Living The Dream
It's hard to describe how surprised and grateful I feel to work with some of my sheroes and heroes over my life, particularly in the past couple of years.
choreographer/director/performer. The solo, derived from one of my poems, was originally made for Things My Mother Would Have Told Me If…, a juried gallery installation with my daughter, artist Leah Sobsey, for The Carrack Modern Art.
I feel so fortunate to study with Gerri Houlihan, mentor and teacher to a Who's Who of choreographers and dancers. In 2018, I became a founding member of her Big Red Dance Project-Durham, a multi-generational company that grew out of the Community Dance class at ADF studios.
A luminous moment in my long life was the process of working and performing with Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE when he received the 2018 Scripps/ADF award for lifetime achievement in dance. Ron creates, moves, speaks, and responds from a place of spiritual reverence.
In June, 2018, I finally had the opportunity to study with the extraordinary, heart-centered Naomi Shihab Nye at The Writer's Hotel. Naomi is the poet who first sparked the possibility in me many years ago when a friend handed me Words Under the Words. In November, 2018, I had the privilege to attend SistaWRITE with North Carolina Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green.
In 2017/18 Li Chiao Ping Dance invited me to perform Murmurs, and to tour with the company in Landed. In September, 2018, choreographer Anna Barker invited me to perform in the Planned Parenthood/Glamour national campaign My Body Is My Own. In September, 2019, I collaborated with composer/musician Jim Henderson to create Double-Crossed, a comical social commentary on how to sit like a lady.
How did I get here?
I always dreamed of a life in dance, but circumstances of discontinuity have shaped my trajectory. Like so many women of my generation navigating circuitous paths toward self-discovery, I took many roads to return to my childhood dreams.
I choreographed my first dance at age 10 (I still have the notes) and was lucky enough to find and work with the late, inspiring Mario Melodia. As Martha Myers famously said: Choose your first dance teacher wisely; she or he will live in your bones forever.
I've made my living selling ladies gloves, Avon door-to-door, led community center programs, swept floors, worked as a secretary, as a dance and theater teacher at Carolina Friends School, twice served as director of the American Dance Festival's international Critics Conferences, was dance writer for the News & Observer for about 20 years, and held too many other life-altering jobs -- for better or worse -- to mention here.
When I reflect back, I realize that I've created many of the jobs I've had, including founding host of The State of Things on North Carolina Public Radio that called on my interwoven life including a stint as a 1991 Fellow in the Institute of Political Leadership. I am co-creator and host of the award-winning radio series Do No Harm, generated the Eiko & Koma documentary: Arts in the Hospital, and created Talk About Dance!, a series of public discussions with major choreographers and artists performing at ADF.
I am the founding director of the KIPP Leadership Coaching Program, and the architect of States of Being, a coaching protocol. My work is grounded in the guiding principle that work should be a place where people come to become their highest selves. I learned this from the late Peg Rogers, one of my most influential mentors.
Along the way, I've picked up a few acknowledgements for things that I have loved doing including two Gracie Awards for women in media (2002 & 2007), a 2002 Silver Reel Award, and the 2006 Duke University’s Diversity Award. In 2017, I jump-started my poetry and dance life with a glorious Bogliasco Fellowship, have been named Distinguished Writer three times by ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal in 2018/19, and won 3rd place in The Writers' Workshop poetry contest. The Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities graciously granted me a writer-in-residence opportunity in February, 2019, and later in August, I was awarded a residency at Wildacres.
In 2014, I finally got my doctorate in Educational Leadership and am currently at work on my book: What's Clearer to You Now?: Leadership Coaching for Equity.
My writing has appeared in numerous books, newspapers, and publications including the News & Observer, ArtAscent Journal,Things My Mother Would Have Told Me If…, a chapbook of poetry and prose, in Brighter Leaves: A History of the Arts in the Bull City, and many others.
It took a long time to find the right ears, heart, and brilliant mind in a partner. Jim Lee and I have been listening, talking, laughing, championing and make wide space for each other for the past 20 years or so, and reveling in our six grandchildren. Life is good.
My Body Is My Own campaign
With Jim Henderson (left). With Michael Rank (right). Still photos from video by Elisabeth Barbier
Big Red Dance Project: Photo by Jonathan Markow
Double-Crossed with Jim Henderson: Still photo from video by Jan Tedder