“Acadiana Dance Month: Share a Dance Memory”
Acadiana Dance Month has well been under-way, and as we bask in the 2nd-half glow of this happy month, we would like to share with you a few of the people who have contributed their thoughts, ideas, and reflections about dance with us and the community.
Let’s begin with Ana Leger, a massage therapist, yogi, and Basin Arts family member (her full list of credentials is listed below…she’s such a renaissance woman!). We received the most delightful and thoughtful letter from Ana that described her favorite dance memories. It was so inspiring that we thought, “We need to show this to the world! Dance really does change lives!”
Here is an abridged version of the letter, which is so beautifully candid that it could have been plucked right out of her diary. Thank you so much for sharing, Ana!
Acadiana Dance Month Day 4, Share a Dance Memory
I didn’t think I had many dance memories. Then I realized that I have a ton, all different. I remember being a little girl, standing on my dad’s feet, my fingers wrapped around his thumbs. He would count the steps out loud for a waltz or a two-step. We did this for years until I stood on my own, counting with him. I count in my head when I waltz or two-step with others even now.
I remember ballet lessons with Cissy Whipp at Moving South and quitting when I turned 10 because I wasn’t flexible and straddle stretches hurt and I felt inept. I remember Creative Movement with Peaches Gulino at Sacred Heart and being shy about expressing myself.
I remember growing up and my family attending dance performances at The Saenger in New Orleans. We were also avid attendees of local performances at Burke and Angelle Hall, Cite des Arts, Theatre 810, the AcA, and the Heymann Center.
We Cajun-danced a lot too, growing up here in Lafayette. Dad was part of an ensemble known as La Compagnie Louisianaise. The group performed traditional French and Cajun folk songs in full costume with dance on stage at Vermilionville every weekend. Every Sunday, while they danced on stage, my sister and I took to the dance floor. And at every restaurant with a dance floor–Randol’s, Prejean’s, Mulatte’s, Cafe des Amis, etc–we’d take turns dancing with each other and with each of my parents.
After a foundation of 17 years movin’ and groovin’ in Lafayette, I moved away to Atlanta for college and stopped moving my body as much. I of course found myself dancing and toe-tapping at music festivals, but dance was by no means part of the everyday culture there. I became more self-conscious in my body. And somehow, I wasn’t even aware of that.
Years passed and I still danced at concerts and such, but I wasn’t free like before. Not until April of every year, when I’d come home for Festival International (I’ve attended all 31 years). Nothing could stop me from dancing there. If my ears could hear music, my body had to move. I danced for days and then, after all was said and done, I’d go right back to my life absent of creative movement…Right up until the fall of 2015 when I saw Touching Loss and attended Clare Cook’s workshop at the AcA.
I knew right away that I had to work with Clare Cook. I didn’t know what I could possibly offer her, but I knew I’d do anything to support her work. In August of 2016, Basin Arts opened and I got a meeting scheduled with Clare Cook. We sat together for two hours and in that time came up with three collaborations we wanted to do together. I was immediately made a part of the Basin Arts family and I was eager to pour my energy into anything needed of me there. I started teaching/leading weekly meditation at Basin.
Shortly after starting to work with Basin, Jessica Lang’s dance company came to Lafayette and they offered a master class at the AcA. Clare among others urged me to attend. I was terrified. “I’m not a dancer,” I thought. What business did someone like me have in a master class? The morning of the workshop came and I was still hesitant, reluctant, scared out of my mind. And it was that fear that let me know that I had to take that class. I had to move out of my comfort zone. The class began with floor work, on our backs. For me, that was perfect. It meant no one could see me. It meant class started in savasana, corpse pose, the pose each yoga class ends in. That was something I was familiar with. And throughout the class, a good bit of yoga (or what looked and felt like yoga) was incorporated. That allowed me to feel safe, mildly competent, and then even adventurous.
The biggest takeaway from that master class, aside from the high of gratitude and the empowerment of facing a fear, was the awareness that dance is good for me. I started taking Clare’s Modern Dance class on Wednesday mornings and found myself in safe and capable hands and in good company: a small intimate group of what Clare came to affectionately refer to as her Smart Beginners.
In Modern Dance I re-met Alyce Morgan (Embody Zest!). I learned that she offered classes in the Franklin Method. I tried it and I loved it! It was perfect for me as a bodyworker and as a new ‘mover’ to learn the specifics of anatomy/physiology and kinesiology in a new way.
I also started taking Pilates with Clare and I learned firsthand the value of core strength. I got stronger quickly, felt lighter, moved with more ease at work and in yoga, and aches in my back were going away and staying gone.
My weeks were suddenly filled with movement. I was doing yoga, pilates, dancing, and aerial silks. Week after week I was experiencing how these practices, taught in different places and by different instructors, were overlapping and influencing each other. Aerial silks became more fluid as my strength increased from the pilates. My balance in dance improved on the days I did pilates in the same morning. Daring to try newer and more complex movements in the silks gave me courage to be more daring in dance class. Yoga kept my muscles and my mind limber and flexible. And all of these practices kept my mind and heart open.
With all of these movement practices, something special was happening. I was re-connecting to my body. I was becoming even more self-aware. This is known as embodiment, actually being with and in our bodies, able to listen to its wisdom and thus heed its cautions and lean into its curiosities and trust its knowing. Embodiment is how we learn to listen to our guts and to follow our hearts.
Because of this, not only did my body and mind become more capable, but so did my heart. I healed a lot of old and new hurt and, in doing so, felt safe and supported enough to conquer more fears. My personal goal in Clare’s dance class became simple and clear: to keep trying new things and to give myself grace. I wasn’t going to ‘get it right’ on the first try. I would benefit from laughing at myself and trying again. And Clare supported this, patiently breaking down movements or giving me something simpler to start with or dancing her choreography across the dance floor in sync with me. Then my purpose shifted to being fearless for others, to inspire them to try new things and to give them permission to not get it right the first time and to laugh at themselves and to laugh with each other as we each stepped out of our comfort zones.
Looking back at the last year and a half, I realize how much Clare and I have worked with and on each other, me as her massage therapist (and sometimes personal chef) and her as my teacher, movement therapist, and friend. From dance and pilates to working one on one with me to heal my body after a car accident six months ago, she’s led me on my path of deeper and richer embodiment, inspiring and encouraging me to push myself. I was moved by Touching Loss and thankfully I haven’t stopped moving since.
If you’re curious about dance and feeling nervous or afraid to try, keep this in mind: Learning to dance is like learning a new foreign language. Each position and transition and motion are the words and phrases. Once you develop a basic “vocabulary,” you can start to “speak” and understand the language better, first repeating and eventually creating complete sentences, paragraphs, and novels of movement. Just like with spoken language, “pronunciation” is choppy at first, then it smooths with practice, becoming more fluid and controlled with each repetition. And with regular use, one can develop fluency in a new form of expressing his/her thoughts, ideas, and emotions.
In short, Basin Arts, Clare Cook, and dance and creative movement have changed my life. Come check out what’s happening at Basin Arts. Your body, mind, and heart will thank you.
*Ana Leger is a massage therapist and bodyworker, devoted yogi, meditation leader, and amateur chef. You can find her working at The Camelia House, practicing yoga at Red’s and Little Creek Yoga, leading guided meditation here at Basin Arts, and cooking with Cafe Dharma. Her passion lies in helping people to love themselves and others more through practicing self-awareness, mindfulness, and grace. Whether it’s on or off the yoga mats and meditation cushions, she enjoys illuminating people’s own perspectives and encouraging them to bring more love and light into their lives through kindness to themselves. Ana has been practicing bodywork since 2008 and has practiced yoga since 1999.*