Friday, July 9, 2010

The Dandelion Book of Life

Last Tuesday, just before the heat wave struck, Jessie and a few friends from Dandelion had pizza here at our house and walked up to the Mayfair Theatre (our local movie theatre—really, such things exist!—that plays almost-second-run films, double bills, great cheesy horror movies, and themed extravaganzas like the Jesus week during Lent/Easter) to see Grease, one of Jessie’s all-time favorites. I think everyone likes going with her because she is so enthusiastic and manages to get almost the whole theatre up and dancing. Last night’s version was a sing-along and according to Dan (who met them at the theatre after the movie was done) they all came out doing just that!

As if singing and dancing wasn’t enough, Jessie was also the proud recipient of her “Dandelion Book of Life”—a collection of photos from her years with Dandelion Dance Company, memories, and wishes from the other dancers. Each dancer, as they “graduate” and move on, receives one of these lovingly and zanily produced albums filled with sayings, photos from performances and trips, and notes from other members of the company.

It is a beautiful reminder of all the wonderful adventures and years with Dandelion and it makes me teary just to look at the cover! It is amazing to me how life-changing experiences can grow out of small opportunities that one says “YES!” to!

Jess first started taking dance classes with Hannah at her Tournesol studio when a friend suggested that Jess would fit right in and thrive there. “Fit right in” is not a phrase we heard overly often with regards to Jess! Given that she loved to dance, and that we had tried myriad dance classes with myriad results, we were uncertain, but willing to give it a go. I called Hannah and talked to her and fell in love! She was energetic, young, creative, and honoured people’s differences and delights. She was not your usual dance teacher, and worked with children’s own natural movements and energy, unleashing what I can only call inspired and inspiring dance that encouraged children to explore and experience their own unique spirits, in relationship to others and the world.

Sounds big. It was! And I would have to say that Jessie’s participation in these classes, with these people, has had a profound influence on who she is, who she sees herself to be, what she has achieved, and how others perceive her. Without Tournesol and Hannah—and the offshoot Dandelion Dance Company—Jessie would not, I am convinced, be as solid in herself as she is. It helped that Hannah had had a younger brother with Down syndrome who influenced her immensely. And so, I like to think, his spirit also lives on in all the work that Hannah does with children, young adults, teachers, and the wider community.

Dandelion, of course, is the lynch pin here. Hannah had encouraged Jessie about 5 years ago to create a dance based on her experience of having Down syndrome. I AM was born, with words by Jessie, music by my wonderful musician/cousin Derek Olive, and choreography by Jessie with input from the other dancers. (For just the lyrics and music I will try to put an audio link in)

What resulted was a wonderful piece about difference and inclusion that just exudes “Jessie.” A hallmark piece that has been performed across Canada and won Jessie a number of different awards, including the Jane Cameron Award for an artist with Down syndrome, a runner up designation in Youth in Motion’s Top 20 Under 20 youth awards, and runner up in the arts category of the CAYFO Spirit of the Capital Awards. It also spawned the creation of the Dandelion Dance Company, after a unique performance at an International Symposium on Inclusive Education here in Ottawa, where many of the delegates and participants wanted the girls to come to their communities to perform the work in schools for students, teachers, and administrators. The girls and Hannah realized just how much power they had to create change, and so Hannah got the girls together over the summer to create more pieces about things that they were passionate about.

The brilliant bit is Hannah’s commitment and insistence that the works be created by the girls themselves—that they reflect their passions, struggles, and dreams and that they go into the world and show young audiences that they can make change happen, and “older” audiences that youth have insights and concerns that we all need to listen to, learn from, and address. Hence: Dandelion—spreading the seeds of change through movement.

It was a brilliant run, Dandelion, and for Jessie the brilliance came from her belonging to a group of young women who were silly, fun, diverse, committed, challenged, flippant, and focused . . . all at the same time. It was the BELONGING that was so important and that will be a very difficult thing to replace. And, it was the chance to make a contribution in a way that reflected her own strengths and honoured her own challenges and the gifts that ensue when a community of people who care work around and with those challenges. An inspiration for me, as to how difference is truly gift and grace.

While Jessie is now a Dandelion “graduate,” Dandelion will always remain a large part of who she is and who she becomes.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful honouring of the players, the spirit of creation, and your commitment to Jessie finding her authentic self!
...m h-r

Anonymous said...

I really couldn't have said my comment better than the poster above! Truly I think that we could all learn how to find and honor our authentic selves and to wholeheartedly feel the joy and togetherness that music brings to people...ALL people.

Anonymous said...

long live dandelion!! (liz)