Dance in the Delta
I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community. ~St. Augustine
The outlines appeared as the house lights dimmed and the stage lights brightened; the long, lithe, muscular bodies of the dancers casting shadows. A dancer’s body is a thing of beauty, a work of art, poetry in motion. All the typical descriptions apply, they glide, they float, movement and contraction appearing effortless, graceful while leaping across the stage, remaining supple even as they soar.
The Alvin Ailey II dance company performed in Helena, Arkansas at the Lily Peter Auditorium as part of the Warfield Concert Series. It should be no surprise that a city rich in musical history would be rich in other arts. The Warfield Series is funded by a gift from the estate of the late Samuel Drake Warfield who lived in Helena his entire life. What a beautiful gift to leave your beloved community, the gift of art.
I listened as the ladies surrounding me murmured appreciation for the skill of the performers onstage. In moments of silence when the music ended, I could hear the breath of the women next to me, anticipating the next movement. During intermission, I watched as two young girls in the row in front of us had an animated conversation about the performance. “Did you see how high her leg went?” “I can’t believe they can jump like that!” But the most important phrase I heard? “I want to dance like that.”
Of course! Every young girl who sees a professional dance company probably has dreams of leaping across a stage someday. And I can only assume that these young ladies were part of the lucky group of youngsters who were treated to a class led by the dance company members the day before. For young people to have the opportunity to not only be exposed to the performing arts as spectators, but to be drawn in and given a chance to experience art in a very personal way, could be life altering.
In my mind’s eye I see the girls a few years from now. One has continued to take dance lessons and decides she is going to give back to the community that supported her love of movement, she opens a dance studio and leads another generation of dancers to express the rhythms of life through dance. Or perhaps she moves away to attend university on a dance scholarship, studies business and returns to her home to build a successful life in her beloved Delta, giving back by being a good employer. Perhaps the other girl continues to take dance but decides that dance in itself is not for her. Maybe the flexibility she desired to mimic will lead her to yoga. As an adult she opens a yoga studio that serves her community by encouraging healthy habits. In a community with high rates of hypertension, what better gift to give back than one that promotes health, wellness and relaxation techniques?
With many school districts across the country choosing to cut arts programs from their curriculum, it’s important that community programs like the Warfield Series continue to expose young people to art like the Alvin Ailey II Dance Company. Exposure to active art, like dance, becomes even more important as schools reduce P.E. and recess time. I’ll be watching for the next season of great productions from the Warfield Series and invite you to keep watch with me. I’ll be visiting Helena-West Helena more often now that I know about some of the local gems that I’ve been missing.
I attended the Alvin Ailey II performance at the invitation of the Helena Advertising and Promotion Commission. All ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.