Monday, June 14, 2010

Exit Left

A half decade of sustenance and inspiration—exit left. Saturday was Jessie’s last performance with Tournesol and Dandelion Dance Company. How do I begin to write about that without breaking into tears? Not possible. This transition is even greater than her prom was, or than her graduation from the high school where she the majority of her teen years. As with all of Jessie’s major transitions, I sidestep the full impact by and to-ing and fro-ing with the little details (buy flowers, sew a prop, plan a lunch, pack a costume bag, make sure I have gas in the car) and then, when I have a moment, sit still with the feelings welling up inside and burst into tears of sadness mixed with pride and wonder—at Jessie and her amazing growth into a young woman, and at the people who have blessed her life and made it far richer than anything we could have envisioned by their belief in her abilities, her artistry, and her gifts. No small task when you look at all the barriers she has also encountered along the way—barriers that she has been able to slip under, climb over, or just detour around or break down with the help and support of these “soul guardians.” There is no way that I will ever be able to thank these “soul guardians” enough! (Hannah Beach, the girls and parents in Dandelion, Ms. M (her grade 6 teacher), my friend CG, Rachel (Jessie’s “best friend since elementary school!”), Shara and Renata at Propeller, Janet at church … and the list goes on. It makes me think about what Anne Lamott wrote about all writing often starting out as a thank you to an important person, and as there have been so many important people in Jessie’s life, look for them as inspirations for this blog, even if I will never be able to write well enough to thank them properly.)

Ubuntu.The older I get the more I realize what Jessie has been trying to teach me right from the beginning—it’s ALL about relationships. All learning, all loving, all grace is about relationship. Or Ubuntu: a person is a person through other persons . . . My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. (see Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness, p. 31)

For more than 9 years, Jessie has been taking dance classes with the incredible Hannah Beach at her dance school, Tournesol (sunflower for those of you without French, turning always toward the sun). Six years ago Hannah encouraged her to create a solo about having Down syndrome, which Jessie called I AM and which helped to launch the Dandelion Dance Company (Dandelion needs no translation, just a reminder that dandelion seeds spread far and are difficult to eradicate! And to learn a bit more about Hannah go see the Regional Contact documentary on the Dandelion site). Dandelion has been a major part of Jessie’s life this last half decade and has had a profound influence on her sense of self, her sense community, her sense of belonging, and her sense of her own value. On the one hand, she has garnered much press (print, TV, and radio) and accolades from a wide range of audiences from teachers to policy makers to parents to students (we all love recognition). On the other, she has learned what it means to be an integral part of a community committed to both creating and performing art and nurturing the spirits of those young women involved.

I cannot even begin to imagine what Jessie’s life would be like without this experience: without the relationships she learned to develop with the other Dandelion dancers, without Hannah as a mentor and teacher, without performing and developing her own movement vocabulary, without a place to express and struggle with her own feelings of what it means to be a part of this fractured yet sacred world.

Dandelion and Hannah have been such an important part of who Jessie has become, who she is, that I find it difficult to even conceive of her life without the weekly routine of Dandelion dance classes, rehearsals, performance, celebrations, emails, and just the ebb and flow of girls becoming women. While Jess is lucky in that she has Propeller to “propel” her on and keep her sailing on this artistic journey that she has embarked on, graduating from Dandelion will leave a huge gap in her life and I know she will struggle with this particular emptiness as we move through the summer and into next year. I will need to remember, when she can’t articulate it or even put her finger on it, what kinds of sadness and loss she will be dealing with. And I will need to remember to be patient with her as she processes and grieves. None of us is very good at grief, really. And Jessie’s usually takes the form of extreme anger at, you guessed it, moi! Or extreme anxiety, which means being called into her room in the middle of the night to reassure her that she is not, in fact, dead, or missing a limb.

But for now, we enjoy the celebration of moving on: a roomful of praise from other dancers, parents, friends; a unique painting of sunflowers with a bronze plate with Jessie’s name on it; dinner out and a sense of joy and wonder at the years spent nurtured by this very special community.

Jessie did perform “I Am” for the last time (tears here), and a piece called “The Struggle” about growing up and moving out (large tears here, I will confess that I probably even sobbed). Then we ate cake. That is how all good transitions should go, n’est pas?

Coming soon on the blog: The Struggle (the last dance piece Jessie created for her final performance about growing up and moving on); Up A Notch (the Propeller show Shedding Light); and Retro Jessie: Thoughts on Art and Disability.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautiful post, it brought me to tears.

"Or Ubuntu: a person is a person through other persons . . . My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. (see Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness, p. 31)" -- Nan, you said something of the same nature when we talked at the DSA picnic. This quote is quite meaningful for me. Thank you for sharing so much.