body and soul

I can feel my life changing all the time as I grow and evolve and as my kids grow and change as well. We are sailing far past the baby and toddler days. I don’t monitor anyone’s bathroom habits much anymore. (Thank you Lord sweet baby Jesus. So glad that is over.) I don’t wake in the middle of the night unless there’s a nightmare or a sickness. I don’t keep extra clothes in my car for accidents. I don’t structure my days around nap time. There’s a lot of freedom that comes with this new era, and I’m finding that I’m relieved to see it arrive. It’s no secret that I loved my days with tiny babies, but it’s only magical because it’s a passing season. Now we are on to something new.

But the thing I didn’t foresee with this new chapter is the busy school schedule. School-aged kids always have something going on, it seems. This month alone brings two birthday parties, a field trip, a school-wide field day, a class breakfast, end-of-the-year teacher gifts, and a ballet recital. It’s always something.

I got Norah to her ballet dress rehearsal on Saturday, and the two of us took a moment to get her dressed in my office since it’s a few steps from the university theater where her performance was held. She was so sweet with her tiny tutu and tights that never quite fit without a few wrinkles at that age. She met her class backstage, and their excitement was tangible. You could see that each of them felt so special, but they also loved the camaraderie of their matching ensembles. It reminded me so much of my backstage ballet memories and friendships.



She rehearsed her piece twice over, and I changed her again and brought her to her dad’s where she was staying this weekend. After that, I went to the gym and headed to the grocery store, and was generally feeling exhausted from the crazy pace of May and resigned to a night of take-out and pajamas on my couch as a result. My phone buzzed in the check-out line though, and a friend urged me to head out with a large group of us. I’d originally thought I needed to take a pass to focus on mom duties this weekend, but it didn’t take much nudging to change my mind, so when I got home, I threw the groceries in the fridge, changed clothes as fast as I could, and raced out to meet my carpool.

What is it about a group of strong women that makes us capable of getting straight to real talk right away? My friends have always been significant to me, but I think as I age and experience life, I get even better at recognizing kindred spirits. I’m grateful for all of them. It sometimes seems like the universe plops these people right in front of me, and maybe it does. But I know I am responsible for that, too. The energy you send out returns to you. If you focus on the right things in life, those ideas always rise to the top of whatever other noise there is, and you eventually find yourself surrounded by like-minded people.


We ate and laughed for hours, and no topic was off limits for conversation. Someone decided we should head nearby to a basement dance club that plays old 90’s hip hop, and even those of us who swore we were only coming for dinner and were headed home by midnight (famous last words, right?) followed suit with a little convincing.

Is there anything better than the combination of girlfriends and laughing and dancing and music that brings nostalgia? I really don’t think there is. Dance is such a life force in the same way that yoga is for me. It feels like meditation in a different sense. There are so few experiences in life that force you to focus on exactly what is in front of you at that moment and nothing more. We spend so much time thinking about what our bodies look like in our day-to-day lives as society continually screams these messages at women particularly. What we forget to notice is what it feels like to be in your own body. Dance does that like nothing else can.


I took it for granted, growing up inside the walls of a ballet studio, that my body would always feel that familiar to me. I spent at least five nights a week for well over a decade dancing with friends in one way or another. Life is different now, but sometimes you get the chance to do it all over again with a familiar soundtrack, and it fills you up in the best way. When I read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection last summer, I noted a passage where she explains how her research reflected that dance is a necessary part of whole-hearted living; she claims that “laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.” It’s those communal moments with different individuals moving to the same music that place you inside your own body in a way that is necessary and often forgotten but somehow also allow you to tap into something greater – that emotional and spiritual connection Brown speaks of.

I only got something like four hours of sleep before Norah’s show the next day, but it was all worth it. After dressing her and dropping her off backstage, I studied the program while I was seated in the theater and waiting. I noted when her dance was scheduled and was preparing myself for the usual happy-sad mom tears that come at moments like this. But I surprised myself that I didn’t shed a tear at all for her piece.

Instead, I choked back a swell of tears that caught me by surprise when the first piece in the program began. It was a modern ballet performed by dancers I do not know at all. But something about the combination of the choreography, the lights, and the swell of music softened me in that place where good art always resonates. That deep recognition “your bones recognize as if you’ve created it,” as Andrea Hollander says. That missing piece that connects you to something outside of yourself. We are body and soul – all of us. And dance in any form reminds me of that every time.


Norah seemed to enjoy her time on stage, and I snapped a few pictures outside the theater. When we were home later last night, she asked if she could wear her costume the rest of the day, and I said yes. She played inside and lazed around on the couch in her lace and crinoline. And as I was making dinner, I looked out the patio doors to find her outside in the backyard twirling and twirling all by herself. The May sun was slanting a bit in that way it always does a couple hours before dark, and it would catch a glinting sequin every now and then. It felt so real and true to see her living in her own body and her own world without regard to anything else.

At the end of the day, as I turned off lights and headed upstairs to bed, I stopped to scribble a note for my gratitude jar like always. I was surprised as I reflected on the day that my best moment was not the big performance or the dressing room excitement or seeing her proud face with the flowers; it was the shimmering sunlight and the twirling dress and her quiet joy as she went round and round all by herself.





dancing shoes

The kids arrive home this afternoon, and I am so incredibly ready to see them.  It’s felt like a long week for sure. I think my introverted self has been a little too extended on the social outings and distractions, but that aside, it’s feeling a little easier to settle into a comfortable pace around here alone. Silence and stillness at the end of the week did not feel as strange as they did in the beginning.

I lucked out that a reunion celebration coincided with my kid-free time this weekend, and it brought so much happy. I’m grateful for the timing.  This keeps happening to me (Thanks, God) that these glittering moments and experiences shine through any darkness that starts to creep in.  Sometimes these little things happen alone – when I’m driving and the scenery is sunny and pretty and the perfect song is on the radio, when I settle in on the couch and my dog curls at my feet to snore a bit.  And sometimes they happen in the presence of others I know and love so well.  However they unfold for me, I’m so grateful for these little moments of happy.

So last night brought an anniversary celebration for the ballet studio where I trained and grew up. I’m not sure that I’ve written much about my life as a dancer and my love of ballet before. But as any dancer knows, once that gets in your blood, so to speak, it’s impossible to shake it out.

Dance was such an enormous part of my life growing up, and I think I spent more time at the studio than I did at home by the time I was in high school. I eventually quit – after dabbling a little in a few classes in college but realizing my calling was certainly elsewhere – but the lessons ballet teaches you stick with you forever. Grace under pressure, determination, calm focus, and perseverance. And most importantly, a notion that you are competing with yourself, not those around you. As a tiny child of only three years old, I was placed in a dance class by my mom who enrolled me in ballet simply because I was so incredibly quiet and shy that she wanted me to maybe open up a little and have a new experience. As I look back at ballet pictures and memories, I see that tiny shy girl slowly evolve to something more self-assured, and it’s largely because of my dance training.

recital 1989

So many people don’t quite understand the focus and practice that goes into a ballet class or a dance performance. Whether it’s remembering choreography on the spot or trying just that much harder when you thought you’d already exceeded your abilities, it gives you skills and perspective that stay with you forever. In the midst of high school stresses and usual dramas and adolescent uncertainty, the dance studio was always the one place I could go to leave it all behind.

Nutcracker 1998

Nutcracker 1998 25

But the very best part of dancing all those years is the friendships I made. I was lucky to fall into a group of girls in my studio who can always make me laugh and shed some new light on the world. We were mostly from different area high schools which was enormously helpful in getting out of your own little bubble that seems to exist in high school. When I walked in the studio after a day at school, I remember knowing that these girls knew me for who I was and could put a smile on my face, no matter what. My greatest memories are not in the spotlight onstage but backstage and in dressing rooms and in a sweaty studio.

Nutcracker 1998 30

backstage 1995

So when I got the chance this weekend to honor our Director and catch up with old dance friends, it felt like such a treat. And these girls? We have known each other more than 20 years, and so much life has happened since then. Happy things like career accomplishments and graduations and marriage and babies. But also hard things – parents lost too soon, medical trials and surgeries, divorces, heartbreak, and even the loss of one of our dancing sisters to Ovarian Cancer before she reached thirty. There were laughs and tears last night. And laughing through tears which I am convinced adds years to your life on the rare occasion that it occurs. Life, man. It’s crazy how fast it’s happening, no? But it just keeps getting better, and friendships just get richer once you weather a storm or two. It takes some heartbreak to know joy, I think. And I’m starting to feel grateful for that perspective.

Dance Reunion 2015

These women. I’m thankful for everything they are and realizing that sometimes it takes someone who’s known you a really, really long time to understand you in the way the rest of the world just never will.

Dance Reunion 2015

And my abs got the best workout imaginable last night because I laughed until I hurt. And I mean that. My voice was raspy this morning, and my tummy is tight and sore from the laughter. How can old friends and old memories do that to us in the very best way?

Dance Reunion 2015

It makes me see the possibility in everything else, too. I feel so old and so new, all at the same time. So much behind me and so much in front of me. And at 34, I still find myself laughing and dancing in a parking lot with my oldest friends, and I hope it will always be this way.

Dance Reunion 2015

I drove home thinking of all I know now that I didn’t know then, the many ways my life has become better and richer since I was 18 with a world in front of me. And the very best part is that I will have those same thoughts twenty years from now as well. It’s getting better and better, y’all. It feels so good to look ahead and see nothing but possibilities on the horizon.