Category Archives: dancing


There is something soothing about sleeping in the back seat of a car, especially as a child. Defying the perils of the road and slipping into comfort.  Allowing speed and motion–which could turn deadly in an instant– to lull you into a calming half-sleep.  There is power in vulnerability.  We must remember that.

I remember driving back to Oberlin from Pittsburgh my junior year.  It was four or five a.m., and four of us were in Michael’s 20-year-old beige Volvo.  The leather seats were not quite cracked, yet not quite softened.  We’d been dancing all night.  At Pittstop.  It was one of the first swing exchanges that we had been to as solid, intermediate dancers; one of the first dances where we weren’t following the addictions of our mentors, the seniors and juniors who came before us, the upperclassmen who had taught us how to dance and infected us (Lis called us “pod people”) with the lindy bug.  This was our  pursuit of the Swing Dragon– looking for that dancing high that hooks you and leaves you blissfully stranded in mid-song, out of time, straddling the twilight and the dawn with swing-outs and triple steps.  We had followed the Swing Dragon that night, and we had found it.

As usual, we got lost on Squirrel Hill on the way across the Hot Metal Bridge to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Ballroom.  The band was either the Boilermakers or George Gee and His Orchestra, either way a favorite.  The floor was fast.  The four of us–two boys, two girls– spent quite a bit of time dancing close to the stage, letting the music unstick any stray thoughts so we could lindy and blues dance on waves of notes.  Midway through the night, I remember watching a group of dancers break into the Big Apple, which at that point I’d never seen before.  In the middle of the circle of dancers was a smiling guy on crutches who hopped around on one leg, having broken the other in an aerials tragedy just before the big dance weekend.  At lindy exchanges, the goal is to dance with as many new people as possible and to reconnect with old friends from other cities.  We had done that all night, and now, reconvened, the four of us were heading back to Oberlin. Back home.

It was November, so I’m sure we had midterm papers and lots of homework awaiting us. (Back then, I was able to sleep until noon after an exchange, go to Stevenson Dining Hall to eat an omelet, and move about my day without further readjustment.  No jet-lag, headaches, crankiness or symptoms of sleep-deprivation.)  But despite our impending term papers, we felt that the three-hour jaunt to Pittsburgh to dance on one of the smoothest floors with one of the friendliest crowds in the region was an essential venture.  Traveling is where you find the lindy dragon, of course.  And, having accomplished our goals of dancing with So-and-So from Columbus , trying out new swivels or sugar pushes, and scoping out new partners, we were pleased to be reunited in contentment and fatigue in Michael’s car, heading home in the dark under clear black skies with jazz to accompany us.

I can’t remember in detail a single dance from that night, although I know I wore a pink newsboy cap.  But I do remember falling asleep in the back of the Volvo in the wee hours of the morning, past Youngstown, half-lying down in the middle seat with the seat belt lax, tucked under my arm.  Our bubbly recaps of the evening trailed off, and as I nodded off, Brandon, who was sitting next to me in the back seat, put his arm protectively across my shoulders.  He was wearing a leather jacket which had a comforting leather smell.  When I awoke from a kind of twilight sleep, we were just leaving a gas station in Northern Ohio and “Hard Times” was playing from the stereo.  It was a saxophone version, instrumental.  Michael had once played the sax solo in jazz band in high school, and it was one of his favorite pieces.  I didn’t move, just stayed resting there, with Brandon’s arm around me, and Michael humming along, and the dark highway interrupted by the blinking yellow traffic lights on Lorain Street as we headed into town.

I think we all were holding our breath there, appreciating the prolonged moment of the drive on 80 West, content to be in the same place, sharing the same experience, for as long as it would last.  When I miss dancing now, what I really miss was that car ride home.

Leave a comment

Filed under dancing, essay, home

Wednesdays (at the Brink)

Wednesday used to mean so much in Madison, but here it’s just another day.
Wednesday mornings, Bus Number 4 would be diverted
around Martin Luther King Street to make way
for the mini Farmer’s market.  Only half-way through the week,
here was this tasty reminder of the Saturday organic bliss to come.
If I was ambitious, I could get off the bus, buy some fruit,
and eat it while walking to the opposite end of the Square to work.

In the summers, Wednesdays meant Concerts on the Square.
The well-to-do would lay their blankets hours in advance.
Everything was customized for the picnic and orchestral experience.
Low-legged lawn chairs.  Stakes perched elegantly into the ground
to support fluted wine glasses. Coolers and baskets overflowing
in a sophisticate’s interpretation of a tailgate party.
The Chamber Orchestra would play. We would lie on our backs,
with friends, looking at the cutouts of sky between the tree branches;
the white dome of the Capitol, the perfect visual and acoustic backdrop.
I would always look for runaway balloons, disappearing into the pink-streaked sky.

The twilight hours of that final August were spent on the Terrace
or at Brocach’s with the Sailing Club.  Ever capricious, the Club met Wednesdays
for a while, then switched to Thursdays or perhaps vise versa.
But there was always room on a Wednesday for wings and beer
and good conversations with classmates about Harold Bloom and Vampires.

Wednesday nights, of course, were for swing dancing at the Brink.
You always had to walk past the house band or the Open Mic.
You might stop at the bar, or save that trip for later.  I used to get
Sprecher’s rootbeer or Boylan Ginger Ale midway through the night.

The back room, the lounge, was ours. Property of the lindyhoppers
(and occasionally a speed-dating club that preceded us.)
I’d say hello, pick a table and a chair. First things first: remove your shoes.
Sometimes I had sneakers. Sometimes I had thick winter boots.  Once, walking
there past Lake Monona, I was accosted by a sudden thundershower
and my leather boots soaked through, until my jeans were wet up to the knee.
But I always had an extra pair of socks.  I’d put my swing shoes on.  I’d say hello.

Usually I’d dance right away.  Sometimes I would mingle first.
The music was good some weeks, bad other weeks.
But it was always Wednesday.
There was an obstacle in the middle of the dance floor.  A rectangular
support beam holding up the entire place, for all we knew.  Skilled dancers
dodged it like it wasn’t there. Clever dancers incorporated it into their moves
like a prop or a third partner.

The dancing seemed to me inseparable from the talking.
The tables and chairs lead to the dance floor; the dance floor lead back
to the tables and chairs. Sometimes we’d be in for a treat: fancy lighting,
little tea candles, fresh tablecloths.  We knew there’d been a wedding.
Occasionally, I’d arrive at the Brink for an even bigger treat: live music.
Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade strumming on a silver guitar
the sounds of New Orleans hot jazz.  I dragged myself to the Brink
in the snow and rain and during Finals, but once I arrived, I never regretted going.

I always told my boss the only night I couldn’t work was Wednesday.
Now Wednesday is my latest night.
No farmer’s market. No concerts. No dancing.
Poor middle child of the week!
I do not think anyone ever wrote a song about Wednesday.
But part of me is always excited when Wednesday comes
as if my feet can’t quite forget the patterns of another life.

Leave a comment

Filed under dancing, poem

lincoln center fountain

I took this photo of my husband at Lincoln Center, sitting on the famous fountain after the swing dance.

lincoln center fountain

silhouette at lincoln center

Leave a comment

Filed under dancing, travel

midsummer night swing

midsummer night swing  bandstand lincoln center

bandstand at lincoln center

Dancing is truly alive in New York during the three or four weeks of Midsummer Night Swing, a festival that ranges from hot club gypsy swing to Funk to Latin jazz.  My husband and I went on opening night having “won” free tickets online, and we had a great time dancing in the open air in Damrosch Park next to Lincoln Center.

The temperature was perfect with a light breeze. The sky turned from teal blue to that mauve which is a New York midnight.  Dancers came from all over the city. I finally started to recognize people from Frim Fram, the Alhambra, the Plaza Hotel.  Our hands were stamped in invisible ink that glowed under a blacklight and earned us entrée into the outdoor dance floor.  I could describe the glowing bandshell, the Jonathan Stout Orchestra featuring Hilary Alexander, the boating party flavor of the white railings around the dance floor that reminded me of a Renoir painting.  I could tell the outrageous anecdote about the cop who stole the water bottle we’d paid $3.00 and drank it right in front of us. I could finish my entry with an epilogue of us eating dulce de leche ice cream at Columbus Circle, teasing each other about taking a carriage ride through Central Park, as if it weren’t a Monday night and we were on a first date.

Instead I’ll let my poem take you dancing…



Midsummer Night Swing

Sometimes I forget I live in New York
only to emerge from Grand Central Station
after a long talk about not-belonging
and see a city grown up around me.

Times Square is not New York.
It’s America’s largest, brightest chain store.
We have to walk there sometimes,
but at least we get to pass the library lions.

Sometime later, we emerged at Lincoln Center
belched up on Broadway from the labyrinth below.
There were people in evening clothes,
square marble buildings, fountains, chandeliers,
singing a dirge for High Art
that the Broadway Melodies can barely hum.

And behind that, a little pavement park
with metal Aemes womb chairs disguised
as park furniture, was where we were heading.

Lights looped around a bandshell, a dance floor.
Glowing balls capped each temporary column,
changed colors throughout the night, depending
on the key and tempo.  B minor in Blue.
A major in Reds and Oranges.

As we danced, breezes blew my dress.
Airplanes flew above the skyscrapers
like escaped pigeons.
Blue and gold searchlights, beacons
on the tops of buildings
floated like balloons in the night.

And we, the children on the ground,
were dancing, spinning, looking up,
closing our eyes with the music
wishing the lights could rain down.

Summer felt so near, and the lights
like lost balloons, hovered in midair.

Leave a comment

Filed under dancing, poem

alhambra ballroom, harlem, usa.

The Alhambra Ballroom was another mainstay swinging dance hall during the 1930s and ’40s.  Frankie Manning, who you’ll remember  from my previous post as the Godfather of Lindyhop, started dancing at the Alhambra as a teenager, before he felt he was good enough for the Savoy. (Millman, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindyhop, 2007)

On Wednesday May 11th, my husband and I attended a Battle of the Bands event at the Alhambra as part of Harlem Jazz Shrines, a week-long event honoring the theaters and jazz history of Harlem. In the tradition of the  famous Chick Webb vs. Count Basie Battle of the Bands at the Savoy in 1938,  this event featured dueling big bands as well as swing dance contests.  The battling bands were George Gee and His Orchestra (same group we had seen at Swing 46 a week prior,  but this time George was off the injured list and snapping out rhythms)  and the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra. They played from 7pm until a little after 11pm to a packed dancefloor and an enthusiastic crowd of dancers and jazz fans.

There were also dance contests: a Jack-and-Jill for individual entrants and a couples contest.  As most of these things go, it was a popularity contest for the flashiest moves, but it was fun to watch and inspiring.  (Although, it was the weirdest Jack-and-Jill I’ve ever seen– there were three more Jacks than Jills, so all but two girls had to dance twice.)  One of the guest judges was, guess who, the great Dawn Hampton who got up during social dancing and solo blues danced by the judges table.

The Alhambra is located on 126th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd (7th Avenue).  We walked some long avenue blocks up 125th Street from the Harlem Metro North train station.  Harlem is definitely still Harlem.  It has its own flavor, a unique blend of cultures and heritage. I saw more than one mural including portraits of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama (and in one case, all four!).

The Alhambra Ballroom is the real deal.  High arched windows, gilded orchestra boxes overlooking the stage and dancefloor. The orchestra boxes provided the best view of the dance competitions.  There were tables draped in white table cloths and food for those who paid, but unlike Swing 46, dining was not the focus of the evening.  From the lobby downstairs, before taking the elevator to the fourth floor, you could tell you were in the right place as a pair of dancers, clad in white, posed for photos.  I knew right off they would be competing later.

Modernity takes its toll.  While repainted and inviting, the room was not as grandiose as in the picture above.  The ballroom is now carpeted for weddings and conventions.  They had to import a square patch of smooth oak dancefloor, which was barely large enough to contain the pulsing mass of dancers who took the stage before and after the dance competitions. The social dancers overran the floor to the extent that some people were charlestoning on the low-pile carpet.

What I loved about the Alhambra was seeing people of all ages, all ethnicities, all styles.  There were some talented seniors–immaculately dressed with amazing hats–who had probably been there along with Frankie Manning and Norma Miller in 1938 when Ella Fitzgerald “competed” against Billie Holiday.  Dancing on a crowded floor takes some skill, and my ankles were bruised by the end of the night, but I didn’t care.  I had some great dances with people I’d never seen before and enjoyed the dance competitions and the music.  It was odd to dance to songs by George Gee’s band that I’d heard just the week before at Swing 46  in an entirely different environment.  Some of the more intimate lounge songs didn’t work as well in a huge, brightly lit ballroom; however, the bands both made up for that with rousing, continuous music.  In a way, with bands like Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway playing a regular repertoire every night, the dancers in the Big Band era would have been hearing the same songs over and over as well.

The best thing about this Harlem Jazz Shrines event was that, unlike Swing 46, it felt completely genuine and real.  Although the retro and nostalgia element was undeniably there, this was a living, breathing event.  Active jazz aficionados of all ages came for the music.  Active dancers came for the competition, the social dancing, and the music.  It wasn’t a celebration of a bygone era but a celebration of an American legacy that continues to be alive, somewhere, in Harlem, USA.

Leave a comment

Filed under dancing

“when i die, if i go to heaven, i want it to be just like the savoy.”

Savoy Ballroom Marquee

Savoy Ballroom Marquee

What happened to the Savoy?

Located between 140th and 141st Street on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, the Savoy Ballroom, mecca of the Lindy Hop, closed its doors in 1958 and was torn down to make room for a housing complex (New York Times, 2006)Frankie Manning, the godfather of the Lindy Hop, said of the ballroom:

“When I die, if I go to Heaven, I want it to be just like the Savoy.”

–Frankie Manning (2007) from Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop, p. 74

The spirit of the Savoy is alive in many cities, big and small, across America and the world. Swing dancer subcultures are thriving from Canada to Australia, from Sweden to Singapore.  The Savoy Spirit was alive in Hales Gym at Oberlin College, where I first learned to dance. It was alive at a beautiful dance hall in Barcelona where I took classes with Steven Mitchell and Freida Segerdahl and danced with people from Russia, Ireland, Spain, France, and Germany. It was alive in Québec at the first Québec Swing Rendez-Vous, with bilingual dancers swinging out in the Citadel Officer’s Club on a snowy day during the Winter Carnaval.  It was alive at the Sunday Tea Parties at Studio Hop in Toulouse, France. The Christmas lights strung around the room made a Sunday afternoon in a dance studio seem like a Saturday night at a swing club in Harlem. The mirrors made the room look endless, and you felt that even when the music stopped, your reflection would go on dancing.  The tea, biscuits, and “gateaux” made the Tea Parties friendly and informal, just old friends getting together to jam.

The Savoy Spirit is simply this:  people who love swing dancing and jazz music getting together to jam, mingle, maybe drink, share moves, and social dance just for the sake of dancing, at a regular venue.  While the glamor of the Savoy Ballroom is long gone, there are plenty of places across the world where dancers go regularly–every week or sometimes every night–to lindy.

The one place Savoy lindy hopping is not alive, sadly, seems to be New York City.  There is Frim Fram, of course.  Frim Fram is New York’s version of Studio Hop (Toulouse) or Dance Fabulous (Madison) or countless other dance schools trying to create a night club atmosphere for weekly or monthly dances. The studio-turned-ballroom succeeds or fails to varying degrees. Sadly, many U.S. cities long ago lost a dancing culture. In towns where night clubs are about hip hop not lindy hop, serious swing dancers make do with dance schools converted into dance parties.  Fortunately, dancers in many cities are able to take advantage of old swing-era theaters, university ballrooms, and dance halls like Bohemian Hall (Cleveland) or  The Grand Ballroom (Chicago) on special occasions.  Most swinging cities also hold weekly swing nights in bars or lounges.  So it’s odd to me that Frim Fram, a dance studio, is the only place to dance in New York if you’re serious about Lindy, according people serious about Lindy.

In New York City, city of night clubs, city of jazz, city that never sleeps, there is not a single regular commercial venue to be haven and heaven to the swing dancers.  There used to be lounges, ballrooms, and theaters every other block, especially in Harlem. There was the Savoy of course, but also the Cotton Club (where Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway played to a white audience), the Renaissance, and the Alhambra Ballroom (Archives of Early Lindy Hop, 2004). There were top bands playing every day of the week. Frankie Manning, George “Shorty” Snowden, Norma Miller, and Frieda Washington would be out dancing every night.  The Savoy was their home. They practiced there. They stole moves from others there. They listened to Count Basie, Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald. Frankie improvised to Chick Webb, and Frankie danced with Ella Fitzgerald. (Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop, 2007)

Today, in New York City, you can find jazz music every night. You can find blues, bebop, and swing. But you can’t go out and reliably dance to it.  Two nights ago, my husband and I went to Swing 46 on (surprise, surprise) W. 46th Street.  It was a Friday, so we figured it would be busy. I didn’t know what to expect, but I definitely expected more dancers to be there.  And by dancers, I mean lindyhoppers. I don’t mean people who do ballroom and happen to know foxtrot or jive. I don’t mean people, like the vivacious girl with bright red lipstick in the strapless Marilyn Monroe dress, who came to celebrate her birthday by doing something different and “authentically New York.”  I mean real dancers.

You can tell a serious dancer by their shoes. First of all, dancers enter a club with a special bag for their shoes. They never wear street shoes on the floor.  Nowadays, men who are into swing dancing typically wear white Aris Allen swing shoes. Black-and-white spectators are still floating around, but they were more popular in the early 2000s. If the Aris Allens are scuffed a little and have lost a little of their shine, that’s preferable, but even if they are out-of-the-box new, you know a dancer is wearing them. (This isn’t a hard and fast rule.  A good friend of mine–an excellent dancer and instructor–often dances in Birkenstocks).

For women, any heels are suspicious. If the high-heels are flexible and low enough to be actual ballroom shoes, then that’s a sign of a dancer, but not a lindyhopper per se. These could also be the feet of a salsa or ballroom aficionado out to practice some East Coast swing.  Spectator pumps are a good indication of a female swing dancer, but women’s swing shoes come in many varieties: Mary-Janes, Keds, dance sneakers, peep-toe wedges, retro bowling shoes, flats with ankle straps, character shoes.  If you get a peek at the soles, make sure they are chrome suede.  I have a pair of black Aris Allen canvas Mary-Janes. They’re not much to look at, but with six years of wear on my chrome leather soles, a newer, flashier pair just won’t dance the same. Women’s swing shoes are almost never the fashion high-heels you can buy at DSW or Payless. If they’re shiny, platform, ill-fitting, rubber-soled, boots, open-toed, or more than an two inches high, they are not swing shoes and the feet in them do not belong to a lindyhopper.

Looking around at Swing 46, on Restaurant Row (West 46th Street), I saw a lot of the wrong kind of shoes.  There were a lot of men in suits that were too big for them and women in low-cut tight dresses made of non-stretchy, non-breathable fabric. Before I saw the evidence on the dance floor, I knew these people were not there to dance.  They were there to think they were at a swing dance.  Each couple stuck with their partner, all night.  It was tourists, a smattering of ballroom enthusiasts, and excited young people wishing they were in another era but not wishing strongly enough to actually learn the steps.  The experienced dancers had chosen not to come.

Not only was the communal lindy hop practice of mingling and trading partners lacking, there was also nowhere to sit.  If you weren’t paying for the expensive dinner-and-swing-band experience, you couldn’t sit next to the dance floor or the band.  If you were just a dancer (having paid just a $15 cover charge) you had to sit by the bar in another room.  We were asked by at least three staff members to move at various points in the evening:  “This table is just for people eating dinner, you can sit at the bar.”  “These seats are for the band.  You can scoot down.”

In the final instance, a waiter picked up the cocktail table in front of us and moved it over, so the musicians could have their 10:00 meal during a band break.  At first we sat on a long, white leather bench across from the bar where the bartender was violently wrestling with a martini shaker.  The light was suitably low.  The night club atmosphere was oozing out of the place with neo-swing Harry Connick Jr. schmaltz.  It would have been a very nice club– except you couldn’t see the band or the dancers from the bar.  The management had remedied this problem by installing a closed circuit TV showing you who was dancing and what you were missing.  Watching lindy on TV from another room is not in the Spirit of the Savoy.

At the Savoy, the dance floor was the thing.  It was smooth.  It was huge.  It was bordered by booths and tables.  You could sit or you could dance.  Those were the two options.  And if you were sitting, anyone could come over and ask you to dance.  Dancers were not separated from diners or relegated to a back room if they needed to take a seat.  While there were jam circles and performances by groups like Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, dancing was not a spectator sport.  At the Savoy, “you had to be able to dance” (Bill London, New York Times, 2006).

Eventually, after the dinner hour had elapsed, we snagged a small table by the dance floor and ordered something to drink. The band at Swing 46, a regular Tuesday and Friday group there, was quite good.  It was George Gee and His Orchestra, who I first saw at PittStop in 2004 in Pittsburgh, PA and who is widely known in the swing world. Unfortunately, George Gee, the “only Chinese-American swing band leader” wasn’t there (George Gee Bio, 2011).  He’d hurt a finger and was on the mend.  Although I was sad to miss George Gee’s animated conducting, his band did fine without him.  The lead singer John Dokes had what my husband called “a classic American Look.” In a camel-colored suit with camel-colored Vans slip-ons (an increasingly popular alternative to white Aris Allens), John Dokes crooned into a silver microphone. His voice was smooth and classy.  He could have been any jazz singer in the 1930s or 1940s singing “Muddy Water” and “Route 66”– until he threw in a fresh jazz interpretation of “Walk On By.”

We had a great seat to appreciate the music now, and we would be damned if we would let this opportunity–or our $15 a pop cover charge– go to waste. We found our seat just in time to see singer John Dokes dance with Dawn Hampton, an 83-year-old performer and lifelong dancer.  She moved her hips with the smallest articulations.  She was sassy and coy.  Every shoulder roll or swizzle of her hips was perfectly in time with the music.  Even though she was tiny and a little hunched over, she could move better than anyone in the room, with the possible exception of her partner Mr. Dokes.  The crowd went wild.

When John and Dawn took their seats again, the modest dance floor absorbed its largest crowd of the night.  People were inspired.  My husband and I danced in front of the band to “Muddy Water,” and he almost swung me into the saxophonist.  But after the enthusiasm sparked by Dawn Hampton has fizzled, the dance floor washed out again.  Nobody crossed the room to ask a stranger to dance.  This was not a haven for swing dancers. This was not the paradise Frankie Manning remembered. The guy with the white Aris Allens took off his shoes a little after 11:00 in the universal lindy signal of a night that is over. My heart sank a little.  I couldn’t ask him now, and there was nobody left to dance with who was wearing the right shoes.

By the end of the night, I’d had a pleasant evening with my husband.  I’m sure the other patrons of Swing 46 enjoyed themselves too. I know some of the guests at lipstick girl’s birthday party will probably go home thinking “We should do that again.” Maybe they’ll take some more classes and eventually find their way to Frim Fram on Thursday nights.  But right now, I don’t have time to wait for them.  My husband and I had a fun date at Swing 46, but we had not gone lindyhopping. We had not channeled the spirit of the Savoy, save for a few inspired songs and of course, seeing the inspirational Dawn Hampton.

We’ll go back to Frim Fram Thursdays and try to make more connections in the New York City lindy community.  But I’m still looking for a modern day Savoy.  I’d like to think that when I find it, whatever city it’s in, that’s when I’ll know I’m home.

Leave a comment

Filed under dancing

a writer, a dancer, and a nomad

I have been a dancer since I was 18.  Unexpectedly, it seeped into my identity, my vocabulary, and my muscle memory.  If I do not dance for a while, my body misses it, but so does my mind, which soon finds itself insufferable.  Dancing turns thinking off– or at least turns it into something surprising and free.

I have been a writer, according to and grace à my father, since I was one-and-a-half.  We were on a winter walk, and I saw white snow on a tree branch and said:  “Milk Flower.”  Before I learned to write, I would finger-paint and chatter to myself, making up stories about ghosts and rabbits that were much more fleshed out in words than my paintings.  At that age, I assume, I didn’t need to turn thinking off.  Writing was dancing.  What a slippery age.  I wrote stories with dolls, created villages of Playmobil people.  And I learned to write, and then I started writing stories.  At eight years old, I knew I wanted to be an “author” when I grew up.  It wasn’t something I decided on.  Just something I knew.

Now, of course, I am a librarian, because when we grow up we learn more job titles.  We blindly accept silly terms like “sales associate” and “project manager.”  I wish my vocational vocabulary today was as uncluttered as when I was eight.  Not that I didn’t know what a librarian was at eight, it just wasn’t what I wanted to be, because it wasn’t who I was.   Today, when I introduce myself to new people–as nomads often do–I say “I’m a librarian,” and they nod appreciatively as if to thank me for not saying   “assistant processing manager.” People understand librarian because its one of the Original Jobs they learn about as children.  They smile a little, usually, when I say that’s what I am.  And I am proud to say it and to be it.  But deep down, somewhere, I feel like I’m lying.  Telling half-truths.  Donning a convenient mask.

Before becoming a dancer or a writer, I was a nomad.  I was born a nomad.  Although we didn’t move until I was eight–around the time I started calling myself an “author”– I discount the seven years of the Pre-Nomadic Era because it is convoluted with the glowy memories of early childhood that are pleasant mostly because they don’t see anything above the height of the dining room table.

I’m genetically predisposed to Nomadism.  All my people are nomads. My great-grandparents were immigrants, which is a nomad who makes one big trip and then settles down but always carries a second home in his heart like a summer teepee.  My grandparents relocated from New York to San Francisco, putting 3,000 miles between themselves and TRADITION.  My parents traveled back in the opposite direction and eventually set up permanent camp in the Winter Home.  But we are nomads and skeptical of the permanence of any place.  I have lived in eight cities, four states and two countries. I don’t have the notched walking stick of many other wanderers, but it’s the wandering of the heart that creates a Nomad.  The feeling of being a turtle with your home on your back.  The fore-knowledge that any residence is only temporary and is never Home.  Once I thought I was homeless, but now I have another tribesman with me.  Although his ancestors were real-life nomads along the Mediterranean coast, he has moved less often than me.  And I believe he will always have only one hometown: beautiful Béjaïa, the Candle of the Orient.  I often feel guilty about condemning this man, who is prone to weaving communities about him like a Berber carpet, to my life of wandering.  But without him, I’d still be homeless instead of just nomadic.  Like my great-grandparents, he immigrated, and now there are two of us under one turtle shell.

This space in the inter-web, therefore, is not a soap-boxy kind of place.  It is not a dancing travelogue or a librarian blog (there are enough of both of those!), although I may from time to time discuss libraries or dancing.  My hope is that this will be a public-y version of what I do privately: reflect on being a nomad in America and steal a few minutes  after my dayjob so that saying “I’m a writer” doesn’t need to be followed by “when I grow up.”

Leave a comment

Filed under dancing, essay, library, travel