Seeing the dance in the everyday

The older I get, the more I look at life as a series of forks in the road. Sometimes a life-changing fork is immediately obvious - a new job, a move - and sometimes it is not. A comment or a chance encounter can be a fork if it changes us and the way we approach the rest of our lives. Marta Renzi did that for me.

In 1983, she was a well-known choreographer and dancer. I was just a college student fortunate enough to study with her for one glorious month. She probably doesn't remember me, but I certainly remember her. We immersed ourselves in dance, my friends and I, studying with Ms. Renzi for marathon day after marathon day. We lived and breathed dance. Later, some of us actually became dancers, if only for a short time. But for me, her longest-lasting legacy was teaching me to look for dance in the most unlikely places.

Dance is everywhere, she said. Don't confine yourself to seeing it only on stage. Stare at a construction site, for example, and you'll see deftly choreographed action - dance in operation. At the time, the concept struck me as ridiculous; but I had an open mind. More important, I trusted her. So I began to observe my surroundings more closely, and quickly I saw that she was right: Dance is everywhere.

I was reminded of that just yesterday, on Main Street in my town. My husband and I had just piled into the car when the fire alarm began to sound. Here, the alarm seems to stop time: Its booming sound drowns out all others. Even hands clapped to ears do no good; the booming baritone seems to pulse through one's body. The noise is deafening, and my instinct is always the same: Flee! But not yesterday. "Let's stay and watch," said my husband uncharacteristically.

With the beat of the fire alarm as its score, the dance began.

Pickups, SUVs, and sports cars sped to the station, blue lights flashing.

The vehicles screeched into parking spots one by one and their drivers jumped out and ran fulltilt inside. The fire chief sped by, lights blazing, and we heard the clomping of a man's feet on the sidewalk. As he raced by our car, he pulled on his uniform, completing the metamorphosis from citizen to firefighter. By now we could hear the fire engines churning, and we watched the fire fighters leap aboard, some still dressing as the engines roared down the street. With no time to waste, the crew wasted no energy, either. It was, as Marta Renzi would have said, dance in action.

The economy of the firefighters' movements infused them with a natural grace they didn't know they had. They were beautiful to watch. (We were also moved by their dedication - to a person, they are not paid.)

And so I observe those around me: the four masons toiling at a neighbor's wall, so used to working together that their work is swift and devoid of chatter. I study parents pushing their kids on the swings outside the public library, and experiment to see if rolling up the car window - to mute the noise - accentuates the magic of the moment. (It does.)

I put down my book and watch my two girls cavort in the pool with my husband. One is a graceful and accomplished diver, the other just as good a swimmer, and suddenly I realize that this dance will not last forever.

Looking for dance around me is also about living in the moment, really living, paying attention, looking for grace and goodness, and appreciating those moments of dance - however unlikely the choreographer.

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