Creaking Toward the Olympics
When I was a little girl, I danced. I really, really loved dancing. A chubby Jewish kid from New York, I took classes with Arthur Mitchell from the NYC Ballet and Alvin Ailey before he got famous. I went to dance and drama camp and learned Flamenco and Bharata Natyam (Southern Indian) dance from Carola Goya and Matteo. But I didn’t have a dancer’s body, and so eventually, I let dance pass out of my life.
When I was in my twenties, I started to run on New York City streets. I had no idea what I was doing and I got shin splints within weeks of beginning. I switched to yoga at the Levy-Shea Studios on E. 16th Street and promptly became an addict. I was crazy about the two ex-social worker yoga-teachers, Dick Shea, who had been a Navy Seal and Alan Levy, a skinny chiropractor with a handlebar moustache. They were not hippies like everyone else I knew at the time, (1969) but practical, down to earth, and interested in how the body worked. They were runners, too, and eventually I got the hang of how to run responsibly and not hurt myself.
In 1989, when I was 42, I found tai chi (taijiquan) and that kind of replaced everything I knew or thought about exercise. It was a choreographed dance; it was a meditation; it was both solitary and partnered form; it was a way to see the big picture of the universe. It was a candy mint and breath mint all in one. My teacher, Susanna DeRosa, a nice blond Irishwoman from New Jersey, had learned at the feet of Master Jo Tsung Hwa, one of the foremost Chinese practitioners of Chen and Yang style to teach in America from the 1970s onward. I studied and practiced, felt my body change, and got disgustingly in shape.
For the last 20 years, I have added forms to my repetoire, participated in taiji push hands competitions, taught a variety of exercise, including taiji, in chairs for older adults. I discovered the Silver Sneakers program, and became a certified instructor. The classes utilize steel-case chairs, resistance bands, light weights, and small exercise balls to motivate people who were mostly couch potatoes or else have gotten out of the habit of exercising because of illness or injury. The classes are all about moving safely and comfortably for 45 minutes several times a week.
And when I was just 64, I came upon the Dance for Parkinsons program, pioneered by the Mark Morris Dance Company and the Brooklyn Parkinsons Group eleven years ago. Under the helm of the extraordinary David Leventhal and Olie Westheimer, the program has grown to 23 states and 5 countries, and I am privileged to teach in Philadelphia with several amazing colleagues. Our dedicated students may have a movement disorder, but they rarely miss a class. They may never have danced before, but they do now! My own body has changed over the years, but not as much as I expected it would.
I had a total hip replacement 5 years ago, and the six months before my surgery were probably the most depressing of my life when I imagined myself as a cripple, bound to a cane or a chair. The realization, after I got my new ceramic hip that I could bounce back and do nearly everything I had done before, was elating and mystifying. Then, only a few weeks ago, I had a foot injury and have been condemned to 3 months in a non-weight-bearing cast. Learning patience once again is the hardest part. The most important thing to me, I think, was being graceful. Of looking strong and efficient when I moved and bent down and turned. On crutches, I avoid groups of teens walking fast behind me, sure they can knock me to the ground. I can't zig-zag the way I used to through NYC crowds. Now I am looking forward to a return to hiking and standing on my chair. Luckily, I am still able to dance in a chair with the rest of my students!
Let’s hear it for movement!