Friday, November 27, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: B is for Ballet

A few months ago, a reader asked about my dance background in reference to another post, specifically why I would have started taking point classes at the age of 21. I've decided to write this post for Thanksgiving. When you read it, you will understand.

College. That one word brings back a swirl of emotions, not the least of which is nostalgia for a time in my life when I was simultaneously a genius and an idiot (for those of you who knew me then, I appreciate your silence regarding that latter part). It was my time to discover what I was good at (analyzing, writing, getting by on very little sleep) and what I was not good at (all things math, making it to 8 a.m. classes, staying awake in 8 a.m. classes). I was thrilled to find that I could take a ballet class to satisfy some of my credit requirements. I hadn't danced in years, having long since found horses more appealing than barre work, but I didn't let this deter me. I was nervous my first day, not sure what to expect of a college dance professor (Serious? Tall? French accent?). Susan was none of the three. She was a petite blonde pixie with a wicked sense of humor and an uncanny ability to not laugh at her students, no matter how horrible their performance. I saw her eyes laugh, but her face never broke form (I ought to know - most of that laughter was definitely directed at me). Still, I loved dancing in Susan's class. She knew I couldn't pick up choreography at all, and she mercifully let me hide in the back for four straight years. That fourth year, however, something changed about her. Her once thick blonde hair looked thinner, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She started wearing a sweater tied around her waist, and only one time did I glimpse the chemotherapy pouch that lurked underneath. She never missed a class.

The winter of my senior year, I decided I wanted to try a pointe class. Susan didn't teach pointe classes at the college, but she did have a Friday night class with the local dance company. For ten year-olds. I asked her permission, and I was in.

I stopped going out on Friday nights, and instead spent hours sweating and bleeding through my new shiny satin shoes. If anyone has any questions about how brutal pointe work is on the feet, let me assure you it's much like having your toes caught in a bear trap, if not worse. On full pointe, I was at least a foot taller than all the willowy little girls in that class, but again, Susan never laughed. Smiled, but not laughed. She taught me it was perfectly acceptable to be the ostrich in a room full of little swans.

I went to her house shortly before my graduation when she kindly agreed to sit for a portrait with her daughters for a final exam I was completing. I met her husband, played with her dogs, fell in love with her two little pixie blonde girls who climbed all over their mother and gave me some of the most breathtaking images I've ever shot. I aced the final.

Susan died of breast cancer two years after I graduated. She left behind two beautiful little girls and a world that was a little less sunny without her. I'm thankful every day for her influence. She was funny, but never laughed at us. She was beautiful, but never made us feel awkward in her presence. She was fighting a battle, but she never let it harden her. Thank you Susan, for showing me that grace and beauty are not reflected in a mirror, but in my actions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Philadephia Skyline

This is the view from the boathouses along the river: the Art Museum, City Hall, and all the other beautiful buildings that form the unmistakable Philadelphia skyline. This is where we met almost ten years ago. There were no rose petals, shooting stars, or serenades by strolling violin players. The Cliff's Notes version? I hit him with my boat. In the head.

He was standing in the back of the boathouse, looking for something, and I walked in with my 26 foot single balanced on my head. My excuse, to this day, is that my eyes had yet to adjust from the bright sunlight.

He was not necessarily my type. I tended to like the kind of man that was "emotionally unavailable" (yes, that is an actual quote by an actual ex-boyfriend. Twenty dollars to the person who can tell me what on earth that really means). I fell for the arrogant ones who were, oddly, threatened by my own confidence. I seemed to like the ones that were less than honest and hid things about their past from me.

Yet there he was: unassuming, emotionally available, and completely honest. And, of course, grimacing and holding his head which I had just rammed with the bow of my boat. He likes to say he didn't regain full consciousness until we were at the altar. This is usually the point where I hit him again.

For ten years I have been grateful for the perfect timing of that one morning row. I'd like to think that even when I'm 90, I'll still remember the moment I realized I'd finally met the right one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Story Behind the Pictures: Spoon, Knife, and Fork

Memories. Memories come in the strangest of forms. I never met my great-grandmother, but her four daughters were an integral part of my daily life. They shaped my world, spoiled me, taught me, loved me. Of all the things they collected and treasured, the drawers full of their mother's tarnished silverware is the most beautiful. Of all the things they sold in order to keep food on the table and clothes on their children, they always protected the silverware. I refuse to polish away the patina and fingerprints, the years of use that have darkened the monogrammed "R" that adorns the graceful handles. I never met my great-grandmother, but when I look at these pieces of silver, I have memories of her Christmas dinners and Sunday lunches. I never met my great-grandmother, but her four daughters taught me everything I needed to know: love deeply, laugh loudly, and life is too short not to use the good silverware.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: The Two of Us

Most little girls dream of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, and dancing in high-heeled white satin shoes as the sun sets and the band plays music and their new partner amazes everyone with his fantastic waltzing ability. Or at least that's what we're told to believe (I, for one, did not see any fabulous waltzing from my husband at our wedding reception). The beauty of getting older is realizing that one girl's pair of heels is simply another's roller skates. And who says it can't be two girls standing at the end of that aisle together?

In my career as a wedding-attendee, I've worn every color of taffeta, carried every form of bouquet, and danced to every Village People song around. I've caught flowers (and promptly thrown them at the next unsuspecting girl), dried my eyes, made toasts, and carried one particular friend over huge drifts of snow so we could fit her and all her dress into the car during an epic East Coast storm. That said, I have never been to a wedding where both the brides wore skates.

It wasn't traditional. It wasn't expected. It wasn't even legal (Maryland is still a little behind the evolution curve in these matters). It was, however, the most joyous, crazy, wonderful, loving, and funny union I've ever had the privilege of witnessing. When we formed a circle at the end, so the brides could skate past and high-five everyone at the reception, I cried like the sentimental fool that I am. We should all be so lucky to live our lives like that wedding day: have fun, break the right rules, and thank your friends.
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