Dance in the Bloodlines

July 15, 2009

My mother was my first dance teacher, and as I walk through my apartment surrounded by books on dance; as I go to the theater and enjoy watching dance; as I do my eight grand pliés every day; and as I work all day on dance-related sentences and pages as an editor; I think, This is all a gift from my mother. She danced herself (she had a scholarship to study with Martha Graham and later danced with Jane Dudley), and opened a dance school in our basement in New Jersey when I was little. She taught what was called “interpretive dance” so I learned how to pick invisible flowers and have slow-motion fights. She also took me to my first ballet lessons, watched all my performances, and came to my concerts when I choreographed. But more than a career, what I got from her was something more basic: the impulse to move. Whenever my mother heard music, her body would sway or bounce. Whenever we watched a dance concert together, whether it was ballet, modern, or tap, she loved every minute—even into her late 80s. She died last week, fairly peacefully. Two days before, on my last visit, I was helping her point and flex her feet. Though she was nearly immobile, I could still feel, under my hands, the faint impulse to move.