Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tiny Dancer

In Jericho on Wednesday, before the evening program, a little girl in a white dress came through the doors. She stood, quietly, at the threshold. She was perhaps 3 or 4 with wide eyes, midnight blue-brown hair and caramel skin; a beautiful child. Shy. 

Or so she seemed. 

To her left was the stairway to the stage and the 20 foot wide mural of Hisham’s Palace, a ruin and relic of a bygone era of dominance and majesty. The stairs, and then the stage, caught her eye in that singular way, that love at first sight way, that tells you about a passion that is wordless and even were there language for it, it would be inadequate irrespective of the skill of the speaker. Moth to the flame, bee to the honey she made for it.

Small feet in small shoes, to the sounds of American folk-pop-soul singer Amos Lee, she found the light and then simply started dancing. There was a pattern in it, a way about it, that said she’d been watching someone somewhere who knew dubka, the folk dancing of the Palestinians and the Arabs in the region. The arms angled and the knees bent and the feet tapped, and if there had been traditional music it would have been a culture-specific moment. But the sounds were utterly American, and the dress baby-white and as easily fit into Jersey as Jericho.

That moment, at that stage in her life, was a road to anywhere moment. All cultures, all paths, lie open to her in this instant. She is not Arab, not Palestinian, not American or Chilean. She’s just a child who hears a sound and the sound is a calling and the stage is the place to which she is drawn to answer that calling.

It’s a safe bet that Amos Lee was never heard on that stage, in that theater, before that moment. Yet his rhythms, his soul, both as a genre and a life, spoke to her regardless of spoken language. She danced as she knew as he sang as he knew. English and Arabic were irrelevant. Culture as defines us and demands of us a way of doing and a way of being, was lost in the freedom of being atop a marly floor in the early evening hours of an April dusk.

Watching this from a few feet away I lost track of the conversation I was in, a brief dialogue with our hosts, the American Consulate General, Jerusalem, the office within the Department of State that is responsible for US-Palestinian relations. My camera was 20 feet away and it, too, was calling.

Some people sense the camera. Most shy from it. A few indulge it and a far smaller number still are turned on by it. She was in the latter category. That lens was for her the audience she sought. Where moments earlier she was dancing in and for herself, the shutter click of my camera was transformative. In the best traditions of a super-model she moved to and for the lens. It was utterly organic for her.

Some days, weeks and years from now I will wonder about this little girl from a 10,000 year old city. Will she find herself along that incredibly difficult path towards becoming a practicing artist as she is a natural one? Will the tools, techniques and possibilities open for her as they have for others in my world? How much harder will that path be for her than it has been for Kathryn or Giselle? Will there be a path and what are our possibilities for helping to foster it? This is, ostensibly, why we are here at all – to set a road which leads to artistic opportunity for young dancers and artists who can follow a passion born into them at a genetic level.

I wonder for her, and for the ones like her who bounce off our world too easily and too briefly. What does the future hold, and what is our responsibility to it? When you come to a place and introduce an art, when even for a few that art is a light bulb, how do you keep the current flowing? And if you can’t, have you done better by them or worse by them for simply juicing it up for just long enough to see the contents of the cave, the colors and contrasts, the illuminations of possibilities. It’s a question which follows me around throughout my time away from the options of our schools in DC, where there is actually an opportunity to do something when you see that child in that moment.

The odds are that the little girl in white has crossed my path, and my lens, for the only time in our lives. But she’s burned into my mental lens as surely as into my camera lens, and its not clear to me what that will lead to.

Just after noon, Saturday April 17th, I wonder if she’s at home, dancing.

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