Living in southern Louisiana, I’ve known a life of storms, hurricanes, and floods…
…both literally and figuratively, my life has been full of ’em.
This year, although the summer of 2014 went easy on us in terms of the literal hurricanes, we had no clue of the figurative category 5 hurricane headed our way, with no plan of evacuation in order. We needed to ride this one out.
Which we did. Together.
If there’s anything I learned from my family, growing up, it was how to enjoy a good “hurricane party!” (And If you’ve ever been down here, we even have a mighty tasty drink named “the Hurricane”, which I’m sure holds its namesake after our culture’s ability to celebrate in the midst of chaos, and generally throw actual “hurricane parties!” Not because we’re clueless or careless, but because we stick together and find the silver lining in the clouds. I’m proud of where I come from.) I actually got excited for tropical storms, hurricanes, and such as a kid! Apparently , I had no real clue of any present dangers. I felt safe by the strong reassurance and game face positivity of my parents that I was fine. So, instead… I enjoyed the little candles around the house, the tiny black and white t.v. that we had to wind every so often to watch and gather closely to snuggle up to see (My bros actually had to snuggle with me to watch… Woo hoo!). I even liked eating devilled ham and Vienna sausages and all the canned goods that were never on our super health nut diets. (Sorry for the gag reflex I just caused you…I’ll refrain myself on further details) I loved watching my brothers and my dad canoe down the driveway and street, from my dry place indoors, begging my mom to go out with them to splash in the mucky water. Yet, I loved every moment spent watching the beautiful lightning storm on the couch in a cozy blanket with my mom that night when all were safe inside again, just as she did with her free-spirited grandmother who encouraged her, just as she would encourage me the next morning…
to go out, and DANCE IN THE RAIN!
I had a real DANCE IN THE RAIN Moment this Summer like no other:
This summer, something beyond magnificent happened. So magnificent that I haven’t talked about it much on Facebook, or here on my blog. Why? Because I haven’t even unpacked it. I’m still processing the experience.
You see, dancing in the rain in my back yard or in my driveway was special to me, not just because it was fun to splash in the puddles or because my mom was giving in to my mischievous side (and hers, for that matter). Moreover, it had an extra flair of fun for me because…
I AM A DANCER!
I don’t just mean the kind of dancer that dances in her car at red lights regardless if anyone is watching, or makes family dance parties and “Just Dance” Wii games her daily workouts as if its her job, who jumps at the chance to swing dance with her brother (the priest) any chance she gets, or has no problem starting the dancing on a dance floor at a party/reception/bar/whatever with or without a drinky-drink in my system and may or may not bust a few Michael Jackson moves or bring back “the robot” even if dressed in formal wear. That’s all well and good. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’ve literally grown up living and breathing dance. It’s kept me going.
I spent most of my life in dance classes, and nearly every Saturday of my life from 8am until 4 or 5pm at my studio as a “Dance Player” for the “Creative Dance Studio” founded by the great Rosemerry Hanian. She was graceful, she was godly, she taught us to dance from our heart, our gut, and our soul, and brought something out in each and every one of us that trickled down into our dancing like magic. To watch her dance and be in her presence, you just wanted to be more, dance more, push more, and transform into something above and beyond yourself when the music started. That’s what she did for us when she settled the pin down each time on her record player in our tiny old stained glass window church-turned-dance-studio in the heart of our small town in Covington, Louisiana. The lights poured through the colored glass windows while the hum of the fans blew, vacant from any central air in the heat of the deep South’s summer days, and her handheld drum beat to keep us in time as we followed her steps across the floor and practiced our jumps from one corner to the other with no mirrors, but only her eyes to see if we were or weren’t up to par. Yet we trusted her and her word, and every word of each teacher whom she mentored and passed the torch to, as we continued to follow in time around like little ducks. I know I still look up to each and every one of them and kept them in mind even as I danced through each of my pregnancies, remembering fondly how they
kicked butt with their pregnant bellies and danced like beasts like it was nothing but a thang handled each pregnancy while teaching dance so gracefully and beautifully while tending to other children (Tara Baudean & Carolyn Gaudea), that I wanted nothing more than to do the same. They had set the bar high. (Pun intended! Ha!… I just couldn’t help myself. Sorry!)
Any who …
This summer, something I never could have imagined since she passed so many years ago and so many of us have grown up and moved on in our lives and vocations.
We reunited, many of us, to dance again.
These girls have been such a support to me from all over the country … and the world.
One particular dancer and family friend since birth, Renee Burvant (now Mother Agnes Maria, mother of her order in Peru. Yup! You heard that right, she’s a dancing nun!), after coming to visit shortly after I’d lost my hair early in my diagnosis last Fall, felt in prayer that she needed to come back here to do a dance benefit for God and for our family. She wanted to reunite the dancers that we’d grown up dancing with and do a benefit called “Magnificat: Dance to the Glory of God“. Well, get a passionate nun fired up about something, and there’s just no stopping them!
She was one beautiful dancer when we were all growing up, in fact, as I was a few years behind her, I looked up to her so much and hoped to be just like her. Since settling in to her vocation and becoming the mother of her order in Peru, she felt called to dance again as a ministry there. I tell ya, to see her dance is an experience like no other!
She is truly a muse for the Big Guy. She is not of this world.
So, being that she lives as a missionary in Peru, putting this together here would be
enough to make me pull my hair out if I’d had any a “challenge”, then she called upon another dear sister-in-dance right here, Kristen (Naquin) Johnson, who contacted dancers all over the country, recorded “Renee’s” choreography and dancing when she was in town, sent it to out of towners and taught it to those here, coordinated and directed rehearsals and through a lot of back and forth calling to Peru, etc., with “Renee“, they pulled the most touching performance… ever. In fact, I’d say this show became so much more than a show. It was an “experience”.
Dancers and dance teachers flew and drove in from all over, reuniting to rehearse and perform after so many years in the theater that I’ve literally grown up in with my mom as the director since 1987 and they shared memories on and off stage in so many musicals with Rosemerry working alongside my mother, pulling it all together as director and choreographer. A role that I feel honored to have taken on in hopes to make my dance teacher to smile down upon me and proud.
Ya know what was extra cool?
Just one month out of my surgery that I was struggling a bit with my recovery, I made it my goal to get out there… and …
I GOT TO DANCE, TOO!!!
I cannot express what it felt like completely. In rehearsal, it was hard. My mind has been foggy and having trouble recovering thoughts or memories quickly these days. I word search some times. I get true tastes of what they call “chemo brain“, making choreography pretty tricky to comprehend at times. My right arm that I’m going to physical therapy for and my abdominal muscles that were still healing from my recent abdominal and uterine surgery forced me to adjust a lot of movements and use every other muscle in my back and legs to lift and balance so as to not strain there. But, I was determined. Dancing and performing is in my blood. It felt so good to do that first rehearsal out of surgery, and felt like a major setback all at the same time. But just like everything this past year, I knew I could get past it, and I knew how much it meant to me. So I kept going. And, thank God….
DANCING THAT NIGHT FELT MORE AMAZING THAN ANY OTHER TIME DANCING EVERY BEFORE. THAT NIGHT, WE DANCED FROM OUR GUTS, FROM OUR HEARTS AND OUR SOULS. WE TRULY DANCED TO THE GLORY OF GOD AS THE BENEFIT HAD BEEN NAMED.
I was blessed to dance in the first piece (pictured above), a dance without music but to the words of a poem by St.John Chrysostom in which he mentions a few lines such as these…
“Dance is a movement of life. All creation is in motion…”
“As humans, the pulse beat of our hears is the basis for individual rythms…add to this plus, the God-given creative urge, toward communication through body language.. and we have the dance…”
“St.Ambrose said, ‘The Lord bids us dance … not merely with the circling movements of the body, but with pious faith in him.’ Doing this we become more human, more creative, more Godlike. We bring the world into our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies… in prayer, in love, in faith and in hope.”
This dance, these words, are forever engraved in each or these dancers minds and bodies, as Mrs.Rosemerry taught us, we easily fell right back in line in rehearsal after so many years, as if it were yesterday. But now, with a maturity and understanding of the words.
As Mrs.Rosemerry had taught us, “Dance is the soul in motion.”
We danced that dance with our souls open and our hearts bursting out on the dance floor. I believe people on the back row or even in the parking lot could feel it.
We took a graceful bow, turned to thank James Killeen, our reader and dear friend, and I did my quickest dancer walk/run offstage ever to change costumes for the very next dance. The next, a song that was so close to my heart because of the song itself (“By My Side” from Godspell that I’d sung in highschool and had sung in prayer through tough nights during treatments this year) and because the choreography itself, depicted the story of my diagnosis and journey this past year. Although, the funny thing is, when Kristen Johnson choreographed the piece and set me as the center of the dance over 2 years ago, we knew nothing of my cancer or what the dance was about, but now we knew.
As the dance ended, my hands lifted in hope to God and eyes lifted to Heaven, the lights went to black. Rather than bowing, I stepped out into the audience and sat with my family in the center to then watch the rest of the show that they then danced for me and my family, as they’d kept it all a secret from me (I left each rehearsal after my dances, never to know or see what they were up to). My mouth was wide open
enough to catch flies in awe of their beauty, more amazing than I’d ever remembered them to be before. They were women now. They were confidant, uninhibited, and not afraid. They danced with meaning and with power. They reached out into that audience and grabbed our hearts. There were few dry eyes in the audience. Not because the dances were sad. They weren’t. The dances were full of life! The entire night was full of hope and love and LIFE! The power, the vulnerability, and the beauty of it all was so overwhelming, it was hard to hold back the tears.
A few shots of the show…still doesn’t do justice, but hey:
(The shots are blurry, I know, but it’s all I have from what people have sent me on good ol’ Facebook. If you have more, PLEASE, send them my way!)
And for the grand finale of this post, and of the evening, was their “piece de resistance”. They surprised me beyond belief with a finishing touch like no other. I have no idea how they came up with this, how they kept such a secret from me (especially since both my 4-year-old daughter and my 4-year-old niece were involved… that’s a feat in itself!), but they did.
As one of my all time fave bands and songs “U2: Beautiful Day” played, each and every dancer reentered onto the stage (two by two), eventually even every one of my family members from the audience as well, holding signs in which they’d written “One Word that Describes Elise”, as the first sign stated in the beginning of the piece. As the chorus of “Beautiful day” played each time, they would flip their signs to show the word “Beautiful”.
Umm.. Err.. Uhh..
I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite like that before. I was so totally, unbelievably humbled, overwhelmed, surprised, in awe, touched….
That’s the word. I’ve never really had use for that word (if it is a real one) until now. But there ya go.
At the beginning of all of this crazy nonsense of breast cancer, I felt like I had an OPPORTUNITY on my hands to embrace true beauty and break through some barriers of all the nonsense that I suffered through of body image and self worth/self conscious crapola that so many girls deal with (and I’m sure guys, too). Being a mother of 4 girls and one boy, I pray so hard that they never have to deal with eating disorder junk like I did or ever question their beauty. When I heard I was going to lose my hair, I thought, “Well, maybe here’s my chance. Maybe now, at these early ages with my children, they’ll learn the true meaning of what beauty is. Maybe they’ll see past physical characteristics and we can learn about the heart and cherish each other for who we are. Maybe they’ll remember this time and it’ll change the course for them so they will redefine beauty.”
When I watched all of these people whom I love and respect with all of my heart stand there and hold up those signs, on which each of them had written something about my children’s mother that they would use to describe me … and none of them had to do with my hair or any physical characteristics (which I loved, by the way!), yet when they flipped them over … their cards said “Beautiful!” I felt more beautiful and loved than ever ever before.
I hope I never forget that moment. I hope my girls never forget that. I hope my son never forgets it. I hope everyone there never forgets that.
**WORDS LIKE: Brave, strong, mommy, mighty, silly, compassionate, kind, fun, goofy, loving, sunny, graceful, positive, ….
…and whatever makes YOU beautiful and helps YOU to “DANCE IN THE RAIN” and keep your “SOUL IN MOTION”… that’s redefining beauty for YOU and every person you encounter.
I pray with my children every morning:
“BE A LIGHT OF CHRIST TO EVERYONE YOU MEET TODAY;
AND SEE A LIGHT OF CHRIST IN EVERYONE YOU MEET TODAY.”
I may add now,
Find the beauty in all those you meet, and share the TRUE beauty inside you. I pray you do the same. And when you do,
Invite those you meet…
TO DO A LITTLE DANCING IN THE RAIN. IT’S GOOD FOR THE SOUL.