An Improvised Life
After a long hiatus from performing, I returned to dance in 2016, at age 71, with Murmurs, generously created for me by Doug Varone, the brilliant 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 The solo, derived from one of my poems, was originally made for Things My Mother Would Have Told Me If…, a juried gallery installation with my daughter Leah Sobsey –, artist and professor – for The Carrack Modern Art. In 2017, Li Chiao Ping Dance invited me to perform Murmurs, and to tour with the company in Landed.
A luminous moment in my life was the process of working and performing with Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE when Ron received the 2018 Scripps/American Dance Festival award for lifetime achievement in dance. Ron creates, moves, speaks, and responds from a lived spiritual place that invites and cultivates a sense of belonging – for performers and for audiences.
Here in Durham, NC, 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 American Dance Festival studios.
In September of that year, 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: How to Sit Like a Lady.
In June, 2018, I had the opportunity to study with award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye at The Writer's Hotel. Naomi is the artist who first sparked the possibility of poetry in me many years ago when a friend handed me Words Under the Words. To be included in the 2022 Dear Vaccine – an anthology that she edited – is one of my most gratifying accomplishments. In November of 2018, I had the privilege to attend SistaWRITE with North Carolina Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green.
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 (still have the notes) and was lucky enough to 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, produced 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 leadership coaching protocol for equitable schools. My work is grounded in the guiding principle that work should be a place where people come to become their highest selves through a sense of belonging. 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, and have been named Distinguished Writer four times by ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal in 2018/19,/20. 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, at age 70, I finally received my doctorate in Educational Leadership.
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. I also collaborated on Duke Divinity School’s Jewish Ritual, Reality and Response at the End of Life: A Guide to Caring for Jewish Patients and Their Families.
States of Being: Leadership Coaching for Equitable Schools, was released on May, 14, 2020 -- my 75th birthday! The associated website with other teaching and learning resources is here.
My most important accomplishments are the two loving children I raised – artist/educator Leah Sobsey and writer Adam Sobsey. Leah and I are currently at work on our next installation projected for the fall of 2022.
It took a long time to find the right ears, heart, and brilliant mind in a partner. Jim Lee and I have been listening, sharing stories, championing each other for the past 22 years or so, and reveling in our six grandchildren. Life is good.
Big Red Dance Project: Photo by Jonathan Markow
Double-Crossed with Jim Henderson: Still photo from video by Jan Tedder
My Body Is My Own campaign
Photo: Regina Deluise, Bogliasco, Italy
With Jim Henderson. Photo from video by Elisabeth Barbier
Naomi Shihab Nye: photo, Linda Belans
Leah Sobsey, Harvard Museum
Adam Sobsey. Photo: Heather Mallory
Jim Lee. Photo: Linda Belans