My oldest daughter Jenny has loved to dance since she started taking ballet lessons when she was a little girl. As a teenager, she took dance class every day as a student at Broad Ripple High School’s Center for the Humanities and the Performing Arts; she was a dance major at Butler University. Her love for ballet morphed into a love for jazz and musical theater along the way and, after college, she gave professional dancing her best shot. She won a scholarship at a good studio in New York and lived in the city for a while, checking coats at the Sherry Netherland Hotel and doing various other weird jobs to pay the rent—like being a Ninja Turtle for a day. She worked in and out of New York and, in time, earned her Equity card. But a dancer’s life is a hard one, even if it goes well, and she came home after a few years and went to law school. Now she’s married, with a little boy (my fabulous grandson, Jake); a partner in a commercial law firm…and she’s still dancing.
This determination to continue to make a place for dance in her busy life is one of the things I love best about my daughter. I love watching Jenny dance; it’s like watching joy in motion. I never get tired of it.
Over the years, I’ve see I’ve seen her perform in community theater productions of, among others, Joseph and the Amazing Dream Coat (four times!), Swing, Annie, My Fair Lady, Little Shop of Horrors, The Wizard of Oz, Smokey Joe’s, Anything Goes, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
This holiday season she was a tapping Santa in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Yuletide.” There were a dozen or so Santas, all dressed exactly the same, but I instantly recognized Jenny. She was the Santa most totally there, in the moment, her movement perfectly in synch with the others and, at the same time, uniquely her own.
My grandkids love to watch her dance, too—and at seven and eight, they’re already (well, for the most part) good little theatergoers. “My mom’s in the show,” Jake proudly tells pretty much everyone who will listen. He puffs up every time Jenny comes on-stage. Heidi leans forward in her seat, legs crossed, rapt. It’s lovely to see. After Yuletide, as after every performance, they presented Jenny with a bouquet of flowers, beaming at the glamour of it all. It's way cool for your mom/aunt to be a performer, to hang out backstage with her and meet all the people you just saw on stage.
But what I hope they’ll carry into their own adulthoods from watching Jenny dance is the realization that you can be a grown-up, with all the responsibilities that entails, and still keep what you loved most when you were young close to your heart, a fundamental part of your best, truest self...forever.