Feets of Dexterity

As I watch this astonishing circus act–one woman’s virtuosic dance with one fabulously flexible body, four limbs, twenty digits, and five juggling balls–several feelings cycle through me.

The first, of course, is wonderment and admiration.  What pure joyful dedication!  You have to see this.

The second is sadness, for myself and everyone else who once knew the joy of a body that did pretty much whatever we needed or wanted it to do for us, but are now struggling to come to terms with some kind of wreck.

The third is fear.  I fear for this circus performer.  Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, what will her life be like?  Will her joints and muscles and nerves continue to serve her faithfully?  Or will she, too, face the late consequences of connective tissue that behaves like a new rubber band in youth….and an old worn-out rubber band in middle age and beyond?

Will she sail into her old age like Martha Graham, the dancer and choreographer who performed her final ballet at age 75?  I hope so, for that is the dream of every dancer, every artist whose body is the medium for not only the expression of life, but the medium for experiencing life itself.

Martha Graham wrote about what happened when she retired from the stage in her memoir, Blood Memory:

It wasn’t until years after I had relinquished a ballet that I could bear to watch someone else dance it. I believe in never looking back, never indulging in nostalgia, or reminiscing. Yet how can you avoid it when you look on stage and see a dancer made up to look as you did thirty years ago, dancing a ballet you created with someone you were then deeply in love with, your husband? I think that is a circle of hell Dante omitted.

[When I stopped dancing] I had lost my will to live. I stayed home alone, ate very little, and drank too much and brooded. My face was ruined, and people say I looked odd, which I agreed with. Finally my system just gave in. I was in the hospital for a long time, much of it in a coma.

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  1. Mercy, I don’t know how you found this magnificent performer but she is a rare jewel. I was entertained and enthralled as I watched “Twenty Toes.” Thanks so much for posting this. Once she retires she’ll likely be depressed and her body will not be as it once was. But I know that is how the mind and body responds to a dramatic change and aging. We simply can not remain young forever. We wither and wilt.

  2. I’ve fallen down the stairs 4 times now, I drop things and knock them over on a daily basis. All my cups have lids now. And I keep saying “I used to be a DANCER. I was graceful.”
    I get it. I watch other dancers and my heart swells with love of the grace and movement, and my eyes tear up missing the chance to move like that again.

  3. She’s incredible! But I hear what you’re saying…

    • I love how she loves what she’s doing. I just can’t help cringing a bit.

      • Recently I took a walk on the beachfront and a group of youngsters were doing a zulu dance for the tourists. This girl looked to be 12 yrs old. She was jumping into the air and landing on her bum with her legs stretched out. I physically flinched and grimaced. What harm she is doing to herself. But then, poverty is harmful. I wanted to rush over and shout NOOOOOOOO!

        • Yikes, that’s horrible! Was this an actual Zulu girl, or someone doing a dance that’s called that?

          Her poor spine 😨

          • Not sure if she was actually zulu. Many cultures out here, but in my province, more than likely. I’ll see if I can face the Easter weekend crowds and take a video of them for you 🙂

            • I’m sitting here in Navajo Country, where I’m used to seeing, well, Navajos, and I catch my brain thinking, “Wow! She lives in South Africa where there are real Zulus!” That strikes me as funny and amazing at the same time. Our world seems so enormous to us ants….I wonder what people in other universes think about different cultures where they live.

  4. Powerful Martha Graham quote.


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