The Energy of Life, An Innate Impulse to Animation

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The next day broke breathless and raggedy for Dusty May, who on that breathless and raggedy day was initiated into the mysteries and intricacies of the dance and ballet.

This was the day Dusty learned among other things that her straight legs and her limbs — which were long for her size — her strong back as well, her high foot-arches and her proportionate body, her understanding of her body, they were assets, Sheila said to her, her fitness and physicality giving her what Sheila called an easy turnout.

Sheila also told Dusty May, and then showed her through physical demonstration, the meaning of the terms porte-de-bras, plié, sauté, arabesque, pirouette, tendu, elevé, relevé, coupés, and fouettés — but more valuable still:

It was on this wild breathless afternoon that Dusty was initiated into secrets of the body human in all its elegant complexity: kinesiology, biology, musicology and the human ear, the black art of anatomy — which things soon became for Dusty the foundation of a kinetic awareness and depth of understanding that would shape her own body and being into something at once powerful, fast, nimble, poised.

It would also impart upon her a grace and sense of presence and space and an esthetic elongation for purposes of her carriage and her line, as well as a depth of understanding which Dusty quickly came to crave. She came to crave this learning for its own sake, for the enrichment she felt it bestowing upon her solitary life, which was so internal and lonesome and pure.

Every loneliness is rarified, Sheila said to her, a rarified summit, especially when it’s for the sake of self-development.

This also marked for Dusty May the beginning of grueling eight-hour-a-day practice sessions, then ten-hour, then twelve — every day — not because she was forced to but because she wanted it.

Yet more than anything, this was when Sheila O’Shaugnessy first taught Dusty to listen to music in a more cerebral and fundamental way — after which, music for Dusty May was transmuted into a kind of immanent force that spread throughout her body, rooting itself so deeply inside her that she felt no one and no thing could ever touch it, like the glowing force at the core of her being, which was her essence, and with which music soon became interchangeable, synonymous: a music inside her impervious to virulent organisms and outside forces. Thereafter, Dusty would often be seen listening to music as if searching for something hidden inside the melodies, eyes closed, sitting or standing, her hands and arms moving almost unconsciously, in ghost-like porte-de-bras.

The white feet of Sheila beat winglike across the dark-wooden floors, a sound of fluttering wings, her feather-light body whirling like wind across dark water, as she simultaneously spoke, saying that creativity and greatness are more possible to humans than most humans realize, and that the biggest obstacle to these things is the strength and willingness to do the work required, because the effort is large, and it always will be large, she said, because every exalted and rarified thing is difficult, and that is why mediocrity is commonplace.

“Scientifically,” Sheila said, “the basis of life — the energy of life, as Aristotle called it, an innate impulse to animation and activity — is simply the desire for expression. Creative expression is a natural extension of one’s exuberance for life, and vice acts as a counter-agent to that exuberance — the word vice itself coming from the Latin word vitium, which means ‘fault’ or ‘frailty,’ a breach in the integrity of a thing, not in reference to humans exclusively but to structures and other things as well, both living and non-living. In humans, vitium is that which smothers life and prevents the living thing from having life most abundantly.”

Dusty watched her with those infinitely black eyes that did not miss anything.

Eyes which told nothing of what was going on inside her moving mind.

***

“If you bring forth that which is within you, it will uplift you,” Sheila said. “If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

“What is that?” Dusty said.

“It is a half quote.”

“What does it mean?

“It means that fulfilling the promise which your brain and body contain will give you more abundant life, while ignoring your promise has the power to destroy you. It means that doing the things which cultivate your living potential are good. The things that stunt it are bad.”

Dusty didn’t reply.

“Tell me,” Sheila said. “Do you know the precise meaning of the words integrate and integral and integer and integrity?”

Dusty thought for a moment and then shook her head. “Not well enough to put into words,” she said.

“They mean entire, whole, all of a piece. They mean the same on the outside as on the inside.”

Dusty was silent.

“When we speak of a bridge or some other structure as having integrity,” Sheila said, “we mean that the structure is whole. It is entire. When the integrity of a structure has been breached, the structure is in danger. Do you remember one of the first things you said to me when we were alone in this room? You said that you’d never seen a building like this. Would you like to know why?”

“Yes.”

“Because most people build things as they build their lives: randomly, whimsically, chaotically, without focus or purpose or a theme to unify them. When something is unified by a single theme, as this building is, it is integrated. It is whole. Constructing a building or a life upon fleeting, ephemeral, transient premises or values renders that life or building perpetually unstable and shaky. Truly integrated things are unshakable, unbreakable.”

Once again, Dusty remained mute, but a slight crease appeared above the bridge of her nose. The strange lovely woman watched her and even resisted an impulse to reach over and, with her thumb, softly smooth out Dusty’s dark forehead-crease, the older woman’s ivorine flesh so pale next to Dusty’s swarthy skin.

“The body and the brain also require a unifying theme,” Sheila said. “Yes,” she continued, “that’s right. If they don’t have an integrated theme, they’re at war. Now, then. Think of music as brain. Think of dance as body. Music and dance together represent the integration of body and brain. But it’s you who must integrate them.”

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