The girls and I stand in the brightly lit, mirrored studio. They’ve just learned new choreography and after running through it, I ask them to describe the feeling of the music as well as the quality of the variation. I explain to them that, as I’ve watched, it seems as though some of them are executing the steps without an understanding of the quality. I encourage them to think about the music, because their quality of movement flows from the quality of the notes. Eventually one young dancer says, “There’s a lot of pauses in the music. And in the choreography, the times when we pause are really, really important.” This is where the conversation needed to go.
I share with the girls the well known and often quoted words of the composer, Mozart: “Silence is very important. The silence between the notes are as important as the notes themselves.” We talk about how beauty comes when the dancer uses stillness, realizing that being still is not a break from moving but rather a way of moving.
The girls try the choreography one more time.
One dancer, she gets it. As she moves, there are moments of subtle strength and exquisite grace; strong feet stretching into floor; body lifted, suspended; arms still, but reaching, never-ending; face lifted in moments of soft wonder.
She finishes the variation and looks over at me, wondering, but already knowing. Our eyes meet and I say nothing but the answer is written on my face. I nod. This is what it’s about. As much as no dancer can accomplish anything without the necessary foundation of excellent technique, no dancer can stir the soul without learning how to still between the movement, how to breathe between the notes.
In music, the silence is just as important as the notes.
In dance, the stillness is just as important as movement.
But what about in life?
Dance, music, life--it’s all interwoven. The older I get, the longer I teach, the longer I’m a mom and a wife, the clearer I behold the intricate, beautiful tapestry that is life and art.
The dance studio is a room surrounded by mirrors and the movement in this space reflects and imitates the movement outside of it. Oscar Wilde said that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life," and I think, in some ways at least, he was right.
In the choreography of life, of motherhood, slowing the pace and being still is just as important as movement and accomplishment. But far too often I forget this. Each day fills, the pace is quick, there’s a long list of things to accomplish, places to go, activities to do, rooms to clean, laundry to be done, errands to run, homework to finish, meals to make, music lessons to attend, emails to write… The curtain rises and sets on each day and, as I move through life's choreography, I somehow miss so many of the moments of quiet pause. All the things on the 'to do' list are important things and good things and things that must be done. But they're not everything.
Being still is just as important as movement.
As I stand there talking with my students about silence between notes, about breathing without moving, about those transcendent qualities that distinguish exceptional dancers from ordinary ones, I realize that the conversation is not just about dance.
The conversation is also about life.
This conversation is for them, in this moment of their life as a dancer; this conversation is also for me, in this moment of my life as a mother.
I take my oldest son to his guitar lesson and we walk along together in the closing curtain of twilight. The sidewalks is covered in leaves that crunch under our feet. We kick them about as we walk. His little mittened-hand holds my own. We’re not rushing, we’re just enjoying. We arrive at his lesson early and have a few minutes to spend quietly, just the two of us. I kneel down so that we’re close, our faces side by side. Together we watch the wind catch leaves and gently twirl them down. It’s a moment of being still, of stopping the pace and just breathing and loving. My eyes glisten with tears because so often in the fast-paced choreography of the every day, these moments are skipped and I don’t even realize I’ve missed them.
But tomorrow we start a new dance.
Will I be a listening for the silence between the notes?