds of extra weight around with my upper body. Meanwhile, not wanting to give false hope, the doctors told my parents there was a good chance I might never walk, at least not without a severe limp.

Fortunately, that prediction turned out to be wrong. Once out of my final body cast, I did learn to crawl and then walk. As a mother now, I can only imagine my parents’ relief and joy then, witnessing this already significant milestone with such a heightened appreciation.

Not long after, my mom enrolled my older sister and me in dance classes, per my doctor’s suggestion. My sister, it must be noted, had (and still has) a classical dancer’s physique–long, lean and strong. As a kid, I really admired her dancing. Okay, yes, I was jealous, especially watching her work on her splits and high kicks. I, on the other hand, endured each dance class as a humbling sort of physical therapy. Whenever it came time to do “butterflies” on the floor, I looked more like a wounded duck. I would flop over awkwardly, unable to touch my feet together and “flutter” gracefully. That’s because the rotation of my hip remained–and still remains–very limited. At my most recent orthopedic visit, it was estimated I have about 10 percent the full rotation of a normal person in my left hip and only about 30 percent even in my “good” right hip.

Almost thirty years later, I was reintroduced to dance–to classical ballet, no less. Having enrolled my own daughter in dance classes, I thereby met Stella Mawoussi, an amazing woman who would change my life in a way I never, well, expected. She first lured me to take her ballet-style Pilates class while I was waiting for my daughter anyway. Before long, Stella had me and a handful of other ballet novices hooked on a traditional ballet class, comprised of barre, combinations and work across the floor. When I tried to explain and apologize for my limitations, Stella only encouraged me. “Everybody has to start somewhere,” she’d assure me. “Just do what you can.”

Wow, what empowering words. This was a freeing concept for me. For once in my life, I was giving myself the liberty to be just okay at something. To be a beginner. And to work, learn and grow for no one’s satisfaction but my own.

That was seven years ago. Since then, I’ve attended Stella’s biweekly classes as faithfully as possible. I’m addicted to Stella and to ballet, because they both encourage me simply to do my best. They challenge me to explore the boundaries of what I can and cannot do. Ballet is not just healthful exercise. It’s soulful art. So it provides physical and creative endorphins. But even more, for me, it’s providential irony. To quote the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Yes, my turn-out still frustrates me. And my grande bat mas aren’t at all grande. But I have improved, little by little–step by step, as it were.

Even so, I never could have imagined that little I would be part of breaking a Guinness World Record, the event that inspired this contemplative look back. Full details on that inspiring day to follow in Part 2.

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