balancing dancers

As a young child, spontaneously, like all young children, I danced. Later I took dance classes; first ballet and then modern dance with Anna Halprin and later Sunni Bloland. We danced on Anna’s deck in California, young and free, encouraged to imagine ourselves as dancers in an Eqyptian wall fresco, or to pretend we were wild animals. If I was not dancing barefoot or stamping hard-heeled shoes to Balkan folk music, I was drawing dancers like Margaret Jenkins, Merce Cunningham, or Elsa Piperno in Rome.
 
By 1965, I was a stressed-out and out-of-place graduate student in Comparative Literature at Harvard. I longed to be a visual artist, but had accepted a scholarship to Harvard in part because it was too prestigious for the female child of Jewish immigrants to refuse. Soon my eyes began to act strangely: they would not focus on the printed page. They simply “swam” over the words. The doctor I consulted found nothing wrong with my eyes, and yet for weeks I could not read books without a great struggle. One evening, while doing figure-drawing, I noticed that I could see the most minute details of the model’s body – the shape of the earlobe, bend of the knuckles, the arch of the eyebrow – everything, and quite clearly.
 

That night I dreamt that I was in a dance class with other young women who had come to ask the teacher, The Great Dancer, how to become successful dancers. The Great Dancer told us only “To dance is to live.” He took me to a large hall where myriad people jumped and twirled about, arrayed in colorful costumes. The Great Dancer lifted me by my ankles and spun me around in the air, then tossed me into the crowd to join the dance. I awoke ecstatic.

Shortly after The Dream, I decided to leave Harvard at the end of the academic year and follow my heart’s desire. Making my way as a costume designer into the world of theater, I never regretted the move. The world of the arts was so rich, so lively, and the human body – whether on stage or in the artists’ studio or in everyday life – so expressive.

I don’t know exactly when I first saw the figure of Lord Shiva Dancing the Cosmic Dance of destruction and creation, inside an arch of flames, while trampling down the demon of ignorance, delusion, ego. But when I saw Shiva Nataraj, I knew He was no ordinary dancer. And I marveled that other people, a whole other culture, had chosen The Dancer Dancing to represent Life itself.

 

I began to paint imaginary dancers in 1999, as a simple expression of joy, again inspired by a dream, this one about women of action. The dancers came dressed in colorful striped or polka-dotted leotards that show the contours of their limbs. They appeared in pairs or small groups, often balancing on one another, poised in a instant of fragile equilibrium. Most recently, my dancers have begun to move through landscapes inspired by images from photo-microscopy, images that reveal the extraordinary beauty of nature on a very minute scale. The world my dancers dance in may be ordinary, like an earthy place with hills, grass, and trees, or someplace seemingly fantastical, like landscapes of human cells. No matter where they are, the dancers embody and enjoy the energy of life.