I met her when I was 27. This was back when the studio was in the old building. I was immediately nervous. This was big time. I was in college now, preparing to audition for the dance company. I had to be perfect. Perfect person, perfect body, perfect dancer.
I was none of these things. I’ve never asked her about that day but I imagine she knew how nervous I was as I was terrible at any semblance of compartmentalizing and even worse at not wearing my heart on my sleeve. Plus this was just months after going through the most traumatic experiences of my adult life. And she is a dancer, an artist. I had no idea where this relationship would take me.
I was in awe of her. I thought she was stunning, magical. Some sort of ethereal being. She would laugh at this I’m sure. As I danced in her classes, she opened up a world to me I had shut off (recall this was necessary in my childhood). Furthermore, she somehow stopped letting me give up. I couldn’t tell you how she did it but the most powerful statement she made to me was simple: “Yes you can.” No muss, no fuss. That’s kinda who she is. No heartfelt “I believe in you” speech just a matter-of-fact statement as if she had no doubt whatsoever.
She became my mentor. True in some ways I idolized her. I listened to the way she communicated with us dancers. I saw her wrath in rehearsal (insert laughing crying emoji here) as well as her compassion and cheerleading on performance nights. She appeared to be so good at being solid and steady. Who knows what was ever going on in her life but if there was anything she didn’t let on. Had it not been for the intimacy of dance training, I might have thought her cold, indifferent. I unconsciously realized she was very good at setting boundaries and attempted to model myself after her.
One day a fellow dancer came to rehearsal in fresh grief. I watched in sheer amazement as she held her, encouraging the full expression of the sorrow this dancer was feeling. She knew that release was necessary if we were to move forward with our rehearsal. I remember remarking to another dancer something along the lines of “Is there anything this woman can’t do?” To which the dancer replied “I know, she’s amazing.”
There’s this thing you do when you graduate from grad school where you give your sash to an influential person. Of course I planned it for her. I danced around outright asking if she was coming to graduation and ultimately she didn’t (I did not take this personal – she might have attended a thousand graduations in her lifetime of teaching) but I marched in her office one day and presented her with the sash with some words written on it. She tried to give it back and I was like “uh I bought this for you, so no. You’re a professor, you inspire people and I wrote on it already. Deal with it” 😉
I am still close to her 10 years later. Took me about 8.5 to stop being so nervous around her. She is the single most influential person of my adult life. She is still quite adept at keeping her cards tight to her chest. The therapist in me wonders if there is a story there. Maybe one day I’ll know.
I fully intend to share this post with her but I’ve said similar words to her a few dozen times and she’s probably tired of hearing it. Don’t care, she means the world to me.
We all need a person like that.