Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Many of my friends have extraordinary bodies.

As a dancer, many of my friends are elegantly muscled and finely detailed. Slim. Taut. Prominent are their ledges of bone, their planes of muscle, their particular and striated curves. They are rarely heavy and never what a sensible person might call fat. They are, without exception, beautiful.

Nalo Hopkinson is a writer. She is a hefty, sturdy woman with wild hair. When I met her, she was teaching my class at Clarion. She was standing in front of a classroom, or sitting at a desk, or walking sedately across a university campus, but it was still so obvious that she possessed an impressive physical spaciousness and an unusual combination of ebullience and gravitas that should drive any dancer to envy. Her body has the gift of bending space toward it when she moves, of being so interesting that she becomes a ravishing pool of motion that eyes continuously slide back to.

Some months ago, I read Nalo's blog post about a dance piece she performed in 1998. She writes about the experience of performing from a body that does not fall in the typical aesthetic range of Western theatrical dance and posts an article from the Toronto Star.

And, for some reason, it just smacked me between the eyes. The physical allocation of beauty plucks at us every day (of course it does). We try so hard to be beautiful, and we try so hard to know what is beautiful so that we can have it. And the funny thing is that, in the middle of trying so hard and wanting so much, we so often forget the substance of the thing that we're looking for.

Two things:

The only time I've seen the Mark Morris Dance Company perform live, Mark Morris himself danced a solo. His curly hair hung past his shoulders. He wore a bright red dress and sensible heels. He was rounded, puffy in the chest. When he moved, he was one of the most beautiful people that my 14-year-old self had ever seen. Glorious. Lovable. He was light, swift, sad. He rode the music and chased it down and was actually funny.

My first thought, upon seeing Jacques Poulin-Denis, was that he was very beautiful. He had a delicate bluntness to his dancing, an efficiency that struck me as truthfulness or daring. He was wearing a t-shirt that was faded and sweated through and long pants that crumpled over the tops of his feet, and it took me a while to observe that his right foot was a smooth beige that didn't bend or attempt to match the other side. And then he took it off. He took off his foot and proceeded to be one of the only dancers who has ever made me actually cry because his dancing was exactly what I needed to see.

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