Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Creativity

When I was a little kid, my mom signed me up for a modern dance class at the old University of Utah extension building off Main. It was for the summer, and my parents probably thought it would be a good supplement to my other dance classes. It would make me well rounded, which would serve the burgeoning talent that only parents seem to see within their children.

There were four or five other little blond girls there, all of us with our Aqua Net bangs. My mom stood next to me as my new dance teacher came and introduced herself. She probably put her hand on my shoulder and told me she was glad to have me, that she liked my leotard, that she knew I would have fun. I probably stared at her and tried to assess if she would be a mean dance teacher or a nice one.

I probably silently begged her to not put me in the back row just because I was tall.

When my mother left, the teacher started moving strangely. "I'm dancing like a cat," she said, "Now I'm dancing like a bird. Can you move like a bird, too?" Uneasy at first, I followed what the teacher did, my arms out and in and up and down, fly-walking in circles and eights. Then I got comfortable and I took over my own body and let myself be modern.

A modern human dancer bird.

It felt weird.

The music wasn't on a tape like it was in all my other dance classes. There was no "Monster Mash" or "Puttin' on the Ritz". There was no kick ball change to the beat. Instead there was a lady with short hair who played the piano modernly. She bobbed her body as she played like she was a bird or a kitty cat, too. She probably wore a quilted vest. She was distracting.

When we were birds she would play flying music, when we were cats she would play prowling music.

Soon we were autumn leaves falling. The dance teacher said things like "Very expressive!" and "How creative!" The piano was pling plonging autumn leaferly. I probably had my eyes closed, flitting and falling around. I probably hoped that I was yellow.

Then we became thunder. The quilted vest scrunched and bowed low around the body of the piano lady as she reached far down to the deep and angry chords. The teacher yelled out over the crashing.

Be expressive!

Be thunderous!

How does thunder move?!

How do you move thunder?!


We danced around in a circle as she yelled, as the piano boomed discordantly, and moved our bodies like deep and angry storms. "Show me how creative you can be!" she cried. "Show me how powerful!"

My head and body filled with the sounds, I was almost in a trance. I did a cartwheel.

I didn't expect the music to stop then, the four or five little blonds to freeze and stare at me.
I didn't expect to be frozen thunder.

"We don't do it like that, Abby" the dance teacher said. "This isn't gymnastics."
Then I was frozen, too.

"Okay, girls," she said, clapping her hands to get our attention. "Watch me again. How can we be like tall grass?" She began to sway and bend. The quilted vest started to swish and dip, too. We all watched.
The other little girls thawed out before I did. They began to slowly pattern their movements after her.
It was hard to get the frozenness out of my joints and out from behind my eyes. I carefully watched the movements of the other little girls and the reaction of the dance teacher to see if she approved. She smiled serenely and nodded at them.
I slowly started moving, mimicking the little girls as they patterned themselves after the teacher.
Rocking to and fro.
Like tall grass we were.

Only now I was following. Following.

*image courtesy of


Kimba said...

Was this for class? Really great, Abs.

And you were all doubting yourself. I stopped watching Lost to finishing reading this. That's pretty serious. :)

Abby said...

like did I write it for class? no? is that what you mean?


Adam and Tara said...

I loved it Abby. You're an amazing writer! I think you should write a memoir. You have a style similar to Sandra Cisneros and she is one of my favorites.

Camille and Paul said...

Nice Abby! I felt like I was right there with you. In my leotard and in the back row.

Allie said...

This made my heart break for that little Abby.

Mellanee said...

I feel like a terrible mother for leaving you with that cartwheelless nonteacherish teacher.

Jessica and Reecey said...

Again, please write a book so that I can read it and tell people I have a famous friend.

Who's B? said...

Allie passed along this link to me. What a wonderfully sweet, sad and graceful recollection. The moment one loses ones creativity is not arguably the saddest or near it.

One of my favorite books on the topic of creativity and how to live in it fully is called Free Play (Improvisation in Life and Art) by Stephen Nachmanovic. It is a book I return to again and again and highly recommend it.

Abby said...

Thank you for the book recommendation, Who's B. I would love to check it out.

Yes, I remember being profoundly sad about this when it happened, but I didn't understand why until I was older and could look back and think about it. On the other hand though, there's something kind of funny about it. Almost as though it's so sad that it's funny. The piano lady, the wierd teacher...I dunno. I wish I had it on film. Anyway, thank you again for visiting the blog.

Leslie said...

You are an amazing writer. This is truly inspiring. You never cease to amaze me.

Lloyd said...

It is obvious to me however, that neither the quilted piano player or the "teacher" were sucessful in their attempts to thwart your creativity. You make me proud.

I love you.