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.