“Jazz can improve your life. The arts can improve your life. The arts exist to give a deeper understanding of what it means to be you in your time.” — Wynton Marsalis
Wednesday, June 1, jazz great Wynton Marsalis was interviewed on the PBS Newshour. His passion is jazz and the preservation of this uniquely American musical tradition. He sees music as a metaphor comparing the relationship of American music to American identity. He states, “Nowadays, the average black person has no idea, no understanding of the rich legacy of the Afro-American arts and doesn’t know that there is even something to know. Take the Afro-American out of it. The Afro-American is a culture inside of a culture — so a lack of interest — in our culture, period, in our nation. We would be so much better if we knew our own culture. It’s here for us. It’s been left by — you can take your pick. Start with Walt Whitman. We are not better because we don’t know who he — what he had to tell us. We are not better for not knowing Duke Ellington’s music.”
Marsalis was connecting music/art to the central core of our country regardless of race. He is an ambassador promoting music through excellence in education and performance and also upholds the mission to bring “elevation or uplift” to our collective souls. It was not lost to me that what he was saying about jazz was equally true for the art of tap dance. Besides the mostly urban choir of tappers, who understands that tap’s roots are a part of our cultural heritage and that it is indigenous to America? Do you know that tap dance is a melting pot of rhythms and moves, with influences from African (juba) dance and drumming rhythms, as well as European (jig) step dances, which were transferred to North America during the colonial era? Or that tap dance grew out of the variety of social dances of our early nation – some in the ballroom, others on plantations? Or as dance historian Sally Sommer states, that it would become the “the single most important form of American theatrical entertainment from 1840 to 1890”?
If you didn’t know then most likely you are not alone. And, I would venture to say that the average person has no idea of our rich cultural legacy of the American homegrown arts and “doesn’t know that there is even something to know.”
Last night the sky lit up every couple of minutes with light flashing in a wild weather dance. At one point I shut off all the lights to watch and wait for the next image to cross the nightscape. The show was eerily beautiful, a fleeting dance of nature. It got me thinking about how the darkness of night and lights off made the lightning flashes visible. Without the contrast of light/dark it would have been just a another thunder storm, minus the magic of “wow”.
That thought took me to the seed I planted recently – to write. That seed began in the nothingness of thought, then was planted into the soil of my soul. No light, just the ground of my being waiting to sprout roots deep inside. That seed needed to germinate in the dark for awhile… for days, months, probably years. Now the tiny shoots of Blogging with Sole Stories has broken ground. There are actually words finding their way from thought to form right here on the light of page. It’s that yin/yang thing… one needs the other to exist, even ideas.
It’s spring! Even with a light dusting of snow – true to the Coloradan expression that if you wait 10 minutes the weather can change – there is the presence that Spring has surely arrived. The sun travels across the sky each day gaining minutes of extended light, early blooming trees have opened their buds that are the special green of new growth, color blossoms from the flowers that are hardy to the cold temperatures, and seeds have been planted, like lettuces and onion sets.
This is the story of the seasonal rhythms of the earth. I wonder if we are called to find our place within those same cycles: from darkness into light, lying fallow to fertile, dreaming seeds of ideas into possibilities? How do we enter the spaces of our lives to welcome what is waiting to be born?
I contemplate what I wish to plant… What lies within my interior soul waiting to be rooted into substance and form? What will tether me to my creative juices and dance in my bones? My community tap classes have ended, the film project moves with its unique slow rhythm and the only step that whispers is to write. Yep, pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard, call in my creative angel and then just show up. Be willing to start!. Writing is the seed that I have tenderly planted while waiting patiently for the roots to take hold. Then, who knows what will sprout from this tiny seed?
For the past two months I have been teaching Kendra a young woman from the Philippines. She posted a comment – see below – about her experience in my tap classes. I have heard the expression that says, “when the student is ready the teacher arrives.” My time with Kendra and our conversations about tap dance and the body connection to a divine feminine energy, makes me wonder about the reverse order, “when the teacher is ready the student arrives!”
Kendra’s absolute delight and willingness to step completely into learning has been a discovery for me as well. Finding words to express the more subtle qualities of sound, notes, playing one’s song, and how to enter that rhythmic landscape through the body has allowed me to give voice to my own inner musings of tap dance being a reflection of life.
Since February, when our long time love girl sadie died (our dog), I have been swimming in the dark pools of her eyes. Through that journey into loss and love I quite unexpectedly began wondering about the vastness of spirit, emotions, and the fluid form of change. It was only when I was teaching that I could feel joy echo from my feet and see it in the faces of my students. Those few hours a week of “happy” reminded me of sadie and the gifts given no matter the form. So I am grateful and sole-fully satisfied with life’s surprising orchestration of events, people and pets who have entered my life. Thanks Kendra. Keep tapping your song!