ASSETS PROTESTED IN WASHINGTON DC
May Raucous Laughter prevail
Extra-Long Journalism by David Arthur Walters
January 9, 2020
Paul Schwartzman, a reporter for the Washington Post, admired what he called the “raucous” or shameless laughter of one Elizabeth Calomiris, 66, in his 19 December 2019 coverage of a small group of wealthy Kalorama neighbors protesting an old “gentlemen’s” strip club, newly named “Assets” by Jeffrey Schaeffer, 55, the son of taxicab king and real estate investor Jerry Schaeffer, 74. Ms. Calomiris referred the article to me and I engaged in some raucous laughter myself at his stereotypical treatment.
The well-mannered demonstration of the neighborhood notables was staged in front of the elder Schaeffer’s magnificent mansion in Kalorama instead of in front of the strip club itself, which is four blocks northwest of Dupont Circle at the intersection of Florida and Connecticut Avenues, a lower corner of the classy neighborhood named Kalorama, adjacent to the Sheridan Circle neighborhood. Mr. Schwartzman noted that it was unusual for Kalorama neighbors to take exception to one of their own.
Kalorama is a relatively elevated area that looks down on Washington and lies north of the original city boundaries. It fondly embraces elegant mansions, fine apartment buildings, embassies, chanceries, churches and private schools. It became a social and political center after Joel Barlow bought an estate there in 1807 and gave it the Greek name for all-around goodness or broad beauty. Residents proudly note that Thomas Jefferson frequently visited Kalorama back in the day, and Robert Fulton demonstrated his torpedoes and steamship designs to members of Congress on the estate’s millpond. The current neighbors are mostly liberal hence showed their disaffection for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner when they moved into the hood. The Obamas were more than welcome.
Besides Ms. Calomiris, the protestors named by Mr. Schwartzman included one Marie Drissel, identified as a woman who lives in a “townhouse” at the “far end of a long block” away from Assets, Donald Friedman, 74, a prominent lawyer and president of the Sheridan-Kalorama Neighborhood Council, and Jim Groninger, 74, a recently arrived resident who runs a biotech company and recommended Amsterdam as an ideal location for Assets.
Mr. Schwartzman, who did not disclose his own age despite repeated requests, is a political columnist who was well known at the New York Daily News for his celebration of the rise of Rudy Giuliani, 75, as mayor of New York, 396. In fact, he carefully included in his piece the ages of all but one of the protestors, Marie Drissel, 73, whose age he took care to ascertain but for some reason failed to report. He mentioned that Mr. Friedman was accompanied by two Shih Tzu spaniels, but he did not provide their names and ages: “Two of the demonstrators arrived in a Cadillac. Friedman stopped by with his two dogs, a Shih Tzu and a Shih Tzu spaniel.” (sic)
His angle on the story was that a few wealthy old white fuddy duddies, horrified by the new sign on the club, were making an ass of “Assets” in front of their neighbor’s house in an attempt to shame him into closing it down. Ms. Drissel, the master organizer of the protest, provided her assessment of word Assets on the sign: She said it was “crass” and said she knew what it meant the minute she saw it.
Formerly the Royal Palace, the Assets strip club has been an insult to the neighborhood for decades. The neighborhood forged a Settlement Agreement with it back in 2001, signed by Vinh Quy Nguyen for Fabwill Inc. dba Royal Palace. He promised to keep the sidewalks in front of the place clean and unobstructed, not to display advertisements of any kind referring to dancing or anything related to sexual activity, not allow any noise from individuals to disturb residents, not to change the hours of operation with obtaining prior approval from the city, and not to lease or use any part of the entire building for sex-oriented business.
Ms. Drissel, as Washingtonians well know, is the famous DC finance watchdog and dog lover sometimes referred to in the District as “Ms. Rottweiler” and “Ms. Pittbull,” compliments Marion Barry yelled down the hall at her one day when he was with reporters at City Hall—she reserves other, far more saucy details of her battles with Mr. Barry for inclusion in her memoirs.
She sports a masters in Finance with honors, studied up to her comprehensive exams for a Ph.D. in Public Administration, and took a year of law school at George Washington University before taking up a career in budgeting and finance. She served as a liquidator in the S&L debacle, and was the CFO/HR Director of World Links, an NGO spun out of the World Bank to establish computer education in underfunded schools. She has been a civil rights activist since she was a teen. Liberal minded as well as a proponent of law and order, she opposed, for example, legalizing online gambling in the District.
More recently, Ms. Drissel opposed legalization of prostitution, although she said arguments on both sides of the question were persuasive. The defeated ‘Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019’ was advanced in the District of Columbia to increase public health and safety in the District by removing criminal penalties associated with sex exchange. The bill would have repealed statutes that criminalized adults consensually engaging in sexual exchange while upholding existing laws prohibiting sex trafficking.
Strippers are not necessarily prostitutes, yet prostitution is naturally prevalent around strip clubs if not within them, at least before prostitution went underground with the Internet. Closing strip clubs on Chicago’s Rush Street in the 80s, for example, allegedly reduced prostitution arrests in their vicinity by 80%. On the other hand, legalizing prostitution may eliminate as many arrests.
It is even offered that prostitution should be legalized because it is healthy. The notion is hardly novel. Prostitution was sacred and ritually practiced in caves and temples, and primitive religions were rooted in sexual conjugation prior to the advent of Protestant protest of natural or diabolical urges; nevertheless, Catholic licensing of brothels financed many churches. Prostitution was once legal in most of the United States. Its proponents argued that it is a necessary evil that protects unmarried women from being ravaged and lessens violence and terror by providing a release for basic urges. Feminists claimed that its aggressive women led the rise of female power. Courtesans were once the mostly highly educated members of society, and they, in turn, civilized brutal men. Lenin declared marriage to be legalized prostitution while Marx thought labor was mass prostitution.
Moriah McSharry McGrath, in her 2013 feminist thesis, ‘Neighboring in Strip City: A Situational Analysis of Strip Clubs, Land Use Conflict, and Occupational Health in Portland, Oregon’, said that strippers have a hard job and they need to be protected. They are, she pointed out, unorganized independent contractors with no benefits, entirely at the mercy of businessmen, and looked down upon by society. She interviewed strippers and officials and residents in her home town. The bottom line for her is alcohol causes misbehavior and not the sex business. She said there is no conclusive research associating strip clubs per se with crime, so regulation is driven by public perception not empirical data. Further, police enforcement helps curb all crime. Some well-kept clubs are accepted in some neighborhoods while others are not, so residents’ opinions are divided wherever they happen to be.
Katherine Frank, a Washington, D.C., anthropologist who claimed she is a feminist, stripped in clubs for six years to research the Ph.D. dissertation that became her book, G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire (2002) — She did not say she financed her education with the proceeds, a practice I discovered when I stayed in a San Francisco hotel with a lobby in between the strip club and dressing room. She concluded that men desire different kinds of bodies, not some standard ideal body, and that the clubs actually save many marriages because they can be at one with their fantasies, although she would not want her husband in one because of the expense.
Nevertheless, Ms. Drissel wants Assets shut down for good. “I do not believe there are long term careers for women nor men in the world of strip bars,” she told me. “Further, there is a lot of information about labor law violations, no health benefits, only cash received for services, without being able to establish financial histories, and also for the trafficking of young children in the world of strip bars.” Furthermore, she said she does not believe a strip club let alone a bar or nightclub is economically viable along that commercial strip at the foot of the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood — Sheridan Circle with General Sheridan’s statue is at one corner of the area.
Jerry Schaeffer bought the corner of Florida and Connecticut Avenues in early 2019 for considerably more than the assessed value. Ms. Drissel believes a tax free exchange may have been at play to make the transaction more attractive. Apparently the adult entertainment license came with the building, which was then inhabited by the old strip club, the Royal Palace, which was not known to do much business, and the Fab Lounge upstairs, closed since 2016, which has an interesting history including being a meeting place for a sex-workers trade organization.
“So many people do not know the history of the Royal Palace and Fab Lounge,” she told me. “They have not been good neighbors. The Royal Palace hardly had any clients after Fab Lounge closed in 2016. Many of us have lived in the neighborhood long before it was a strip club. We met with the owners and they ended up hiring off duty police officers to sit at the bottom of our streets to keep the drunks from tearing up our cars and properties and awakening us at night with their noisy fights.”There have been few liquor license applications in the immediate area.
The strip club and the “sports bar” now being built above it do not seem to be the highest and best use of the property. Jerry Schaeffer said back in March 2019 that he had considered leasing it to Wawa, the expanding convenience store chain, but there was no demand for anything but a strip club. That may be because his son Jeffrey, listed as an officer of the company operating the strip club, wanted the place for his wife along with its cash income.
Mr. Schwartzman’s prejudicial narrative jibed with the race card played by that wife, the nightclub’s purported owner, Saxton Gabrielle Miller, 26, a beautiful black woman whom the reporter engaged in conversation while she threw stacks of dollar bills around as scantily clad dancers wiggled around. The club has been advertised as woman owned, yet her name had yet to appear on the official documents.
Unfortunately, the lack of information provided by the esteemed political reporter on the taxi companies, strip clubs, and a brothel called Sky Spa or Spa Sky closed by the attorney general for the District has led to unnecessary speculation that there may be some sort of vertical integration involving Asian immigrants working in the taxicab industry, nightclubs, and brothels, perhaps with ties with Asian organized crime groups. I was, however, unable to find any known mob ties to Jerry Schaeffer and his interests or any relationships to an outfit of loose associations such as that enjoyed by New York taxi king Gene Friedman, taxi medallion speculator Michael Cohen, limousine king William Fugazy, automobile executive Lee Iacocca, gambling casino entrepreneur Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and so on. Mr. Schaeffer was scandalized by the press for doing what kingpins normally do —put politicians in their pocket — when he unsuccessfully tried to get a medallion system of licensing legislated in free-wheeling Washington, but his reputation is not nearly as tarnished as members of the clan associated with today’s legal outfit in the White House.
Ms. Miller told Mr. Schwartzman that protestors against her strip club were just saying what she expected 75-year-old white people to say after seeing black faces come out of the door manned by bouncers. He was evidently more than willing to play that race and age card. A Kalorama neighbor scoffed, in turn, at the notion that race was a factor in the objection to the strip club.
Prejudice is real and sells papers, but the facial protest of Assets was against the word “Assets” as advertising that would increase an already established public nuisance. That is, the protest was not against purported immorality but against the “secondary effects” of whatever was going on in and around the club. After all, the mores of a community, especially of a “swamp” occupied by so many transients, politicians, and lobbyists are subject to change as is more than evident in the current demoralization of America. Washington is said to be the U.S. capitol of corruption, but that does not preclude reform for better or worse depending on one’s definition of progress, the current progress being relatively regressive as far as progressives are concerned.
What we have in this Washington Post report with its heading, ‘A D.C. strip club had been there for years, but a new name is sparking protest,’ is an occasion of something our nation’s great leader would call “fake news,” albeit unfairly, for something new is there but it is merely superficial. It is balanced in some respects, but seeks stereotypical answers to a very serious fault in our society. The article is composed in the style of the New York papers Mr. Schwartzman served well, the Daily News and Post, to please a populist base with foreshortened brains further shrunk by the rise of the internet and small screens.
Washington does not have the population of New York but it has Mr. Bezos, who saved its Post from folding. Mr. Bezos, by the way, has been quoted by Motley Fool, much to the dismay of Amazon investors who observed him unloading stock, as saying his innovative Amazonian enterprise will be out-innovated and bankrupted someday due to rapidly advancing technology. We may suppose that, instead of thinking, people will be thought by the Supermachine. The President will no longer have to mechanically cite his speeches from a monitor because his unstable mind cannot grasp long reads. His addresses will be broadcast directly to the monitodal devices implanted in brains shortly after birth.
Although Mr. Bezos saved the Washington Post and proceeded to build an “embassy” in liberal Kalorama, it is difficult to divine just what his “ideology” is from his donations, unless we define ‘ideology’ according to its original meaning, scientific thinking, which we know is objective as it observes bits and pieces of nature. One might expect a wealthy businessman to contribute to the two ideological sides just in case, as if there are only two sides although they reverse themselves every so often, yet thus far his most noted contributions have been somewhat neutral and rather paltry in comparison to his vast fortune. For instance, he contributed to an apparently non-partisan committee advancing the causes of veterans. That naturally drew criticism because its contributors are allegedly gun happy. He has also contributed to education, anti-homelessness, and journalism programs. He has not bragged about giving by taking the Giving Pledge. Instead, he has asked for ideas on what to do with his amassed fortune.
Mr. Bezos would be wise to stick with scientific endeavors helpful to humanity regardless of the “ideological” prejudices of its constituents. After all, he is a technocrat in the Comptean sense, that of Auguste Compte, a “positive” or scientific thinker who foresaw human progress achieved by technical collaboration and cooperation of all sorts of workers in contradistinction to uncooperative, parasitic individuals. Most of our developed economy is devoted to the production of wants and not needs, a process fraught with the destruction of the very nature we need for life. Even then, there is no good reason for unemployment for everyone who would participate, and now that we have a relatively free virtual world to participate in, there is no limit to what artful people can do without polluting the physical world given friendly energy to power the grid.
Compte’s sociology, as Mr. Bezos must know, was influenced by Henri de Saint-Simon, a French businessman and veteran of the American Revolution who envisioned society led to utopia by an industrial elite. Science is not, however, the highest good without motivation. Comte fell madly in unconsummated love with one Clotilde de Vaux, a married Catholic woman, and subverted his rational system into a humanist religion after she died. He was assisted in that project by John Stuart Mill, the practical philosopher who thought men and women could resolve their sexual differences and be united in loving friendship, enjoyed a purportedly sexless marriage with Mrs. Harriet Taylor after her husband died. The new “science of ideas” and social sciences evolving from the physical sciences was elaborated as “Ideologie” by Pierre Cabanis and adopted by Thomas Jefferson at his university, replacing theology —John Adams referred to ideology as “idiotology.” The political bias of this line of positive thinking was generally republican-democratic, ‘republican’ being a political state led by highly qualified individuals, ‘democratic’ meaning the best among the highly qualified are elected by its liberated citizens. The conceptual regime was conserved with constitutions written and unwritten as verbal bulwarks against the tyranny of vain, egotistical despots.
Setting that digression aside, our long journalism having lost almost all our readers by now, we or our computers know the racial divide in the area ran deep even before rented slaves helped build the White House, and much can be said about the difference between the sexes and generations. So Mr. Schwartzman was right to quote what the young black lady said to about white fear of black faces of the salt-and-pepper clientele at the Assets strip club. The reader should still know, however, regardless of his or her gender, age, and income, that, generally speaking, strip clubs are unwelcome near any residential neighborhood, despite what a student may say in her thesis for a university degree or the attempt of jurists to split pubic hairs. The combination of alcohol and public displays of genitalia in strip clubs, absent relaxing orgies, fuels violence, prostitution, drugs, and racketeering in same, not to mention traffic and parking issues, and the usual nightclub racket that keeps working folk up at night.
Mr. Schwartzman did not have time or space to disclose that, among taxi king Schaeffer’s real estate holdings was a property nearby, at 1215 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., scandalized by allegations that it was being used by an Asian massage parlor tenant, S&S LLC dba Spa Sky, presided over by Hak Jae Lee of Flushing, New York, a person previously arrested for provision of illegal sexual services. The facility was owned by Sun Hwa-Lee Lim of Falls Church, Virginia, was suspected of trafficking in immigrant girls, and allegedly operated as a house of prostitution employing unlicensed massage therapists offering services not permitted in the District of Columbia.
The District has a long reputation for prostitution: in 2005, more than 40 Asian massage parlors operated as fronts for brothels, claimed Derek Ellerman, co-executive director of the Polaris Project. Each earned an average of $1.2 million a year, he said. At Spa Sky or Sky Spa, undercover police officers arrested prostitutes providing the well-advertised “Perfect Hot And Beautiful Massage.” The attorney general of the District filed civil suit 0001450-11 on 24 February 2011 against the operators and Mr. Schaeffer’s real estate company, and the operation, whatever it was, shut down. According to Ms. Drissel, it was only after a vigorous clamor from neighbors that decisive action was taken against the health spa.
Mr. Schwartzman also failed to solicit and include in his article the opinion of Mr. Bezos on the club despite the fact that he is one of the wealthiest men in the world even after his divorce, a prominent member of the neighborhood, and the savior of the newspaper the political journalist writes for. Furthermore, Mr. Bezos, like Ms. Calomiris, is celebrated for having a raucous laugh, the vestige of the ancient Greek roar or howling laughter of relief from tyranny after democracy was invented. That is perhaps one of the several reasons President Donald Trump, 73, who loves strippers and prefers caustic humor, hates Mr. Bezos. Mr. Bezos laughs raucously all the way to the bank, and his wad is evidently larger than the President’s, at least according to stripper Stormy Daniels.
Washingtonian insiders are disinclined to warmly embrace outsiders, but the affluent residents of Kalorama, the District’s knobbiest neighborhood, are glad Mr. Bezos is making the old Textile Museum into a 27,000 square-foot home with 25 bathrooms and 11 bedrooms, thus saving them from the horror of conversion of the structures into carpetbagger apartments. Speaking of George Washington, it is to the internet prophet’s credit that his primary home is in a state named after George Washington, in the city of Medina, so named after the holy city on the Arabian Peninsula where Mohammad changed the direction of prayer towards Mecca.
Mr. Schwartzman sniffed around the group of protestors and kept coming back to Ms. Calomiris, dogging her for information including her telephone number. She happens to be an attractive and gregarious blonde, something she has in common with Ms. Drissel, accustomed to being the cynosure of gentlemen’s attention at social functions where she has had occasion as guest speaker to raise funds to help abused women and children. She told the newshound that she believed in profitable free trade after he prompted her to do so when he discovered she was somebody, but she added that the sort of trade that Assets engaged in belonged in Las Vegas and not in Kalorama because the times had changed with #Metoo and Jeffrey Epstein.
She made the mistake of responding with persiflage as the reporter persisted with his flirtations, coming back around to her time and again, yet not inviting her to Assets for a drink. She is old school, hailing back to the days when the likes of Marilyn Monroe knew that they could joke around without editors using every detail volunteered, like what she said to a reporter when she dismounted from an airplane to marry Joe DiMaggio in 1954, so she did not expect every scintilla of her banter to be used as if it were news by the prestigious Washington Post, particularly her shameless brag, followed by a “raucous laugh,” that she has a young Brazilian boyfriend in Miami.
The “flurry of personal details” Ms. Calomiris “volunteered” included the fact she is a member of a prominent Washington family, had never demonstrated before, had attended finishing school in the ’60s, had never smoked, and had been married “several” times. The last, unnecessarily reported detail was perhaps printed to imply that women who protest strip clubs and have been married more than twice but not many times are hypocritical strippers themselves. That being said, it is true that Elizabeth Calomiris, nee Betty Jane Houser, is the matriarch of the Calomiris family, landholding Washingtonians of Greek heritage. She brought to the Greeks her noble German heritage. Her own forbears settled in Tennessee, where her grandmother was the land purchasing agent for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Her late father served the nation as a nuclear warfare intelligence consultant.
If the biased political reporter had been more interested in people instead of the sensationalist angle on his story, that rich old white residents were making a fuss in front of a strip club owner’s house in their neighborhood, he would have questioned Ms. Calomiris properly and discovered that, after attending finishing school, which comes highly recommended for good girls along with ballet or gymnastics, she served National Geographic as an illustrator. Not only does she not smoke, the mere scent of marijuana tempts her to call the police, and, she is responsible for the conviction and rehabilitation of a former husband, a major stock swindler, in Clinton prison, notorious among cons for its tight security although several people then escaped with the help of a guard, a married woman enamored by a prisoner. Although she refuses to speak of politics in polite society, she is a staunch conservative who goes to work rather than protest on the street as liberals are wont to do.
A precise division into conservative or liberal is a false dichotomy depending on what some people want to preserve and from what they would be liberated. Many women who believe they are conservative do not know that they are conserving themselves as wage slaves and sex slaves who dare not protest patriarchy. The subordination of females is prehistoric despite the rumors of a matriarchal society. Women had to succumb to the stronger sex in order to survive, and suicide ran rife in some cultures. Their complaints were necessarily limited to pouting and sulking, as described in the Vedas. And upon the death of their husbands they were considered worthless and were thrown onto the funeral pyre and burned with their husbands. Fathers loved their daughters but moaned their birth, for they were treated like cattle, and even of late are raped and butchered. The only cultured and sophisticated women in the “good old days” some conservatives would conserve were concubines and prostitutes in harems. That is why historians have said the progress of civilization may be measured by the way women are treated. And that includes the manner in which they are respected, and that does not mean being placed romantically upon a pedestal and idolized and then taken down and debased including put in showers nude and be ogled at pruriently as so much brainlessly wiggling meat
Despite her conservative tendency, Ms. Calomiris is no prude. She knows what all too many females have suffered in order to survive since time immemorial. Yet here, in the Washington Post Political section, politics being about who has power and why, including in the great battle between men and men and women in general, she was cast as one of twenty wealthy old white prudes making a big deal about a sign that might as well have been a pornographic illustration of a giant derriere for all they were concerned by the vision of ASSETS. If he had conducted a thorough investigation, he would know that young people have protested the renewal of the license because of disturbances of the peace and parking issues, and they have made videos of noisy incidents.
I suggested that, if the neighbors are interested in making a case against the renewal of Assets’ liquor license, they should call the police about every disturbance and make sure their complaints become reported by the police department for future reference. And they should obtain the police record of complaints over the last ten years and examine the possibility that there is some concealed connection between the old and new operations of the club.
It seems that only one serious police incident so far at the newly named club, which got its certificate of occupancy in June 2019 and applied to renew the license that Mr. Schaeffer’s limited liability front, Voyager 888 LLC, had obtained thanks to the real estate deal. The nightclub was investigated in December by George M. Garcia of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), Investigation Number 19-251-00157, Case Report signed 4 December 2019.
A complaint of Robbery and Assault at Assets was made to the police department on 19 October 2019 by a man who had fled the scene to a place nearby to call the police. The victim of the alleged assault and robbery was accused of stealing money from the strippers. He was evicted from the club, beaten up, knocked down and kicked until he bled on the ground, by four of seven security guards present at the club after he tried to retrieve seized property he had taken from his person and placed on the hood of a vehicle to be searched.
A member of the security staff said the victim hit him in the face and grabbed his necklace when he tried to return the phone the man had dropped. A security guard said the man had tried to enter the club with a knife on him, but was then allowed to enter after he hid the knife at the Rite Aid across the street.
Jeffrey Schaeffer was identified as the owner and interviewed by the ABRA investigator. He was found to have scant knowledge of proper security procedures. He was not present at the time of the incident and was unaware that the club’s surveillance cameras were inadequate. None of the guards were employed by Assets, Mr. Schaeffer said. They were employed by “American Protection Professional.”
The victim was arrested later on in an unrelated matter yet was not available for an interview. Curiously, neither was the policeman who responded to the complaint at the club.
Mr. Garcia found no violation of the 2001 Settlement Agreement, but he concluded that the club was in violation of their approved Security Plan because the manager was not notified of the incident immediately; the violence was not immediately reported to the police department; several surveillance cameras were inoperable; the incident involving injury was not logged into an Incident Report Log along with contact information of the persons involved; and no such log was being kept in the office as required. Furthermore, an investigator determined that security staff lied about details of the event.
The ABRA report appears deficient enough to call for a further investigation into the possibility of a most troubling violation of the section of the District of Columbia Official Code, requiring the licensee or a manager licensed by ABRA to be present and responsible at the establishment during the hours liquor is being served. The outside security company was apparently running the club, so it should be thoroughly investigated.
Mr. Schaeffer was not present when the incident occurred 19 October, and, when interviewed on 17 November, he was found ignorant of the details of what had happened. The report does not include an interview with a licensed manager. A form dated 2 November requesting the surveillance camera record names one Tracy Kirby, ABRA License #115580, Exp. 28 January 2020, as the licensed manager, yet that name does not appear on the original police report nor was she interviewed by ABRA although a licensed manager is required by law to have been present in the absence of Mr. Schaeffer. The signature on that form is redacted, blacked out, leaving only two high loops in the hand of the person that signed. Those loops suggest that Mr. Schaeffer, who was not present on that date, but was interviewed on a later date, may have signed the form on the later date, rather than Tracy Kirby. If that is the case, it would arouse suspicion of impropriety.
Ms. Miller, when interviewed by the Washington Post, claimed to be the wife of the owner and the “proprietor” of the establishment, according to the reporter, and for all intents and purposes, the manager, yet her name does not appear as a licensed manager or owner. Neither was she reportedly interviewed by the police or the ABRA investigator, so it is fair to conclude that she was not present at the event either. All that if true would be cause to suspend or revoke the establishment’s license.
The District Code provides a procedure for parties to protest liquor licenses. A protest dated 24 November was made by St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, which is located across the street from the strip club. Conceived in 1892 in what was then an affluent suburb, the church’s patron is Saint Margaret of Wessex (1045-1093), an English princess and a queen of Scotland known for bringing the practices of the Scottish church in line with those in Rome and on the Continent. She was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV for her piety, charitable projects, and ministry to disadvantaged people. St. Margaret’s and its Priest-in-Charge, Rev. Weinberg, who is fluent in Spanish and has served God in Costa Rica and El Salvador, are well regarded for ministering to Hispanic immigrants, the homeless, the poor, LGBTQ, and other underprivileged persons in accordance with Christian precepts and their fundamental mission, to realize the full potential of humans as beings created in God’s image.
Rev. Weinberg opined in his protest letter that stripping does not support “vibrant all-inclusive family friendly worship.” He said the church’s opposition started in 1986, when a former rector of St. Margaret’s voiced formal opposition to the Royal Palace operating there since 1975, presenting evidence to the liquor control board that parishioners and staff had been attacked by drunken clients of the strip club and the church property had been littered. Considerable expenditures were made since to improve the church property, he said, and damage to the property was feared.
“Now we are confronted with the name of the operation changed from an innocuous name — the Royal Palace — to a signage in pink and purple with the name Assets. We believe this is sexually suggestive and not in keeping with the residential character of our changed neighborhood.” At least the name should be changed, he wrote, and hours of operation limited.
I thought confession booths, an important element of the Catholic Church, should be recommended for Assets’ customers, but confession of sins to priests is not practiced in the Episcopal Church.
The protest from the church was dismissed by the Board because a representative did not appear for the hearing and because a non-profit church does not have legal standing before the Board. Official neighborhood councils do have standing, and other protests against the renewal of the license are scheduled to be heard in March and April of 2020.
A protest to ABRA was also made by Mr. Friedman, president of the Sheridan-Kalorama Neighborhood Council. He is a prominent Washington litigator who in his 43-years of practice thus far has litigated almost every kind of commercial dispute. He happens to also be a pilot, someone very interested in getting to a destination as directly and quickly a possible. He advocated efficient case management for early dispute resolution long before arbitration and mediation became the ethical thing for lawyers to do instead of fighting for the sake of fighting to run up fees. Given his penchant for mediation, he may attempt to arrive at some sort of settlement agreement with the club, whereas Ms. Drissel wants it gone.
Assets disturbs the peace, Mr. Friedman wrote, interfering with the residents’ quiet enjoyment of their neighborhood with noise, litter, and at least one instance of violence thus far. It has an adverse impact on the parking needs in the area, interferes with traffic flow including access by emergency vehicles, has only two parking spots on Florida Avenue, and the sidewalk in front of the club is inadequate for the crowds attracted, endangering pedestrians and persons getting in and out of cars. Nude dancing “is like to depress property values” in the area. Finally, the sign “Assets” does not comply with applicable laws and the settlement agreement because the word “Assets,” according to the Urban Dictionary, denotes “boobs, bett, hips” and the root word of the noun is “ass.” So the neighborhood looks forward to settlement discussions on the issues with Assets, and a hearing of their protest if settlement is not obtained.
The actual root words involved are the Latin ‘ad satis’ or ‘to enough,’ in French ‘asez’ or ‘enough’, meaning asset, sufficient estate to allow for the discharge of a will. That was done in England, as Mr. Friedman would know, in a session of a law court called an assize where cases are assessed and settled. Neither of the terms are directly related to our ‘ass’, derived from the Latin asinus, in Old English ‘assen’ or ‘she-ass’, meaning, first of all, a horse-like animal, applied to a stupid person often said to be a horse’s ass, and, more vulgarly, the buttocks, or the ass-end of anything.
An ass is an ass is an ass by no other name. Ms. Miller said that the name “Assets” could be changed to “church” and the stodgy white people would still complain.
Obviously the sign is not the main issue nor is it race. The problem seems to be the unwanted crowd public nudity attracts. The advertisement is protested because it might add to that crowd, all to the detriment of the neighborhood. As for the District itself, there is a moratorium on establishments which permit nude dancing. A licensee who regularly provided entertainment by nude dancers before December 15, 1993, may continue to do so at its establishment. Nine of twelve transferable licenses are presently in use, and here are zoning limitations to transferability. Since nobody wants strip clubs in or near their neighborhood except a limited number of clientele, perhaps the majority of them transient, it may behoove the government to zone them out without grandfathering any of the existing clubs.
Several cities have banned nude exhibitions in public places from city precincts altogether or have exiled them to boondocks on the city limits.
In 1976, Detroit became one of the first cities in the US to introduce zoning laws that were designed to counter the clustering together of adult businesses into a red light district. The law banned strip clubs from locating within 1,000 feet of any two existing adult businesses or within 500 feet of any residential area. Eagerness to follow the Detroit zoning method quickly spread to other cities.
>New York City’s former Mayor Rudy Giuliani famously abhorred New York City’s adult establishments, calling them a “corrosive institution.” It was during his reign in 1995 that New York City Council amended certain zoning laws to ban adult entertainment in commercial districts like Times Square and barred them from operating within 500 feet of residences, schools, or places of worship. These restrictive zoning laws are what forced strip clubs to sprout in neighborhoods on the peripheries of the outer boroughs, like the South Bronx, an industrial zone.
In 2015 an effort was made to wipe out strip clubs in the Bronx. Politicians led what was called a “witch hunt” in the Hunts Point neighborhood to shut down the clubs by revoking their liquor licenses. A club called Platinum Pleasures was closed down in the South Bronx during the crackdown. Their tactic was been simple and effective, particularly in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx: Instead of going after the clubs themselves, they went after their liquor licenses, considered to be a faulty approach by defensive lawyers.
In 2017 the Reno City Council voted to require adult businesses like strip clubs to move out of the downtown area to industrial zones closer to the edges of town. Indeed, that approach, to put their adult uses in industrial zones and not in urban mixed-use residential and commercial zoning districts, is typical. Votes as well as money counts, and politicians are wont to heed bigger numbers of both. Wealthier neighborhood lead the way, so perhaps politicians and the residents and attorneys for the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood will expand their crusade to the entire district, doing away with the moratorium on new licenses as well as getting rid of existing licenses.
Specific city ordinances funnel strip clubs and sex shops into specific areas downtown, virtually spot zoning those areas. Perhaps the District of Columbia will keep them of Connecticut running northwest from Dupont Circle.
As of 2018 in Minneapolis it was legal to open a strip club downtown as long as it was not within 500 feet of a church or within 1,000 feet of a residential zone, or on Nicollet Mall, or if another strip club is already on the same side of the block. I visited a museum converted into a strip club in Minneapolis, at the turn of the century when I was a jazz dancer. I liked the bartender, a young lady studying to become a mortician. I was not interested in strip dancing unless it was artfully choreographed, so I offered some choreographic advice along the lines of striptease dancing.
Back in New York, a federal judge in 2019 blocked the city from enforcing the controversial strip club rules. The case worked its way through the courts for 17 years while the clubs remained open. Judge Pauley ruled that the city’s zoning regulations infringed on freedom of speech rights and left them without viable alternatives, that is, places where they could move their business to comply with zoning law.
In another 2019 case, two strip clubs will keep operating in downtown Augusta while they challenge the city’s zoning laws. The Augusta Chronicle reported that the heirs of James “Whitey” Lester sued the city in May of that year, saying city zoning laws violate constitutional guarantees of free speech and equal protection. A 1997 city ordinance had decreed that businesses in heavy industrial zones could host nude dancing or serve alcohol, but not do both. While four other strip bars closed, Lester’s two businesses were grandfathered and continued to operate. Earlier in 2019, Lester, Augusta commissioners denied his request to allow him to transfer licenses to operate the Discotheque Lounge and Joker’s Lounge to a relative.
The constitutional right to free speech is not a right to inflict harm on the public, and the constituted police power including the courts have an immediate governmental interest in protecting the public from harmful behavior. There is, for instance, no absolute right to incite riots or advocate the violent overthrow of the government. In the case of Assets the jurists would consider the a city’s substantial interest in protecting the public from the so-called negative secondary effects of strip clubs: an atmosphere conducive to violence, sexual harassment, public intoxication, prostitution, human trafficking, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and other deleterious effects such as the demoralization of children.
The Assets nightclub might prevail in court given the current demoralization of the nation and the stacking of the court with justices favored by a President fond of strippers. The U.S. Supreme Court has not been enthusiastic about banning strip clubs on the basis of nudity. Challenges have indeed reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the usual hairsplitting was conducted in accordance with the inherently irrational casuistry or case-by-case law typical of the Anglo-American judicial system, which supports the political-economic dominance of the legal profession over all walks of life via the speciously divided three branches of government. So we have “the O’Brien test” for evaluating restrictions on symbolic speech; to wit, the government generally has a freer hand in restricting expressive conduct than it has in restricting the written or spoken word. We should not be surprised, however, if so-called pussy-whistling is considered to be free speech; there was a popular place on Oahu frequently by men and women to get a laugh, and a free drink if they retrieved a flashing dildo a woman on a swing emitted from between her legs, and then she played the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth.
The decisions made in a particular case are not, on the one hand, supposed to apply to all similar cases because each case is unique, yet, on the other hand, the rationalizations arrived at in a “leading” case may be used as doctrine to guide to decisions in other cases. The casuistry may become so obviously absurd from time to time that precedents must be overturned and new ones fabricated. Judges, despite their dissents, which are supposed to be ignored after rendered, prefer to remain steadfast in their biases for long enough to give their interpretative law a semblance of permanence or legitimacy. Yet there is almost inevitably a time for the overturning of everything man made, including leading cases, maxims, and doctrines, given the presumed moral progress of the race.
In the end, the people rule, if need be, by revolution: the judges will be hanged if they do not abide with the Rousseauian “general will.”
In any case, if Assets winds up in the courts, we cannot be certain of the outcome except that that it may have no assets left after payment of the legal fees. I have suggested that the wealthy residents of Kalorama arrange for the purchase of the property to put it to what they perceive to be its highest and best use instead of wasting time and money on protesting its present use and trying to get its license revoked. After all, $10 million is chump change to the likes of Bezos. Or they could prevail on their neighbor to please not only the neighbors but other tenants to convert the usage of the corner to something decent, like a Turkish restaurant with belly dancing and a dance school upstairs, and to enforce residential parking with immediate towing and $1,000 fines.
Interpretation of a Dance Myth
Created and Choreographed by Keiko Fujii
by David Arthur Walters
It is the year 3,000 AD. A two-hundred-year-old man is telling some children a story that has been handed down for many generations as a myth about events that had happened in Japan over a thousand years before, some time after World War II.
“On the first day of spring, in the countryside near Ashiya, there was once a innocent young girl who was dancing with the cherry trees at the edge of a lovely meadow. She was glad because the spring that she had longed for had finally begun. As she danced, she was singing and talking to the trees, the birds and the cherry blossoms in sign language, for she had lost her voice because of a terrible fever she had suffered as a baby. Losing her voice had also made her very shy. When other people came near the meadow, she would run and hide until they had passed by.
In fact, there were so many people interrupting her on this first day of spring that she decided to go home and return the next day. “As the girl was playing in the meadow on the next day, she was surprised by three young ruffians who snuck up behind her and surrounded her. At first, they just teased her, but then the bullies began to get rough. One of the boys started to break off a branch of the girl’s favorite cherry tree. She tried to stop the boy from hurting the tree she loved, but he finally managed to break off the branch. He began to beat the tree with it just to upset her. She placed herself between the bully and the tree to protect it, but he then struck her repeatedly with the branch, knocking her down. The boys saw that she was badly injured, so they decided to run away, leaving the girl for dead, lying on the ground at the foot of the tree with cherry petals blowing around her, and clutching to her breast the branch she had been beaten with.
“At the end of Autumn, one hundred years later, a party of three men had a very strange experience. They were tourists attending the Buddhist celebration of Shakya Muni in Saga, Kyoto. They had decided to view the maple leaves, which were changing color, on their walk home. It unexpectedly got dark as a cold blanket of fog and drizzle covered them. They became quite confused and began to shiver in the cold. But a woman appeared and told them that they could stay at her house until the next day.
“The tourist felt warm and welcome in the nice woman’s old house, especially after they had feasted and drank plenty of Sake. Later in the evening, the woman told them she was going up the mountain to get some good firewood to make sure her guests kept warm all night, She refused to let them help her, but she made them all promise not to go into the woodshed behind the house, or even to look into it, while she was gone.
“After she left, one of her guests became very curious, wondering why the nice old lady would have asked them to stay out of the woodshed. He asked his friends to go with him and take a look into it. They refused and warned him not to break his promise. But when they had fallen asleep, he decided to sneak out and peek into the woodshed anyway.
“The curious tourist went to the shed and slid open its door. He heard weak moans coming from inside. He hesitated, then stepped slowly into the shed. What he saw there was a vision of Hell. The shed was filled with zombies who were only barely alive, almost too dead to move except to fall and stagger and wriggle around the best they could with their rotten bodies all twisted out of shape. Many of them were missing one arm. Some of them were sticking their hands into horrible gaping wounds on their bodies. Many of their faces looked like they had been smashed with a club, with noses and teeth badly broken, swollen cheeks, bloody and broken eye sockets, some with eyes missing, and mouths and jaws caved in. The zombies seemed to be begging the frightened tourist for some life.
“Well, the tourist was paralyzed with fright. His knees weakened and he had to lie down on the floor. But after a moment he raised his head and saw a strange light coming from the corner of the shed. He felt attracted to the light, crawled towards it, struggled to his feet, and saw that the light was coming from a coffin made of clear glass. A girl was laid out inside the coffin. Some strange power pulled the man towards her. He looked all over her body for some sign of life. He noticed that she was clutching a cherry tree branch, holding it close to her bosom.
“The curious tourist then got control of himself and was able to run out of the woodshed and back into the house, where he woke up his friends and shouted that he must have found a witch’s den in the shed. Of course, they did not believe him, so they went out to see for themselves. Sure enough, there were the zombies, the walking-dead people, in a living Hell, just as he had told his friends.
“At that very moment, the nice old lady appeared. When she caught them in the woodshed, she became angry and her body changed shape, taking the form of a terrible witch who was one-half woman and one-half spider. This ugly monster blamed the three men for breaking their promise not to look into the woodshed, and she promised to kill them then and there.
“The poor tourists fought to get away. The witch’s hair had turned into threads that spiders use to trap their food alive, and she threw those strings of spider hair towards the men, trapping the curious one first. As she began to choke him with her hair, the other two men escaped, scrambling over each other to get away. When she started after them, the curious one got away, and they all disappeared into the woods outside. She screamed after them that she would get them all someday soon. Then she changed back into an ordinary woman.
“The woman was really someone who was very sad and angry about how good changes into bad in the world. She had warned the three tourists not to look into the woodshed because the secret of her loneliness was inside, a secret she wanted to protect forever.
“After all that had happened, a fine snow started to fall. The woman began dancing slowly with the snow. She wanted to tell a story with her dance, the sad story of karma. But as she danced, the snow and her thinking became deeper, and she became young again, just like a girl dancing and whirling with the petals of cherry blossoms.”
MONOPHOBIA – Modern Dance Presentation
A Japanese dance company tells my life story – or am I paranoid?
How can I begin to tell you about Monophobia? I could consult the myriads of books on creativity, but then I might lose the impetus to speak. So I shall proceed to say whatever comes to mind. An improvisation if you please, since I have no plan.
I must admit that I am afraid to approach Monophobia, to waltz right up to it, take it by the hand and report back to you what steps were taken in 3/4. For it concerns the existence that has us all pinned down. We struggle to unpin ourselves, yet if unpinned we lose the point and cease to exist. That struggle is my starting point. I cannot stand here perfectly still. I have no choice but to be continuously active or to gravitate to nothingness as the ground rushes to meet me. I must keep moving in the interim, one way or another. So, in this case, I must speak to you.
Keiko Fujii and her dancers came to Manhattan and reminded me of my own singular fear of existing, a phobia I attribute to the personal sense of the imminent loss of existence that my own existence implies. Her production of Monophobia, which premiered in the United States at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, was shaken out of her by the Kobe earthquake. There is nothing like having the earth ripped out from under you. Creative Destruction is awfully sublime. The thing in itself that is really no thing is a terrifying mystery beyond description. Nevertheless, we can describe some of the forms it takes. The question is: where to start?
Anywhere might do. Keiko started with the pas de chat, using it to describe the mythological underpinnings of the Japanese economy. It is amazing how she milked the pas de chat for all it is worth. No, the pas de chat is not a chat with father. It is a cat-like step that has become a formal element of the traditional ballet vocabulary. The dancer jumps quickly off one foot then the other, legs turned out at the hips, bringing his knees up in the air in rapid succession, with feet pointed and for a moment almost touching below, so that at the height of the movement his legs form a diamond shape. Of course, there is a lot more to it than that: it is a simple movement in the rough, but it takes the dancer years to polish the diamond.
To continue: Keiko’s dancers, decked out in business suits, formed teams and executed several series of pas de chats across the stage. The simulated enthusiasm as well as the unison of the team members and the precise coordination of the teams vigorously shuttling about their business illustrated the virtues of the well-oiled Japanese business machine. To serve its purpose, the parts of a machine must move in opposition, as did the phalanxes of dancers as they moved in opposite directions to weave their illusion of happy workers laboring in their divisions for a common cause. However, as the workers continued with their rituals apace, the entire affair became rather monotonous. I began to notice that the whole industry was based on perfunctory pas de chats, alien components expensive to maintain. Technique is better left unnoticed. The workers were not dancing; they were doing technique. Even the smiles of the happy workers seemed contrived. The dream machine was running down. A couple of the machined parts began to squeak and broke off, annoyed by paperwork and laptop duties; information anxiety began to set in. Alas, the worker was overloaded. But, finally, the relief of the evening commute! The ranks were broken into their constituents. The dancers, however, did not bother to communicate with each other at the station or on the train; rather, each one got out his cell phone and proceeded to call home, finally displaying his most genuine smile, not for his traveling companions but for the invisible family on the other end of virtuality. But what if you don’t have a family, what if you are single; for whom do you smile, your personal God?
Except for the sole male dancer Keiko traditionally utilizes, all of the males roles were played by lovely women decked out in the business suits that frightened me because, though I look terrific in one, when I see someone in a power suit, I feel that someone is going to be crushed.
Never mind. Thou shalt not shout or lose thy cool. A well-oiled machine must not squeak. A happy worker does not need a future because she has nothing to cry about. Employees must not display genuine feelings, especially negative ones; although positive emotions are highly recommended for everyone, they are resented because they cause hard feelings in those who don’t have them. Business is not the place for emotions. The romantic claim that all values are based on emotion is scoffed at by the rational businessman.
Thou shalt not get naked! Thou shalt not take off thy suit! Thou shalt not streak! Above all, thou shalt not whistle or sing on the job!
In a moment of disobedience, however, Keiko’s dancers did shed their suits. It is not easy to shed the conventional mythologies, especially the mythology of the Japanese economy or any other economy where if it cannot be counted it doesn’t really count. We want to strip, but our clothes are a security blanket.
Shed obligations. File bankruptcy. File for divorce. Quit your job. Disown your family and friends. Forsake your nation. Move offshore. Be cynical and be saved, you selfish traitor to your own social security! Ironic, isn’t it, that almost any virtue defrocked makes all virtue look like vice?
Good grief! Just what is the healing answer to all this highly touted Creative Destruction?
Well, Keiko went back in time and donned the traditional kimono, a green kimono under which she executed ever so small movements with enormous implications. A mere lift of her foot gave one the impression that she had just traversed the entire universe. Moving upstage on the diagonal, the kimono unfurled behind her in a train that extended from one corner of the stage to the other, all to the rushing, rumbling and gurgling sounds of a waterfall. Then she ever so slowly turned and turned, reeling in the train, winding it about her feet into a pedestal. Disappearing under the green shroud of the remaining material, she finally emerged, an exquisitely painted “nude” in colorful tights, as if clothed by Nature, leaving her traditional chrysalis behind. She did a series of grande changement Italiens, jumping straight up from both feet, bringing her legs up rapidly into a diamond shape, hovering in the air for a moment. Yet again, as it should be, the classical ballet technique was invisible to the untrained eye. Keiko simply looked like a wild hummingbird cavorting about in accordance with her natural proclivities. The other dancers then appeared in the same native costumes so wonderfully designed by Keiko herself, and they likewise displayed instinctive tendencies.
Is this the healing answer: Back to Nature? Maybe so, but not as long as we have to think about it, so I’ll leave it alone in the trance I briefly enjoyed. It was a retreat into solitude, an epoch, a momentous pause, an interlude eventually rudely shattered by Monophobia.
Enter doom and gloom with a room therein all pervaded by that familiar fetid fog oft mentioned clauses cluttered with malicious malcontent. I see my life passing by on the stage. That must be my dismal uptown studio with one window facing the rank exhaust of the Chinese noodle shop. Ah, and nearly the same discordant, unsynchronized, rhythmic racket of the air conditioners and exhaust fans outside that window, music here for the modern ears, as accompaniment for the monstrous ogres now entering. There is an ocherous devil dragging an enormous white bundle on a rope behind him with all his might. It must be Saturday morning laundry! I am shocked: this is about me! Several dancers are huddled together in a corner each shrouded in white. They must be the sycophants of yet another diabolical character, played so well by the sole male, creeping about with that two-pronged pitchfork. He must be the infamous binary system. Damn! I think he uses that fork to devour his sycophants! What great technology! The food cooperates with the fork. When Keiko comes out of her room she eventually embraces the ghastly instrument.
Keiko’s tiny room in hell reminds me of the facades on those Holiday Inns that mushroomed all over the country years ago, facades made of glass and aluminum extrusions. Although her cubicle is transparent and my uptown hovel is opaque with merely a window, I think the song is still about me. The room is the mind; I am aware of a vast universe by virtue of cells in my brain living a warm and watery life in total darkness. And because my consciousness of it all seems to expand, the possibility of what I might know seems unlimited – it is really my stupidity that gives me the sense of infinite expanse. My room is so tiny, my perspective so small. I live in a skull supported by flesh and bones. I am so small in comparison with infinity that I might as well be a point without dimensions. I am pinned down here! Someone please tear me loose, please get me out of here! Oh my god, if only there were a god!
Keiko struggled with an enormous variety of movements in her cell. Perhaps that is how the human animal differs from her caged relatives; she dances her miserable danse macabre intentionally, hoping to somehow overcome the isolation of her limitations, to get out of here and become one with the all, to synchronize with the cosmos. Is this love of unity a fear of identity? Is our dance a game of camouflage, a nihilistic playing of hide and seek with the universe?
As modern dancer in original, iconoclastic sense, Keiko attempts to display the fullest range of movement; history is the progress of freedom, but what paltry limitations has this pinhead existence! Eventually one succumbs on bed or couch. Not for long, however. Never Stop Moving is life’s imperative. Depressed by ponderous gravity, feeling monotheism is Monophobia and that the one sure thing, the monotonous reality, is death, that God is not dead because God is death, the devotee prostrates herself prone before her master; but then she twists and turns and now she is supine; now she tries to rest and shuts her eyes and voids her mind all to no avail. She shudders with hunger and ennui. She must have bread and the circus. She leaves the security of her room. She goes out to embrace her fear. Entranced by the not- voidable, she will willingly dance her dance with death.
Embrace fear. Is that the healing answer? Misery is inevitable, the argument goes, so console oneself with the knowledge that chance does not really matter because your misery would just take another form if not the present one.
So, you say you enjoy being alone, and while alone you do not give much thought to death. I too love being alone but after awhile I must admit my thoughts turn morbid. Acute awareness of my own existence prompts me to think of its opposite and I, in my solitude, cling precariously to the roots of depression lest I plunge into the abyss. For what I love I fear as well. The formation of my personality is the response to the fear that my life will be wiped out. I am a product of death. I think death makes the man and then takes him away. I love and fear my maker and although I love being alone I am driven by my fear of the same to desperately cling to others of my ilk on the chance that I may forget myself. Fat chance, for the relation further defines me and sets me apart from my relations.
I think of all this when I consider Keiko’s Monophobia. It seems, however, that I seldom have much company. It was not a full house. The audience enjoyed the performance but grew very weary during Keiko’s prolonged, anxious movements within the confines of her own limitations. That is just how an anxious life can feel after a long while: extremely boring and sleep-inducing. Although the audience was enchanted by the early stages of the performance and was appropriately enthralled by the hellish scene, many people thought its life had come to an end and left, forgetting there was a third act to come as indicated by the programme.
I was so exhausted by Keiko’s extenuated monophobic symbolics that I paid bare attention to her third act. I do recall a pleasant dance by the chorus all decked out in white space suits. Is that the final solution? To go where no man has gone before? To catch a ride on the tail of a comet?
I met with Keiko the next day. She seemed amused by some of my interpretations of her work, but was mostly silent. At one point, while struggling desperately for the meaning of life, I said: “I see people smoking, drinking, using drugs, chasing men and women and money, seeking information, so on and so forth. They look like they are trying to escape. I keep saying maybe there is no way out. Maybe there is no escape. Maybe there is nothing but misery ending in nothing.”
Keiko seemed surprised, and responded: “That is Buddhism.”
“If that is an answer, why don’t you show it to us in your next concert.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Call it Zero, or just 0.”
Manhattan, June 1997
REFLECTIONS IN THE WELL by David Arthur Walters
The Author’s Reflections on Postmodern Dance Pioneer Deborah Hay with Special Thanks to Minerva Bloom for designing, printing, publishing, and distributing the original little chapbook on foot.
I. Returning to the Well
Where and when should I begin? Here and now shall do quite well. As far as I am concerned, anywhere and anytime is good enough to press ahead with this pressing business called life. Yet from my progress I am always returning to the well for yet another drink that I may proceed.
I would fly free beyond the arc between ashes and ashes and dust and dust, but my flight is rooted in the past. I fly backwards like the mythical Jayhawk. I don’t give a damn where I am going and I only care about the where I’ve been. What else is really mine? What else can I know except the past as I realize it in the future? To that end my life is an essay or trial. I double back on what I have done along the way, pull myself together and carry on. I am constantly rewriting my life, but my life’s essay I would never throw away.
The arc of my life is really an ark. The arc is the cradle of dimensional existence. Witness the Earth falling into the Sun, missing the Sun curving away from it. Thus the orbiting Earth falls while it recovers itself. Likewise I would never stop moving. But I know I will slow down soon enough. Long before the Earth stops moving, I shall achieve an absolute state of rest in Nothing, where everything gets done by doing nothing. I shall ride the arc until then and dance upon the globe. I do believe I am going somewhere as I circle back on myself. I am never quite satisfied with my present state when I return to where I once was, hence I dream of returning to the place from whence I returned.
Today I returned to the dustbin of my history, reached into it and pulled out an essay I wrote in 1985, entitled ‘Reflections in the Well.’ Therein I described Deborah Hay’s (1) choral dance workshop at St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan and her subsequent performances of ‘The Well’ and ‘Leaving the House.’ I knew nothing of Deborah at the time: I did not know that ‘Leaving the House’ was considered by critics to be a major feminist statement of the day.
Part of my essay was published in 1985 by arts enthusiast and feminist Effie Mihopoulus in her literary magazine, SALOME. As I examined my manuscript, I felt a twinge of regret that the rest of my essay, my reviews of Deborah’s performances, had not been published. Therefore I decided to edit the entire essay. Now I have not altered any of Deborah’s statements nor have I made any fundamental changes to my views at that time: I have simply dusted off the work and polished it up a bit.
At first glance the reader might not suppose my subject would be of much interest to the non-dancer. But I believe it is, for I speak of the human spirit, bound by matter to dance on Earth. The dancer is a moving, conscious synthesis of spirit and matter. She needs no other machine or tool than her body to express the tragic joy of her Earth-bound existence, to convey to her audience the essence of humanity’s gravity, dimensions and dynamics. For that expressive purpose I believe Modern Dance evolved .
Everyone is essentially a dancer; we can all experience the joy of dance movement. Modern dance pioneers such as Isadora Duncan and Rudolf Laban strove to bring the direct experience of that joy to everyone. Isadora wanted to bring America to its feet; unappreciated at home, she became a dance prophet in Europe. Laban, a native European dance prophet, worked to restore dance to its ancient and rightful place at the center of the community where all can come together to mutually celebrate life. He trained cadre leaders who in turn organized dance movement choirs for community participation. One massive pageant orchestrated by Laban in Germany had over 10,000 participants. But the Nazis did not appreciate the democratic aspect of Laban’s dance choirs, wherein each person is autonomous although interdependent. The fascists preferred to march people around aimlessly yet in drilled order, using the elements of carefully choreographed pageantry to mesmerize the marchers into believing they were doing something grand besides being obedient. But Laban’s dance choirs celebrated the individual’s striving for spiritual harmony with the cosmos and not collective submission to the leadership principle. Goebbels disallowed Laban’s choral movement entry (Of Warm Breeze and New Joy) for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Laban fled to Paris. His work in Germany was thoroughly annihilated by the Nazis, but his ideas gained influence in Britain and America. It is with Laban’s aspirations in mind that we may better understand Deborah Hay.
II. Peering Into The Well
“Flee then, be free then,
A clay pot bewinged be then,
In your saintly seriousness
Be then like those who weep for joy,
Speeding to the mark that is
But is not.”
Deborah Hay, “the Jung of post-modern dance” (Dance Magazine), asked me what I thought of her workshop at Manhattan’s St. Marks’ Church.
“A cup of cold water in the desert,” I responded, and returned to the serenity of a grand silence I had forgotten until Deborah had returned me by indirection to the profound source of inexhaustible nourishment. And still, until this very moment as I sit grasping this hard pen in my soft clerical hand, it is difficult to shatter that precious silence with an explanation. It is not that I have nothing at all to say: rather, I would say it all at once and once and for all, say everything that could possibly be said; but, alas, that is impossible.
“I moved from New York City to a commune in Northern Vermont,” Deborah explained to us when the workshop began, “and I lived there for eight years. Moving to a small community, I was fresh, naive and frightened. In fact, I am attracted to states of insecurity. For me insecurity is AHA! Without an AHA! Two or three times a week, life is too painful for me. Unless you put yourself into this state of opening, of unknowing, there is no AHA!”
I was deeply moved by her soft-spoken introduction. Her honest words and sincere demeanor gave me cause to believe she had refreshed herself from the same Well I had fearfully abandoned some time ago, the Well referred to in the ancient I CHING, the Chinese Book of Changes, translated by Richard Wilhelm:
The town may be changed,
But the well cannot be changed.
It neither decreases nor increases.
They come and go and draw from the well.
If one gets down almost to the water
And the rope does not go all the way,
Or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune.”
As I opened my heart in recognition and felt myself reflected in Deborah’s being, I appreciated once more the value of what I had forsaken, what had now been inexplicably returned to me by fortuitous contingency, coincidentally unmasking my destiny yet again. “Coincidence or God?” Herman Melville once posed the question. A small coincidence can bear the stamp of the universal. I suppose we have all prayed for big things at one time or another. Other than my life, my god does not supply me with big things but rather communicates to me with seemingly insignificant signs, such as the eraser lost by a stranger and found by me just when I needed it, in lieu of the small fortune I had prayed for. I ask my god for the universe and I am given a tiny detail in time and space that simply says “I AM”, then the mystical moment vanishes leaving a vague, soon forgotten impression of the divine detail. But every vanishing moment is a divine gift, is it not? I believe existence is a constantly changing changeling. I want the security of being permanent, but my presence here is all motion, I thought as I surveyed Deborah Hay’s lithe figure before me. Yet the only thing I can take for granted is in itself Nothing that I know of. So here, once again, I stand again at Hecate’s crossroads, at the crisis of being in existence, my heart suddenly thumping with a skip: AHA!
“The only constant is change,” Deborah reminded the class, as if she had read my mind. “Our purpose here is to present change fully and visibly, and to create AHA! in dance, taking nothing for granted,” she continued. “As a choreographer, I am least interested in choreography as choreography. I am most interested in the performance of movement. Of course, there are some little tricks, some of which I will demonstrated to you.”
Aha! Tricks! I was eager to learn a few tricks. My eagerness was due in part to the suggestive emphasis she had placed on the word “performance” when she pronounced it, insinuating something wonderfully exciting and inscrutably sacred underneath its sound. A writhing serpentine shape came to mind, or was it a rope projected and enlivened by her maya? Obviously this subtle mistress of suggestion knew many tricks. I was already losing my objectivity. I felt as if I were leaning over the edge of the Well, peering into the depths, fascinated by my fortune.
III. Crawling Into The Well
We proceeded with our warm-up exercise lying flat on our backs in a circle with our feet towards the center. Deborah Hay, our body-spirit guide into hitherto unknown, improvisational regions, began with firm suggestions to “open up” various areas such as the top of the head, the temples, the soles of the feet, the palms of the hands and so on. Her commands were punctuated every once in awhile with a liberating “AHA!” Her opening-up suggestions induced physical relaxation without directly ordering it – as policemen and other authority figures know only too well, ordering an uptight person to relax can provoke a violent reaction. Eventually she advised us to pick a moment and to begin moving close to the floor as spontaneously as possible.
“Open your eyes. See change. Let your eyes see change constantly, ceaselessly changing,” Deborah intoned, seemingly in harmony with some transcendental power. “Brighten your performance with seeing. Your eyes are excellent indicators of where you are.” I saw I was wrapping myself around one of the church pillars as if I were an uninhibited python in paradise. In any event, we never stopped moving. We squirmed and crawled about the floor for awhile, eventually sitting up or getting onto our thighs or knees while moving every part of the body still moveable.
“Use each other to recognize change. BE everything you are in your changing,” we were instructed. Clueless and without a cue, we stood up, everyone moving, moving, moving, changing, changing, changing….
“Keep yourself free from path, create pathlessness…every cell is awake, open, stimulated…now move the spine…this dance is not your duty…this dance is the perception of the beauty and the perfection of your spine….your goal is single-mindedness…. AHA! Embrace the floor with your feet…feel the sense of vulnerability of a child embracing the floor with its feet…now let your eyes reflect that embrace…let your body follow where your eyes takes you…take your eyes, take your heart with you…now deliberately create changes in direction, be fully there, be there in the change…use your eyes to recognize one another changing….”, Deborah incanted.
During this phase I stepped back to observe, listen and take notes for future reference – I fancied I was a writer in those days. And what a sight is was to behold, thirty people wending their way to mysterious destinations, turning and curving, winding and weaving, bending here and there, always changing wholeheartedly as individuals yet bound by the bodies of the other writhing occupants in the thriving community space….
Deborah suddenly interrupted and scolded us, insisting we were not seeing yet, not really SEEING, for she could see we were shielding our eyes as city people tend to do. Instead of shielding ourselves, we were asked to “invite people to see you, invite being seen, open your eyes, show a willingness to be seen. This is one of the tricks,” she confided, “finding the balance between seeing and being seen. This is rarely achieved, but we must take this practice seriously, and if we do, we shall arrive at our goal with an AHA!”
The participants recommenced moving, now to the Zulu vocals of ‘Manguzutho.’ Deborah danced with the group. She was poetry in motion, an African dancer possessed to possess. Fleet-footed with winged feet, she flew about the church; which, despite its modern-dance reputation, had never before bore witness to such a wild liturgy. She encircled the participants with her dynamic charms; each person was in turn visibly energized: each charge was amplified, and all felt the shock of each.
Although I had withdrawn to the perimeter to record the occasion, I became enchanted by Deborah’s African sorcery. I was tempted to hurl myself into the discombobulating frenzy. The others could not see what was going on in its entirety as I did from my assumed reportorial perspective. The sight of the incongruities her sympathetic manipulations had aroused in the crew caused me to crack up and cackle in a silly manner that had, nevertheless, as most good jokes have, the import of some profound truth.
That being done, we were in the mood for the lunch break, soon to be followed by some theory and practice to temper our indiscipline. As we enjoyed our drinks and snacks, Deborah casually remarked, “The older I get, the more I return. Returning to the moment, the principle of change, I can acknowledge change, being present in the change.” I ruminated on her words as I chewed my buttered roll. The older we are, I opined, the more we return because there is more to return to. That is our pool of experience, I reflected, as I took a sip of water. We note how older people live in the past, I noted, thinking of my old friend Paul, who became so occupied remembering the glory days that he wound up sleeping in a Bowery shelter. We should admonish a young person who dwells on the past too much, I proposed to myself as a terrible memory of my childhood flashed in my mind–especially if the dwelling is negative. It is impossible to live in the past anyway, I mused, then noticed that the guy at the deli had spread the butter on my roll much too thinly.
The thought of the past, or of a future derived from past information, I went on, occurs in the present and influences my behavior. Wait a minute, I paused, Where did I put my water? What was I thinking? I wondered, after finding the bottle slightly behind me. Oh, yes, I was thinking about thoughts. Maybe thoughts do not really matter unless we are superstitious about them. I swallowed the last of the bread, finished off the water, swept the crumbs into the corner to feed the insects and mice, then was moved to further ponder my personal situation.
I cling to the past by returning to the places I have been, so here I am again in New York hoping for a repetition of the glorious Sixties I ran away from. Back and forth I oscillate in a vicious curve carved by jet flights between Hawaii and New York. That vice can only end virtuously in the present moment, when I am fully aware of the fact that everything is in flux and that, by the time I get to where I am going to recover my past, that place has changed and so have I. Only in the present world before me may I perform fully as a person. Perform: to thoroughly complete. Is not that the joy of living to a happy ending? Then we may not adjudge a man happy until his completion in death, hence the ultimate question is not how to live well but how to die well. As I try to tear myself away from the community I cannot do without and to which I must always return to refresh myself, I may be just another imagined personal mask projected by the social mirror. Still, imagined or real, the show must go on. I must not falter in mid-stage, slump and slink away, hoping I am somehow rendered invisible. I must finish well. I must die well. I must perform fully across the stage, from wing to wing, and plunge into the wings as if I know exactly where I am going. Yes, to die well, that is…..
“O.K., break’s over, let’s go,” Deborah announced to the workshop participants, halting my ponderous reverie–and I was gladdened by her voice, for I had not the slightest idea of where I was going on that old black freight train.
IV. Well Made Tricks
After our lunch break, Deborah Hay introduced us to a sequence of images taken from her choreography ‘Leaving the House’, which she was scheduled to present as a solo performance at the Roulette performance space over the weekend. She called the images “fronts for being aware”, or “references that assist us in returning to the moment to fully perform conscious movement.” She meant by “consciousness” a more contemplative, expansive state of mind than a concentrated, contracted state of mind. She gave us a little demonstration or movement hint of each image as she described it, then we experimented with each dynamic image.
LEAVING THE HOUSE
“Do a slow, well-paced run, leaving everything behind you, with a clean slate before you,” Deborah instructed, and we tried doing just that. Someone, not understanding what he saw or heard, asked what she meant by a “slow well-paced run.” She watched his effort for a moment, then advised, “Not too much down in order to go forward, just find the place where you are always travelling forward.” That did the trick for him, and he proceeded with an AHA!
‘Leaving the House’ had a surrealistic appearance. We did our best to imitate what we had seen, but because of the state of consciousness recommended for the action, the subject imitated was not an entirely objective model. And if the motion itself were imitated without consciousness of the motive, the performance did not come off well. As for running without a memory of the past, and with a clean slate: if everything were completely forgotten, we would be in an infantile state, rendering the act of running impossible; but Deborah’s suggestion was helpful to the extent thought and self-awareness did not hamper full expression of the movement. For a moment, however, being the sort of person I am, the idea of a clean slate or Nothing before me provoked me to think rather than act, inasmuch as it brought to mind the silent whistle of that ol’ black freight rain to nowhere–thinking is my favorite stalling activity. But then we moved onto the next image.
The guided imagery of ‘The Wave’ is that, while running, the runner encounters a big wave breaking his forward motion, to which he reacts with a strong wavering motion in harmony with the wave. Deborah’s personal wave was uncannily realistic. I had often tried to abstract ‘waving’ while living on the North Shore, but I did not have much success, therefore Deborah won my respect. It is difficult for a dancer to successfully represent a wave or any other object with the human body so effectively that an audience will immediately recognize it. Yet when the objective is made known before it is performed, we certainly know which dancer is most faithful to it.
BUBBLING OR REFLECTING BROOK
The wave ends in a bubbling brook. The dancers’ feet become that bubbling brook with little side-steps in line and stamping indicative of a shallow brook gurgling over stones on its bed. The body above reflects and magnifies the movement below: arms wave, head rolls, torso twists and so on and so forth.
STILL SUMMER HILL
The dancer becomes a still summer hill, holding whatever pose she may strike for the expression: each person strikes a different interpretative pose. Again, the observer usually does not know precisely what object is being represented unless he is informed of the performer’s intent; then, AHA! However, if the motive of the dancer is strong enough, sometimes the still summer hill is intuitively recognized by the uninformed observer, or by the mind reader.
Now the still summer hill dissolves or melts away. Deborah was asked for tips about how to dissolve. She said the face dissolves before the rest of the body, that dissolving starts with the eyes, and the mouth relaxes and rounds. This continues throughout the body. Taking this as their cue, everyone in the group melted differently, as if they were snowmen of various sizes and shapes under different temperatures. Eventually everyone became a puddle on the floor.
SHORT FAT JUMPS
Each in their own way, the dancers started jerking some part of their bodies off the floor, eventually arising to jump up and down in a squat. Short fat jumps backward and forward. Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps from side to side. Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps around and around. Plop! Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps turning in the air. Plump! Plump! Deborah told us to “feel the weight.”
Without prompting from anyone, the dancers wound up their short fat jumps facing the same direction, ready for the next image: Universal Love, a moving image resembling a victorious god or goddess with face lifted to the heavens, one palm lifted up and forward to receive blessings, who, with long, slow strides, leads everyone who cares to follow. Particular love is a contraction of universal love in mid-stride, a moment in the path where the extended palm returns to the body, bringing in universal love to the particular person. As the dancers repeated the movements across the floor, I envisioned dark lines flashing in the background, black neon signs forming two hexagrams from the I CHING. I looked the hexagrams up later:
‘Universal Love’ evoked the 20th hexagram for me: ‘Contemplation’ or ‘Kuan’. ‘Kuan’ means both contemplating and being seen as an example. It refers to the deepest inner concentration, between Libation and the Offering, during the sacrificial ceremony: “The ablution has been made,” states the I CHING, “but not the offering. Full of trust they look up to him.” Richard Wilhelm explains: “If piety is sincere and expressive of real faith, the contemplation of it has a transforming and awe-inspiring effect on those who witness it. Thus also in nature a holy seriousness is to be seen in the fact that natural occurrences are uniformly subject to law. Contemplation of the divine meaning underlying the workings of the universe gives to the man who is called upon to influence others the means of producing like effects.” (1)
‘Particular Love’ evoked the 61st hexagram, ‘Inner Truth’, or ‘Chung Fu.’ The humble heart is open to receive truth from outside, while being strong in inner truth. For example, when deciding tough cases, a judge should be free of prejudice and willing to hear the truth given by others, yet at the same time he should remain true to his insight. In this truthing process, we are brought into an interdependent relation with each other, as trustworthy members of the cosmos, thus resolving at once our alienation from the natural world without and the supernatural realm within.
Man’s alienation from the cosmos and his self proceeded with self-conscious thinking, the division of thinking subject from its objects, including other thinking subjects. Thus divided, homeless thinkers have yearned to return home again from their homeless state. No doubt ‘primitive’ people felt at home in the foundation of all the arts, dance, wherein they communed with God and Nature. But the formal development of thinking eventually led to the death of god and nature, aggravating man’s homelessness. The industrial-scientific revolution embedded the logical process in machines, and now the information age is gradually rendering many of us rather redundant by means of thinking machines. We are gradually being reduced to the performance of meaningless tasks for the production and consumption of vanities.
The modern dance movement recognized the modern, industrial form of alienation and sought to resolve it by casting off meaningless, impersonal routines. Modern dance made a heroic effort to re-establish the primordial harmony of man the microcosm in community with the cosmic macrocosm. For that redemption he has his human energy. He needs no other tool to apply than his human spirit. He needs no other matter to mold than his own body. Barefooted modern dancers protested ballet’s pretty lies about man’s Fall, defied ballet’s illusory defiance of gravity and grave. In other words, although the modern dancer might be striving for heaven, she dances her heavenly redemption on Earth.
Modern dance recognized that man’s recovery is from the fall to nature, and that his destiny here is to fall and recover again and again in living motion. Thus modern dance focused on the moving principle of life above dead forms, just as the Hindu goddess Sakti, in her Kali form, dances on her dead husband, Siva. Modern dance recognized and even emulated the efficient machine of the modern age, yet its dancer turned the wheel and was not crushed beneath it. Most of all, the spirit of modern dance rebelled against perfunctory dance movements which alienated the dancer from the meaning of her performance.
However, modern dance evolved into various technical cults. Before long modern dancers were taking ballet classes and ‘doing technique’ instead of dancing. But that was contrary to the leading principle of modern dance. Enter post-modern dance pioneers such as Deborah Hay to protest the stultification of dance and the alienation of the dancer. The post-modern dancer seeks unity not in formal choreography but in naturally moving awareness, when mind and body are at home with each other and at home with spirit and matter in cosmic unity. Of course that is nothing new although it is revolutionary and radical in the sense of returning to the roots of dance. There is nothing new under the Sun. All rebels are spoiled by the authorities they rebel against, and in their protest they harken back to a previous protest, ultimately to that first point and instant which is the principle of their line at any position in space and moment in time.
I think if philosophy is to know thyself, then at its best modern dance is the energetic philosophy of being thyself in motion moving through forms in contrast to striking permanent classical poses. But what do I know? In the final analysis: nothing. My philosophy shall always fail pending my end. My particular freedom is my failure to achieve the universal ideal wherein no further movement is warranted. So, again, I think the modern dancer, feeling the fire between the poles, never stops moving between and through all possible forms, which are, as Deborah Hay might say, “fronts for awareness.”
Be that as it may, During the enactment of ‘Universal Love’ and ‘Particular Love’ by our workshop, each dancer had a different manner of bringing in universal love to herself. Deborah, for example, seemed to deflect or reject Universal Love with her hand before it reached her, hence I longed to see her bring her palm boldly over her heart so the heart she shared so ardently with others could be returned to her. Sometimes she looked drawn and emptied by her giving. Perhaps she was suffering from jet lag and was now in fact exhausted as the workshop drew to a close. Be that as it may, her performance of the dynamic images of love reminded me of how I had turned away from the well a few years prior, my jug broken.
We had completed our experiments. Someone asked a final question about the images:
“Do the images really take us to the place we want to go to? Can we have, in this world, what we imagine? That is, by examining the object, can we obtain it?”
“I am not hooked on imagery” Deborah replied. “The process is a very long one. Sometimes the movement itself takes me to the place.”
Sadly, our workshop with Deborah Hay at St. Marks Church in Manhattan was drawing to a rapid close. I made sure I had the flyer, announcing her performance for the coming weekend, in my dance bag.
“I appreciate your willingness to play, “Deborah said in closing.”Your willingness to play is visible. It can be seen. But do not forget, always remember that choreography is not to be seen. What is to be seen is performance, the consciousness, the light. What is to be seen is all of the person, not just the dance, not just part of the person, but all of the person. Thank you.”
V. Questioning the Well
Yes, the Beatles were certainly right, it is “a long and winding road,” I mused as I rode the subway home. As the hours passed, I plunged into reverie to a depth where my thoughts took on a life of their own. Submarine monsters, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to any creature I had seen before, glided in the deep, occasionally illuminated by shafts of light from above, then, AHA! Without bidding from me, certain recognizable features from my past emerged, animated images, long since submerged and embedded in sandy bottoms, were now reincarnated and swept through my mind in a flood of nostalgia.
“The older I get, the more I return,” Deborah’s recent remark recurred to me as memories from the past long gone proceeded. Now willing to cooperate, I dug into my unpacked suitcase – my home was a temporary space on an old friend’s floor – and brought out phonograph records I had been lugging around unplayed for several years; I could not afford to purchase a record player while on my long and winding road. I gazed at the album covers advertising music played by the courtly, mystical gamelan, the lyres of ancient Egypt, and the long flutes of the East. Deborah had broken the cryptic seal, and now, despite my necessary concern with present exigencies, I had become the archaeologist of my own existence.
“Belay the past! Set aside the irrevocable reality of the past in brackets!” I ordered myself and withdrew abruptly from my excavation. This is the present, this is my now, I am what I am here and now, nothing more nor less, hence the past avails me not for it is forever gone and better forgotten lest it interfere with my pressing task.
Still, I could not put Deborah aside. She is an uncanny woman, I conjectured, someone who has sipped the sacred spring from the occluded well by which the dragon sleeps. As time proceeds, her suggestions will take root and grow in those of us who attended her workshop. Unbeknownst to us, her commands shall have enlightening effects above as the subliminal stalks draw sustenance from the mud below.
“I must see her perform at the Roulette this weekend!” I enthusiastically proclaimed to my alter ego, putting my records back in their rightful place under the trousers at the bottom of the beat-up suitcase doubling as my portable bureau. “But take care,” I warned myself, “and know whom you really adore. In her you see yourself mirrored, the self you actually love, and, if your self is false, so shall be your love. Hopelessly infatuated romantic do not be, then, for a romantic’s great expectations causes him always to fall short of his mark with a broken heart and, in the end, to exclaim, ‘Twas not love but mere foolishness!'”
As I traveled along the long and winding subway tracks next Friday evening to the performance space downtown, I wondered if Deborah Hay would realize her visions in public performance or if she would fall short. I determined to approach her work from a more critical, “objective” perspective. That would require the consideration of objects other than my subjective projections onto her personal screen.
Deborah had called her images “fronts for being aware.” Aware of what? What is behind the image if the image is just a front? She had also said, “I am not hooked on imagery. It’s a long process. Sometimes the movement itself takes me to the place.” And what place might that be? An invisible spiritual home? Does she dream the old dancer’s dream of reconciliation with the Object in order to BE the subjective within the objective, which is not its image or front but its spirit? Would she be one with the Universe or its Law or Energy by moving through its representative forms? Perhaps her images or fronts for awareness are fetiches. Maybe she makes an image to make a connection with the ultimate Power. Maybe she uses the image as a tool to realize the Supernatural beyond the Natural. Yet the spirit within is always unseen although it might be felt, hence any image without is incompetent to adequately express it. It would seem that, as a postmodern dancer, the images would be inconsequential to her true intent. If any particular order is irrelevant, then choreography is futile.
Well, if the indefinite spirit within cannot be seen as a sight or scene, why bother to perform before an audience? The performance might feel good to the performer, but feelings can be had anywhere. And if whatever is behind the image could be communicated to others by parapsychic means, no performance would be required.
I think postmodern dancers want to break through the traditional images and dispense with the imagination itself in order to spontaneously obtain the concrete realization of ideas; as if ideas were beings divorced from the imagination, with its relative and continuous motion of time through definite spatial boundaries perceived as forms. No matter how much we might object that our “beings” or ideas represent or are the real principle of the natural rather than the contrived supernatural, our intention is still transcendental; that is, we really want to escape. But concrete realization of the supernatural on Earth presents a paradox, for escape velocity is only achieved in death, and, although Nothing exists, Nothing cannot be portrayed or imagined in any shape or form. The danse macabre in itself is futile as a means of communicating the reality of death behind maya’s imaginary front.
Well, then, we might as well return to the pretty balletic illusion that gravity does not exist instead of bemoaning gravity and somehow trying to find our existence in the mass or in the grave. Of course modern dance would demonstrate the tragic synthesis of matter and spirit in the human being. Despite our transcendental aspirations, redemption is only had on Earth; with modern dance we can have joy in our complaints and communicate the same in sublime forms appreciable to a broad audience. But what can postmodern dance do in its protest of the modern? Where can postmodern dance go except to eventually return to the very images it protests, to return to the sophistries of classical and modern dance rhetoric in order to coherently communicate its protest?
I think we want to get behind or beyond the imagination by means of ideation, yet we are the prisoners of imagination. Our very ideas are grounded in and arise from the imagination. And I speak not only of the optical imagination, upon which most of us are too dependent, but of the imagination of the blind man as well, whose other senses are sharpened to compensate for what the seeing take for granted.
With those reflections in mind as I hurtle along the winding subterranean rails to witness Deborah Hay’s solos at Roulette, I cannot help but think my trip is unwarranted given the postmodernist rejection of objective standards. I might as well be blind to them; someday I will ask a blind man what it is like to attend a dance concert. Will he say the spiritual ambience of the postmodern audience feels better than that of the modern or classical?
I had already seen postmodern dance performed once before. I described Pooh Kaye’s choreography in my review ‘Punkmodern Object Relations.’ Her company’s performance had its sensational merits in gut feelings, but its chaotic flip-flopping around was not very handsome or pretty, nor did it communicate anything in particular; rather, it seemed to simulate a hysterical, narcissistic return to the womb. It seemed as if the rebellious dancers, feeling homeless in their alienated individuation, were struggling to leave the house forever, unaware that the process of rebellion was returning them to the house they were rebelling against. Indeed, rebels, like snails, carry that house around on their backs, but they think it is a new house, a house of freedom, when they withdraw into it at another location. But the good they flee to has its origin in the evil avoided. Their attempts to leave the orderly house behind collapses into hysterical antics. Finally, In order to overcome the dread of incest implied by the mission, the individual human is bound to return to the horrible scene of the alienating crime, where he fell into time and space as an individual.
Well, now, it is 1985 and Deborah is about to perform ‘Leaving the House’ in Manhattan. I recall she said her movement takes her “there” (wherever that might be) more than the image. But again, whoever we might be, are we not prisoners of our images? Is not a man’s epitaph an image of his work upon which is inscribed ‘He Tried To Break Free.’ And do we not as rebels against the traditional wisdom throw off our shells to travel the long and winding road to freedom, and, if we survive the circuitous road, find ourselves embracing the very concepts we rebelled against? Moreover, are we not all snails who have, besides our individual personalities housing our guilt, the same cosmic house on our backs? We would shed our skins, cast off our shells, dispense with the standards and become function itself, but function has it being through forms. Function has an objective, meaning a communicable use, and has no end in itself.
Which forms shall Deborah Hay use and to what end? What sort of solo per-formance or “through to completion” shall she present at the Roulette? That remains to be seen. Some of us might want it to be a “sight” or vision fixed to permanent reality, preferably planned out well in advance to please us with recognizable forms we are safe and sound at home with in a neat, tidy house. Others, more bold, or perhaps more foolish, want no choreography at all and would rather be thrilled by the challenge and homelessness of improvisation; they would view a continuous operation, experience every house as an never-ending house with stuff thrown all over the place to trip over. Indeed, seeing is continuous motion of the eye; nevertheless there exists. relative to the motion, the immovable sight.
Finally! The subway train is pulling into the station. I am climbing the stairs. I shall see.
VI. Reflections in the Well
That we may better understand the gravity of Deborah’s performance, we should remember that dance is the foundation of the arts. Despite Cicero’s statement that sober Romans did not dance, common sense informs us that life itself is a dance no matter how seriously we take it. No matter how silly dancers might appear to sober sages, life will never stop moving. As we settle into our seats we may rest assured that Deborah Hay is a significant example of a science and art requiring no other tool for discovery and expression than the dancer’s original triunal gift of body, mind, and spirit. After all, she is one of the founders of the “radical”, “revolutionary” and “explosive” Judson Dance Theatre. Since we heard her say that, the older she gets, the more she returns, we may expect a stunning show this evening as she approaches her radical roots.
Existentialists claim existence is prior to being no matter what the definition of being may be. Therefore we might assume that the return to existence explodes traditional conventions. However that may be, I feel guilty for the past because I believe it could have been different if only I would have taken that other path, but I could not know then what I know now, so things could not have been different then or, alas, for that matter, now…. All I can envison is the past because that is all there is therefore I am revisioning and not changing. My supposed freedom alienates me. I want freedom from freedom, freedom from guilt, freedom from thinking that it could have been otherwise than it was, freedom from my revisioning…. There is always some thing, person or god to blame for the inevitable, but I do not want to give up this freedom that irks me…. Maybe the past could have been different after all, maybe it can be different now…. I shall return to the primitive dance and start all over again…. Where are my explosive plastics?
Cram a woman in a box and she might seem rather small and pathetic until she is atomized and explodes–then all hell breaks loose. Deborah’s ‘Leaving the House’ has been critically acclaimed as a leading feminist statement of her time. I have asked her what that means. Did some man beat the hell out of her in the traditional manner? Did she have to summon all her courage to leave the house that was supposed to be her security but was actually a hell hole? I don’t know. In an attempt to dispel the “myth” that we must know something about art to appreciate art, the show bill quotes her as saying:
“When we are confronted with art, we usually think there is something we should know before we see it, but what I am dancing is what you see…whatever you see.”
So, Deborah brought us to the Roulette to spin our own answers with the aid of her visual images. Fortunately, she did not leave us with only the visual aids, but with hearing aids as well. The celebrated postmodern composer, Pauline Oliveros, armed with her glistening 120-bass accordion, personally accompanied Deborah, in ‘The Well.’ And, for ‘Leaving the House,’ Deborah used Pauline’s composition, ‘The Wheel of Time’, recorded by the Kronos String Quartet, Now Pauline has this to say about her music, which supports the proposition that knowing something about art does in fact aid our appreciation of it:
“As a musician, I am interested in the sensual nature of sound, its power of synchronization, coordination, release and change. Hearing represents the primary sense organ – hearing happens involuntarily. Listening is a voluntary process that through training and experience produces culture. All cultures develop through ways of listening. Deep Listening is listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, or one’s own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep Listening represents a heightened state of awareness and connects to all that there is. As a composer I make my music through Deep Listening.” (Pauline Oliveros, http://www.deeplistening.org)
The Roulette performance space, an apartment converted into a dingy and dirty, poorly lit avant-garde studio, certainly required a heightened state of aesthetic awareness in 1985. But the audience was oblivious to the dust and grime; New Yorkers are inured to dismal scenery; besides, the dreary conditions gave the theatre an air of postmodern authenticity. On second thought, no better house could have been contrived for ‘Leaving the House.’ When Deborah entered the crummy lighting, her right side appeared dark, old and lame, and her left side was bright, young and spry, lending her the appearance of a person split between despair and hope. She entered anxiously, seemingly frightened at first, then exhausted, drawn, unbalanced, clumsy, grieved, possessed, quite mad. I recalled what she had said at the workshop the day before the performance:
“What is to be seen is performance, the consciousness, the light. What is to be seen is all of the person, not just the dancer, not just part of the person.”
As Deborah staggered around, I was initially disappointed by my high expectations for her, expectations due to my previous admiration for her in her teaching role. Now all eyes were on her, and, true to her word, she made no attempt whatsoever to hide her weaknesses. I suppose I was subconsciously expecting a pretty ballerina to tombe pas de bourree glissade jete into heaven; or an equally lovely but modern Persephone to pull up a narcissus and sublimely descend in a wonderfully choreographed struggle with the underworld lord. Therefore I was saddened and embarrassed by the reality before me.
This is meaningless, I thought, as if the meaning of life must be all peaches and cream and bowls of cherries. She plunges into the abyss of despair and chaos under our noses to fathom Nothing. Still, I felt hope for her redemption welling up in my aggrieved heart. Maybe she will emerge from her grave depression, ecstatic in her dance. Perhaps in dance, in the seemingly illogical, mad unity of life and death, of spirit and matter, she will break the common mold with an uncommon revelation, obliterate the world with creative destruction, and by her portrayal of the essential madness of human life, momentarily resolve the paradox of human existence, so on and so forth. Therefore, whatever she brings back from chaos, I am now ready to receive it, to experience it vicariously, or, in other words, speaking words of wisdom: “Let it be.”
AHA! Now that I was open to her revelation, Deborah’s candor amazed me. Her performance was marvelous in the Now that I was seeing as she was seeing. Regardless of the physical tension demonstrating the images she calls “fronts for awareness,” I perceived she was inwardly open and relaxed. Her expressions communicated something fantastic, but never mind, for the intuitive experience itself was beyond any imaginable fantasy: it was….
I don’t pretend to know. I can only describe what I saw and felt. The images I had not seen before had a greater effect on me than the ones Deborah had previously demonstrated at the workshop. I was curious. I was both stunned and inexplicably moved. Soon Deborah was crawling across the floor with her face under her body. She uttered something unintelligible to the rational mind but profoundly affective to the heart, a cry of emotive unity: fearful yet defiant; angry but loving; begging while giving, joyous in sorrow, beastly and human. She was a baby. Normally a crying baby is unappreciated at public performances, resulting in the removal of the bawling artist from the scene – provided the parents are civilized – but this baby had our deepest sympathies. I felt like picking her up. Is not that what we all cry for, since our alienating fall into the the world? for our mothers and fathers to pick us up and hold us?
Deborah convulsed. Although wracked by contradictory movements, there was still method to her madness, an awesome harmony in her disheveled disorder. What her intention was, if there was any intention, remains a mystery to me. Maybe she set out to emulate chaos, or to somehow deliberately express the inchoate, but I received the impression she was ultimately seized by some higher order superseding her contradictions. Mystified by these proceedings, we paused for an intermission.
I gazed into the amazed faces of the audience during the interlude. The conversations were hesitant and subdued. I saw the dead ancestors in the living faces. We are the dead alive, I thought. I am returning. I am looking behind me now for my future meaning. I see a grave. I would rob it, and…
And it was time for the final performance of the evening: ‘The Well.’ Pauline Oliveros played her accordion as Deborah danced. The accordion sparkled in the light, its bellows pumping life into the song of the….
What? Music from my past! I was seven-years old when a huge 120-bass Noble accordion was bestowed on me in pursuant to the acculturation movement of the Fifties. Every child was gifted in those days; every gifted child just had to play a musical instrument for their own good. My foster brother Jim got a violin: he hated it with all his heart and soul. But I loved my accordion, heavy though it was. Since there were no accordion teachers in Muskogee, Jim’s violin teacher tried to teach me to play the accordion. Fortunately for the discriminating ear, I graduated to an accordion school when I moved to Topeka. I vividly remember dragging my instrument several blocks to that school, occasionally encountering black people marching along the avenue singing “We Shall Overcome.” I was in an accordion band. I received Third Prize at the Heart of America Accordion Festival, where I also danced a Strauss waltz. When I took my seat on stage to play my solo, ‘Malagueña’, I was paralyzed with fear; my teacher loudly whispered the name of the beginning chord from the wings; somehow I got through the performance; to this day I cannot remember a bit of it. Shortly thereafter I played the accordion for the military school dance band – the colonel saddled me with a tuba for the marching band. I continued playing the accordion after military school – I was particularly fond of the kind of classical music Isadora Duncan liked to dance to. But I needed money when I got married, so I hocked my accordion: that was the end of my accordioneering career. I regret I stopped playing. We must never stop dancing our favorite pastimes.
And now Pauline Oliveros is playing her accordion at the Roulette: I am all ears. Her music comprised delicate, simple tones of various durations, gentle discordants here and there, multiple rhythms, even and uneven. It did not distract from the dance but augmented it, or rather it was the golden thread by which Deborah found her way to the Well of Inexhaustible Nourishment. When I saw Deborah enter with a bolt of cloth draped over her head, I remembered the peculiar dream dreamed for me a few nights before, of three women approaching the village well; one of them asked, “What is the difference between a Christian and a Jew?” Another responded, “It is the taste in your mouth,” and she began drawing water from the well.
As Pauline spun the fateful musical thread, Deborah, eyes covered by the cloth, paced about calmly. The burial cloth slowly slid off her head. She wrapped it around her torso, a dress of life, and proceeded with her dance. I was being drawn into a trance. I saw an Egyptian priestess, maybe Isis. I heard high-pitched screams, then very low, hollow, round, open groans. That is all I can remember until the end, when she knelt, cupped her hands and drank….
“A cup of cold water in the desert.”
(1) THE I CHING, The Richard Wilhelm Translation, Transl English, Cary F. Baynes, Princeton: University Press, 1972
Official Web Site Biography of Deborah Hay (deborahhay.com)
DEBORAH HAY “is a phenomenon capable of expanding and diversifying the language of movement in the most striking and unexpected ways.” Dance Australia. Her choreography, from exquisitely meditative solos to the dances she makes for large groups of untrained and trained dancers, explores the nature of experience, perception, and attention in dance.
Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Deborah grew up making annual pilgrimages into Manhattan with her mother, to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and the New York City Ballet at City Center. She was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, one of the most radical and explosive art movements in this century. In 1964 she danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. In 1965 she abandoned all dance training. By 1967 she was choreographing exclusively for untrained dancers thus removing herself from the performing arena.
Hay left New York in 1970 to live in a community in northern Vermont. Her daughter Savannah was born one year later. It was here that she began to follow a rigorous daily movement practice which, to this day, continues to inform her as a student, teacher, and performer. She created a series of Ten Circle Dances, which did not have public performance as a goal. Her book, Moving through the Universe in Bare Feet, Swallow Press, l975, is a collection of these simple dances.
In 1976 she moved to Austin, Texas, and began performing as a solo artist for the first time. Since l980 she has conducted fifteen annual large group workshops, each lasts four months and culminates in public performances. The group dances become the fabric for her solo performance repertory. Her book Lamb at the Altar: The Story of a Dance, Duke University Press, l994, documents this unique creative process.
Deborah received a 1983 Guggenheim Fellowship in Choreography and was awarded numerous National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowships. She was awarded the prestigious McKnight National Fellowship from the Minnesota Dance Alliance to conduct an extensive performance residency in 1996 in Minneapolis. She is also the recipient of a 1996 Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship in collaboration with the Austin sculptor, TreArenz.
She tours extensively as a solo performer and teacher. Her writings appear in The Drama Review, Contact Quarterly, Movement Research Journal, and the Performing Arts Journal. She was just awarded a National Dance Project Touring Grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts which will help subsidize her tour My Body, The Buddhist, on Tour from January through May 2001. <i, will be available from Wesleyan University Press, Fall 2000.
Since l980 she has collaborated with composer/musicians Pauline Oliveros, Richard Landry, Terry Riley, Ellen Fullman, with poet/percussionist Bill Jeffers, visual artist Tina Girouard, and TreArenz, and theater directors SaskiaHekt and Johannes Birringer.
Chapbook Copyright 2001 David Arthur Walters
Original Art Copyright 2002 Minerva T. Bloom
MODERN DANCE – SERIOUS BUSINESS
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Manhattan, December 1984
Anna Sokolow’s Player’s Project, presented at the Riverside Dance Festival, may be summed up in two words: Serious Business.
I expected to see some historical modern dance, and that’s what I got. Ms. Sokolow began her career with Martha Graham and Louis Horst, and went on to form her own group in 1937. Graham’s probable influence was evident in Ms. Sokolow’s ‘Lyric Suite’ (1953), in the form of contractions, spasmodic releases and ponderous attitudes. Furthermore, during the ‘Adagio Appassionato’, a softer sort of round dance by four lovely ladies in red gowns, I expected Graham to come onstage any moment. She did not, but Dian Dong, Kathleen Quinlan, Risa Steinberg and Susan Thomasson did an excellent job with the choreography.
During the intermission, I conversed with a matronly gentlewoman on my left. We noted how the audience consisted of mature men and women and young artists (many of the latter were dancers). The middle generation was markedly under-represented. She remarked that Anna Sokolow had been around for many, many years, and asked why I’d come to see her work. “To see the real thing,” I replied.
Following the intermission, we watched ‘Ballade’ (1965). I do not remember much of it, except that it was a ballet, and that my attention was diverted by the wonderful music of Alexander Scriabin, played live and marvelously so by Richard Justin Fields.
During the pause, my new acquaintance waxed enthusiastic about the music, then asked me if I liked the dances. I said, passing over the ballet just presented, that only the very best of ballet turns me on. However, I said I did enjoy ‘Lyric Suite’, which seemed to be a modern dance representing various emigrants landing in America (I did not have the slightest knowledge of Sokolow’s intentions).
I further remarked that I enjoy the modern form of dance not because it arouses me emotionally, but because it makes me think. My seating companion rejoined that she had been attending modern dances for a very long time, and found them boring. I had noticed that she had fallen asleep during ‘Ballade’, and was about to ask her whether her boredom was due any distinction between ballet and modern dance, or if the music simply lulled her into a pleasant nap; but the show continued before I could ask.
‘Steps of Silence’ (1984 Premiere), with an introductory narration from THE FIRST CIRCLE by Solzhenitsyn, concluded the program. The impressions given here of prisoners did not inflame the passions. However, the choreography effectively and efficiently achieved its purpose: to recreate that dull affect of shuffling prisoners limping zombie-like to occasionally huddle together here and there. They looked like brainwashed, empty shells devoid of any capacity for passion. And in the end, they were blown across the stage of life along with the newspapers that reveal, all to no avail, their most miserable plight. No, nothing spectacular here. But long live Anna Sokolow, still true to the modern tradition.
As the cast took its bows, not one smile was to be seen on a face. Yes, I thought, this is very Serious Business!
DANCE FOUNDATION OF THE ARTS
by David Arthur Walters
I thank my lucky stars that I am a so-called dumb dancer, for I can state unequivocally, without presenting an elaborate argument to prove it, that dance is the foundation of all the arts.
It is with that in mind that I say any writer worth reading is a good dancer, or at least a frustrated one, whether he knows it or not. And a good singer is a dancer too, as well as an orator who can move the crowd. Likewise, the sculptor and the painter liberate us by virtue of their dance. As far as I’m concerned, the arts require little deliberation and a lot of practice. I do not mean to say that the good artist is stupid. Rather, I mean too much deliberation obstructs the expressions of the profound, primordial wisdom that inspires the creative arts. We tend to give far too much credit to man-made reason, and not enough to Reason as we find it.
It takes a lot of practice to form the disciplinary vessel required to liberate the flow of meaning. I inspire by this instant practice to let the words flow rather than force them into logical forms. I therefore fervently pray that I am able to get out of the way so that a being much wiser than I may speak through me. Perhaps later, when I find confirmation somewhere or another of what I have said, maybe in a musty old book, I shall have good cause to ponder on how I came to know something before I learned it.
Dancing all day makes for a good night’s sleep. Before I fell asleep last night, I was reading Rousseau. He had a practice of modeling his political urgings into very concise forms, which he would then use as a vocabulary for choreographing many lovely combinations. I was dreaming accordingly. It was a simple dance. A very large company was on stage, a company that comprised many small groups performing diverse variations on a grand theme. The dancers within each group had their own unique characteristics. However, the differences between the groups and the individuals within them began to diminish as the dancers approached absolute unison. I could not distinguish one form from another. I felt a great tension, as if an enormous irruption was imminent. I heard an anxious choir singing, “The Union is dangerous, the Union is dangerous, the Union is dangerous!” The chanting somehow dissolved the tension. I arose pleased and refreshed, because the tension was apparently in me, and I felt my questions about the true nature of Rousseau’s political philosophy had been danced for me in my dream.
Naturally there is a relation between the arts, and there exists special relations between each and every one of us. My special way of expressing myself might seem peculiar to you, so a little background on my dearest subject might help you to understand my way of becoming. Like so many dancers before me, I went to New York shortly after I caught dance fever. I heard someone say that New York is the dance capital of the world, so I quit a very good job and made reservations with an image in mind, a vision that dancers were waiting for me with open arms to welcome me into their loving family.
Two religious acquaintances of mine said I’d fallen into Satan’s clutches. A psychologist stated that only mentally disturbed people feel the need to dance, but comforted me with his diagnosis that actors are the most neurotic people of all. Nevertheless, off to the Big Apple I went.
As I learned to dance, I also took up my childhood love, writing, to write dance reviews and to pay for my dance classes with the proceeds. It all made a lot of sense at the time. There I was, the greatest dancer and author the world had yet to know, writing dance reviews as the means to become a so-called dumb dancer. It was a neat fit!
Little did I know that I would wind up being rejected by the critical world, or that I would be sleeping on living room floors and in closets, buying cheap vegetables and fruit with the returns on my alcoholic roommate’s empty beer cans, using slugs to beat the subway fare, and eventually wind up homeless with seventeen dollars while my friends back home were almost ready for an early retirement. But I was doing what I loved to do.
And I did meet many wonderful dancers who were also wonderful people. For example, Delilah, with whom I often commiserated over a cold quart of beer and two cheap falafel-on-pita sandwiches: several dancers I knew enjoyed beer and falafel diets in those days. I’ll never forget the story she told me, about how she found out she was a “black” girl when she was twelve years old in South America: someone gave her a whitening agent and explained the facts of discrimination to her.
Well, I eventually got tired of poverty. Some of us learn faster than others. It took me awhile to realize that, in order to survive for much longer, I would have to either start chanting Hare Krishna full time or get a day job. I was given an opportunity to write news summaries for a desktop publisher, but I turned it down because it paid next to nothing; it seems everyone is a writer if not an actor in New York, so the competition is very stiff. I stopped writing; an old friend of mine, a psychoanalyst, said not to worry, for most writers are writers just because they are unable to cope with reality.
Well, to make fourteen years quite short here, I got a great job and wound up making per month what the average writer makes in a year. The job was so great that it was also part-time, affording me the opportunity to keep dancing as well, which I did with zeal; I even performed at Lincoln Center. As for writing, I forgot all about it. That is, until I got fed up with Easy Street, quit my dream job, a job that would be the envy of any struggling artist, and took up my pen again.
Yes, I am terrified by the high failure rate of writers, and the chance that I might wind up eating dog food as an old man, or not even that, for dog food is very expensive. Nevertheless, here I go again, for I am still a so-called dumb dancer, and, as far as I am concerned, dance is the foundation of all the arts, so I may succeed at the art of writing.
WOMEN IN WAR AND PEACE
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
In Fond Memory of Luigi Faccuito
Why we dream certain dreams, picking up bits and pieces of memories, has fascinated many an interpreter. As everyone knows, the brain keeps running while we sleep, and when we lightly do so, it is wont to tell a story to that unity of apperception we call the self, as if the storyteller were another person split off, or half the individual divided, and a mysterious half at that because we may not intuit or directly know the introjected subject we associate with the I as it organizes our self-reflections. Yet it has a motive, a theme, or fixed idea to be divined upon awakening.
I have not seen Jill Strauss for twenty years yet she represented that motive in my dream. She taught jazz dance for Luigi Faccuito, may he never stop moving, and I took her class from time to time when she substituted for him. I still take his class in my dreams although he went to the presumably Better Place this year, and she, a pretty little woman, is almost always around, as she regularly was back in those days. I do not believe I had a crush on her, at least not consciously, though I did think she was quite cute. We both moved away from New York, she to California, me to Hawaii then Florida.
Jill starred in my dream last night. She was driving. I used to drive in my dreams, smoking cigarettes as well, until I realized in one dream that I had quit smoking, and had no driver’s license. She pulled into a charming shopping center. Judging from the Spanish architecture, we were in California.
I visited California in my youth, even stayed in San Francisco a few months, and thought Californians were weird. I liked the smaller cities, got to drive a big pink Cadillac convertible, and thought the traffic was atrocious.
I just heard from Drew a few days ago. He moved to California from South Beach a couple years ago. He said people were a lot nicer in California. I thought of moving out there. The San Bernardino shootings took place the next day, an hour’s drive from his home.
The war drums beat incessantly, bombs are away and maybe a National Socialist American Workers Party will be founded, its militant members goose-stepping in brown shirts.
I felt comfortable with Jill at the wheel as she wheeled into the mall. We approached a two-story building with a wooden façade and big windows. A dance class was ongoing inside. The studio was huge, with a very high, vaulted ceiling. There were two huge murals of modern dancers painted on two of the walls. It reminded me of Ana Lessa’s new Atma Beauty salon in South Beach.
Yesterday I encountered Ray Sullivan, a choreographer, sitting at a café in South Beach. We chatted animatedly at length about the great dancers and teachers we knew and had studied under back in the day, and bemoaned the fact that the current generation has missed the revolutionary philosophy of modern dance and along with it the passion that moves audiences to tears of joy.
Too many today are just doing technique, not dancing. The kids know little yet think they know everything, and believe they are entitled to dance choreography in their own, conceited way, instead of getting into and being engaged in The Work. I recounted, with some satisfaction, how a dancer told a top choreographer that a certain movement did not work for him, and the choreographer replied with, “Then you’re fired because you don’t work for me.”
The arts bring out the best in people when art is loved for its own sake. Woe unto me, for I no longer sing, dance, and act, and have taken up writing about politics, which brings out the meanness in me, not to mention others. And what I write about is here today and gone tomorrow. I love history, but when I try to relate current events to their historical contexts, most people are just not interested because they are inclined to repeat well worn mistakes.
So I am drawn back to art, to at least write something immortal to pass along the gifts that are not mine but of my kind. I have been preoccupied with death lately, in the form, unfortunately, of bad finales. Death is part of life, but art is about it all.
So Jill and I got out of the car in front of the California dance studio. She took my hand as I took hers, but not quite in the right way, therefore we made an adjustment until the form was perfect, and she led me into the studio. Finally I felt safe, and I awoke.
Just before falling asleep, I considered how women may now participate in combat alongside men, to actively engage in the massive murders legalized by nations. I felt uncomfortable about that.
Much of the difference between the sexes is cultivated. Still there are differences in strength and size, and in hormones: females are theoretically more nurturing than males. Female warriors are nothing new, really, and there are desperate times when women are needed to not only fight but to lead in battle instead of just throwing themselves off the walls when defeat is imminent lest they be forced to bear the children of the enemy.
If a woman wants to be a warrior and can qualify, that is fine with me. She should not be subject, however, to the draft. I believe women should be cultivated to make and keep peace among men through nonviolent means, just as she has done with the advance of civilization. She should be protected along with her children from the ravages of war.
Ray had complained about the notion that choreographers should be business managers and producers and fundraisers wrapped up in one person, which works the ruin of the choreographer’s expertise and creativity, and distracts the others from their duties as well. And too many people in Miami Beach tend to think that the mere possession of funds makes them experts. Labor must be divided into functions, so each can excel. The lack of these divisions and their purposeful coordination is why organizations fail, especially small companies.
I once read an evolutionary theory that men were relatively peaceful when they lived in the forests somewhat like bonobos, and then became violent when they left the forest and had to forage more widely and fight other groups for their sustenance. As they did so, they grew larger and stronger. Females, on the other hand, remained small by comparison so they could be carried to safe places, for they cradle the race.
Maybe that anthropological theory is not scientifically justifiable. Cultural justification is another matter. I think the memory of it brought me to Jill in my dream. She is the pretty little muse who took me by the hand and led me back to art.
Miami Beach 2015
Paul’s modern dance teacher Ruth Currier with Jose Limon
SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Two weeks ago, Paul Bowman, the greatest aspiring author the world will ever or never know, had mailed his dance reviews to Senior, the wealthy Pittsburg industrialist who said he would sponsor Paul if he liked his work. Senior had told Paul to meet him two weeks hence back at the Peculiar Pub in Greenwich Village where Senior regularly held court with his son Junior and a motley court of drunkards. So Paul entered the pub with a fluttering heart to receive Senior’s verdict.
Sure enough, there sat Senior, and, as luck would have it, there was an empty stool next to him, upon which Paul sat down. Senior noticed him immediately, turning to greet him with beer stein in hand.
“That stuff you sent isn’t worth a shit! It’s nothing but shit!” Senior exclaimed to a stunned Paul. “I’m being honest, pal, it’s nothing but shit! Tell me, who would produce or publish such shit?”
Paul wiped the flecks of Senior’s spittle from his face, and replied, “I intended to write a few dance reviews….”
“But who would produce such shit? I don’t understand! You’re trying to be a critic….”
“I’m no critic,” Paul interjected, visibly affronted by the term. “I just wrote a series of articles about dance, my favorite subject, not as a professional expert, but from the broader perspective of an innocent member of the audience who….”
“That’s what I mean, you’re trying to be a critic. Darlene (he called to the bartender), set us up with tequila shots here and you have one yourself, sweetie. So you’re trying to be a critic….”
“Look here, sir, I am not a critic!” Paul was getting hot under the collar. “I hate critics!”
“Relax, pal, and have a drink,” Senior commanded, then tossed down a shot of tequila. “You sound like a critic. I read the first five articles you wrote about dancing, and I wondered what you were doing wasting your time writing about a bunch of peons and pansies. I’m just your average Joe, and I could care less about going to see people prancing around in pink tights, let alone read what some nitwit thought about them. Take a look around the bar here, and you tell me, who gives a shit about what you think about dancing?”
“I know the market is narrow,” answered Paul with a sunken heart. “But, but I believe I could expand it. I mean, well, you know there are lots of people who read about dance, so I….”
“Hold on there,” Senior interrupted, glaring at Paul. “Did you send that shit anywhere else?”
“Yes, I sent each review to the papers and the magazines.”
“Did you get a reply? Well, did you?” Senior challenged.
“No. But one editor wrote on the rejection slip that I….”
“There ‘ya go! Forget that! How much would you make on a best seller?”
“I don’t know, maybe fifty-thousand.”
“You stupid idiot! Try a half-million bucks for size!”
“So, why are you screwing yourself short with that shit? Nobody wants to read about that sissy stuff. You’ve got to write about the right stuff to make it big. Hey, Junior (he called down the bar to his son) isn’t this guy’s writings shit?” Junior nodded his assent compliantly.
“As I said, I wanted to write about something…”
“Something? Something? What do you want for your work, ten bucks?”
“Well, no,” Paul answered wanly.
“Well, that’s what it looks like!” Senior concluded and turned to talk to his son, thus leaving Paul, the greatest aspiring writer the world will ever or never know, to his reflections and a full shot of tequila.