When you hear a story, how do you envision it in your mind? Words across the page maybe? A slideshow of images scrolling by? A movie acted out by your favorite actors? Or maybe... a dance. Each word gliding past on a song. Dancers flying through the air, the emotion of the words lifting them higher. Music changing with the tone of the tale. When I hear a story and close my eyes, most often I see a performance, music, costumes and movement. I see a dance. It doesn't take a giant leap of logic to figure out why. If I think back to the very first time I can remember telling a story, I see a three year old me in dance class, music playing and trying to be a flower growing from the ground.
Crouch low... you are a small seed.
Look up, arms out.... the sun is smiling down on you and asking you to grow.
Arms wave and lean side to side... the breeze is blowing on you and making you dance.
A story told in movements to the music and it's that thread, dance, that has been the one constant throughout my storytelling life.
I danced all through elementary and middle school, trying out tap, jazz and ballet. The thing was I didn't really fit into the dance world. By middle school I was bigger and taller then all the other dancers. Several teachers made it abundantly clear that my body was not that of a dancer. It wasn't the stereotypical body, but it danced... and it played soccer and rode horses and climbed rocks and did a million other things. That wasn't enough though for some teachers or studio directors. For a few years I found myself kicked out of studios or quitting because it stopped being fun. All because I was "too big." I stopped dancing for a short time because why continue to do something where you aren't wanted, where you don't fit.
Then, in late middle school, I discovered a whole different world of dance. One that focused more on story then apperance. A brand new way to tell a story through movement. One that required more character, more styles of dance and more costumes! I discovered Musical Theater. Suddenly, I was at rehearsal 5-7 days a week, dancing in up to 10 shows a year depending on what shows were on the slate for that season. I got to be everything from a go-go dancer in ancient Egypt (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), to a burlesque dancer of questionable intelligence (Gypsy), to a can-can dancer trying to seduce the rugged cowboy (Oklahoma) to a potential bride for a handsome price (Cinderella). I was never the star of the show, but I was in several numbers helping to make the story more exciting, more vivid, more emotional. Through the girls I dances with in shows I found a new dance studio that was a perfect fit for me. I could dance and perform, but still play soccer and ride horses and never once was I made to feel like the way I looked was more important then my ability to do the moves or my size trumped my effort. Dance became the focus of my energy and when it was time to fly the coup and head to college it was dance that I looked to study.
Again I found myself faced with adversity relating to the way I looked. Some colleges wouldn't even let me audition because I didn't fit their strict size guidelines. I look back at pictures of myself from 2000, and I see a skinny girl, but in the world of dance 5'9" was too tall and 140lbs too heavy. So I looked around, and I started my college career (and it is a long one... but that's a story for another time) at SUNY Brockport and quickly discovered that it was not the school for me.
After one very long year there I transferred to the University of Tampa and it was there that I went from being a player in someone else's stories to telling my own. The director of the dance program at UT is a fabulous woman named Susan Taylor-Lennon and from day one she empowers every single dancer, regardless of ability or talent, to create their own stories... and to do so with LOVE. I found myself surrounded by dancers of all shapes and sizes, all colors and backgrounds and we all came together everyday because we loved to dance and perform. Everything else was secondary. Susan gave us an extraordinary amount of control over our dances. We did everything from choreograph our own numbers to running the auditions. We were in charge of our music edits, our lighting and sound and all the costumes. For many of us it was the first time we got to create a dance from our own hearts and tell our own stories and it was amazing. I began by sticking to what I knew- choreographing mostly Broadway style dances, but I quickly branched out into modern and contemporary and was shocked to find out that I really liked those styles. Part of what I loved was that I had complete control over the narrative and could bend and mold the story until it fit what I saw in my head when I heard the music. My favorite piece, and I'm really sad that I can't find a video of it, was called Hoodoos and it told the story of the spirits who live in the canyons and hills of the Southwest. It was my Senior year and I finally felt like I had come into my own as a choreographer and as a storyteller.
Now some of you might be thinking that dance isn't really storytelling. I can assure you that it is. In fact, as part of the dance program I actually took a storytelling class and attended a storytelling festival. It's interesting to now be taking another storytelling class, this time with the focus on digital storytelling. A lot of the core themes and ideas are the same, but in 2004 we were not using computers as a tool. In fact my final project included a poster and presentation- and I told the story of my Grandmother's weeping Virgin Mary statue and how my great aunt threw herself into my grandfathers grave when he died. That too, is a story for another time. In short, for me dance and storytelling have always gone hand in hand.
Now, I teach. In the library I tell stories all day, and I'm lucky enough that we have an all school show that I can choreograph so I still get to use dance to tell stories. This year we did Annie and teaching my middle schoolers to use movement to tell a story. I also still take dance classes, at the same studio I danced at when I was 14, with some of the same people. On top of that, this year my kiddo started taking classes and I get to watch as she starts to explore and learn to tell a story through dance. This year, I'm telling the story of a hot night full of Latin music and she's a fairy in a winter wonderland, learning how to build a snowman.
Stories are all around us everyday. Sometimes we hear them in a word, our feel them flow by on a melody, and sometimes we see them in a dance... you just have to look around to see it.
This page is my home for all my studies. Initially started when I was a graduate student at Syracuse University in Library & Information Science:School Media, it has seen me through that degree plus a CAS in Cultural Heritage Preservation.
Starting in the Fall of 2018 I will use it for my newest endeavor, a certificate in Native American Studies at Montana State University.
On occasion I will also post interesting articles or my thoughts on things related to my job as a Middle School Librarian in an Expeditionary Learning School.