July in Orlando. The air, dense with moisture, erupts into a downpour nearly every afternoon. Puddles swell, parking lots flood. The water sloshes onto the thin fabric of my dance pants as I hurry into the Winter Park Community Center, where I meet up with other members of Gypsy Sa’har; the center has a full-size dance studio, available to residents free of charge. We’re gathered to practice the routines we learned in spring, a lively tambourine number and graceful Persian dance, as well as a new choreography involving vases called, “Spiritual Waters.” The song and steps are slow, earthy and ethereal at once; as we stride onstage, jugs balanced atop our heads, kneel, and scoop from an imaginary river, the imagery conjures up the classical. In becoming the water- maidens, we evoke something often forgotten in our modern lives— a reverence for water as the element that sustains life and refreshes us, the age-old symbol of rebirth.
When our dance instructor, Suspira, announced two months ago that we’d be learning “Spiritual Waters” for our upcoming summer show, July 28th, I have to admit I felt a pang of reluctance. I prefer drum solos and faster, upbeat numbers; the original “Spiritual Waters” was among the first routines I’d seen performed a few years ago, one I’d deemed mellow, verging on boring. How quickly we judge, label, and cast aside, not only in art but in life, rather than take a closer look and give something worthwhile a fair chance.
I used to plot my escape from Florida summers—first in graduate school, when I saved up money from waiting tables for family trips to Europe, or study abroad sojourns like the Prague Summer Program, or the month I spent in Paris, studying French. Who wants to spend summer in Florida, in the oppressive heat, getting drenched every afternoon? I thought; this is the generally accepted view, after all. I’ve heard people say that summer is Florida’s winter, everyone shut up inside, A/C blasting, half the neighborhood away on vacation, the mood dull, even depressing.
Yet over the past few summers, and especially this one, I have learned to embrace Florida’s summer and what it brings, not only through dance, but writing. The rainy season is like winter, yes, in that what it offers is the opportunity to delve inside for longer periods than in the drier, more temperate months, when the beautiful weather beckons, and friends call to meet up at sidewalk cafés for drinks. This time of year, freelance assignments have temporarily dwindled, email queries ping back with auto-responders alerting me to editors’ vacations, and my boyfriend, similarly engrossed in his artistic pursuits, has been setting up his new loft in Jersey City.
I’ve briefly touched on spirituality in writing and dance before for this column, but most of the time the focus tends to be on the dharma of craft and practice—all positive, and I hope, useful analogies for artists across mediums. But what the paring down of my hectic assignment-juggling routine has revealed in my recent weeks spent indoors, confined by the stifling heat and drumming rain, is how the mellow, quiet and seemingly “boring” can be occasions for intense introspection and transformation. Summer may be Florida’s most deceptive and misunderstood season, passed over as readily as I did the water-vase dance.
In rehearsal, as I lift and set down my vase, rock and sway with my fellow dancers, silently counting to myself—it is much more difficult to execute slow movements with precision and control than fast ones—I connect with the not only the physical grace of the dance, but the grace within. So often we thirst for the more glaring, overt truths to arise and point us in a certain direction. Show me what to do, we plead to God or the universe, on the lookout for signs: as writers, this often means acceptance of our work, feedback from esteemed editors, agents, or writing mentors, or fellowships, awards, and the like. We hunger for epiphanies as we devour great works. But truth can be subtle by nature, the quiet, persistent kind easy to overlook and purposefully ignore.
For instance, once I let go of my conviction that the water-dance would be less-than-exciting to learn and perform, an emotional connection forged with the movements. Something revelatory and exciting in a different way was born.
In our desperation for outward signs, how often do we ignore the inward—gloss over the risks and opportunities we may be resisting, whether out of fear or stubborn pre-judgment—I don’t want to leave Florida, even though teaching positions here may be limited; I don’t want to move to New York or New Jersey, even though doing so may prove beneficial to my literary goals. It’s too crowded, too cold, too competitive, too filled with pretentious artsy snobs who will reject me. For while I’ve recently spent my secluded hours generating new, exciting fiction and learning the joys of a simple water-jug dance, I’ve smacked up against some hard truths in the inescapable heat of midsummer—that for the sake of my writing, and where I hope it will lead, I may very well need to leave here.
I hadn’t realized how much I’d been railing against this, but I had—with every new issue of Poets & Writers and AWP Jobs List, I’d passed over well-regarded teaching and fellowship opportunities, many of which were in New England or some other frosty, unfamiliar place. As I regard this statement, for the first time, in words, it strikes me as even more foolish and cowardly. Perhaps part of my reluctance lies in not wanting to leave the warmth and sunshine (okay, a lot of it does), but a greater part has to do with not wanting to accept a grim reality—the limitations of a state which consistently falls in the worst brackets for unemployment and instructor salaries. And another, more legitimate reluctance, that of leaving the many friendships I have formed here over the years, and the knowledge that I may have to leave dance behind, should Provincetown, MA, Portsmouth, RI, or wherever else I may land, lack a Bellydance community.
This shirking of opportunity elsewhere looks downright silly when you consider I might apply to all of these competitive positions and fellowships and not get any of them. So why not fling open the door widely, and embrace what change may, or may not, come? As soon as I made the decision to do so, I felt renewed, lighter than I had in weeks. I’d been holding back on this so fiercely, I had not even realized it; I was astounded. Which made me think, what else have I been resisting, that I may not even be aware of? In my writing, as well as other areas in life? For I knew what I’d been resisting in dance.
My novel manuscript is still circulating among agents, the new, tighter draft accumulating a steady stream of rejection. Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to the small but nagging feeling of what may be holding the draft back; the notion floated to mind the other night, echoed a few days later by a thoughtful and well-reputed agent: “I wonder if telling this all in the third person would allow the story to go to the most interesting places.” To call the rewriting of a 450-page novel from first person to third a daunting task would be an understatement; no wonder I’ve been reluctant to acknowledge the pervading problems hinted at by some agents (although this one was the first to nail down point-of-view as the potential problem). But as I face the other choice—continue to market a flawed novel, which could be transformed with a lot of revision and grunt work, the path I must go down feels inevitable. Why continue to resist? So I’ve been gradually accepting the possibility of—yet another—rewrite, a massive overhaul. But some things we can only put off for so long, when the whispers, at long last, mount to a roar.
Today’s writing finished, I pick up my vase and practice the floor work section, my favorite part of the dance. The rains have recently stopped; cars splash through the parking lot; the A/C clicks on with a hush sound. It’s only mid-July, and the wet season has left me humbled and invigorated. I look forward to performing “Spiritual Waters” with gratitude and anticipation, and wonder—what will the rest of this season bring?