“I’m a dancer”…”I used to dance?”…”Am I still an artist?”
Truth is, I have no idea how to talk about dance and the role it played in my life. Truth is, I may never know how to talk about dance and the role it played in my life. Whenever it comes up in conversation, I feel like it’s this ugly divorce that I don’t really know how to explain to people, let alone myself. “Oh you know, it was just something I did everyday…for hours a day…for you know…18 years of my life, and then just stopped, no biggie, not much of a story here! Next question please?”.
I have a daily “inner-battle” with myself regarding this notion of “giving up” on dance, that’s quickly resolved by feeding myself various self-assuring and comforting phrases that it was “meant to be”. Some days I deal with it better than others, some days I cringe at my externally rotated gait and try my absolute hardest to walk in a more “parallel” position with my feet, and some days I just want to tombé, pas de boureé, glissade, grande jeté my way around rather than walk.
It’ll be six years on Sunday that Merce Cunningham, a modern dance legend and choreographer, passed away. Merce was by far my favorite choreographer, artist, & source of inspiration. At a time when choreographers were creating dances based on stories and a set “narrative”, Merce focused solely on the body; the anatomy of humans & the capability of this anatomy. His dancers weren’t portraying characters, they were simply themselves moving through time and space. Beautiful, articulate, honest rawness.
“There’s no thinking involved in my choreography… I don’t work through images or ideas. I work through the body… If the dancer dances, which is not the same as having theories about dancing or wishing to dance or trying to dance, everything is there. When I dance, it means: this is what I am doing.” -Merce Cunningham
Merce & Carolyn Brown rehearsing Suite in Westbeth Studio with John Cage at the piano, 1972. Photo by James Klosty
It’s around this time every year that I think back to my college summers in the city, living in Queens (with no air conditioning), taking class daily at Cunningham’s iconic top floor studio at Westbeth, taping my blistered feet, slathering Tiger Balm on daily (or 3 times a day), eating plenty of this salad, and loving every minute of my pseudo starving artist/poor college kid living in New York City life.
Event at Westbeth Studio, Andy Warhol’s silver clouds used in Cunningham’s RainForest, premiered 1968. Photo by Nicholas Croft
This recipe happens to come from my first Cunningham teacher in college, Banu Ogan, who danced in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1993-2001. Ironically enough, Banu’s food blog, A Hungry Bear Won’t Dance, was one of the first food blogs that I ever read. She was a huge inspiration to me; as an impressionable 19-year old at the time of first meeting, I quickly looked up to her as a dancer, teacher, home cook, blogger, and confident woman. I used to snack on this salad throughout days of long technique classes, rehearsals, and during performance time it was pretty much the only thing I could stomach. The sweetness of the pineapple & basil offset with the spicy peppers is a unique taste that energizes the body & settles the stomach. Also the pineapple has great anti-inflammatory properties for a tired and overworked body, which Banu speaks about here. I added the ginger root and turmeric powder for an anti-inflammatory bonus!
Note: Upon eating a bowl of this salad, I found myself at the grocery store, bought tortillas, made fresh chips, & ate this as a salsa.
Pineapple, Red Pepper, Jalapeño, and Basil Salad
-3 C. pineapple, diced
-1 red pepper, seeded & diced
-1 jalapeño, seeded & minced
-1/4 C. fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
-1 inch cube of ginger root, peeled & minced
-1 tsp. ground turmeric
-Salt & pepper to taste
-Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl, stir.
-Season with salt & pepper to taste, a drizzle of coconut oil wouldn’t hurt here either, serve chilled & enjoy.
And while I may no longer dance, I still use and challenge my body everyday & it makes me happy. I also teach others to use and challenge their own body everyday, that also makes me happy. And I reminisce & treasure the 18 years of my life where I woke up every morning just waiting to dance, a beautiful passion that shaped the person/trainer/athlete/teacher/coach/artist/woman who I am today.
And I always think of Merce, who didn’t distinguish people by what they “were” be it a dancer or not, but rather by what they’re bodies could do.