Safe and Sound
In December, I started physical therapy for my hip. It wasn’t my first time in PT; it wasn’t even the first time I went for my hip. But it was the first time I told my physical therapist, “It bothers me in dance class—but I’m not going to stop dancing.”
After I had edited this issue’s story about Aaron Tolson’s Sole Power program, I told my therapist about Tolson’s tap-based fitness classes. (See “Tapping Into Fitness,” page 82.) “How fun,” she said, and she told me that she’d taken tap classes when she was growing up. I told her about Tolson’s emphasis on safety and we talked about fitness trends that don’t seem safe—squat jumps while holding a 45-pound plate, an astronomical number of reps with weights heavy enough for Olympians—activities so far removed from the articles I was reading for this issue. Take Nia, for instance, which not only rejects the concept of “no pain, no gain” but stresses the pleasure of movement for mind, body, and soul. (See “A New Look at Nia,” page 60.)
I engage in plenty of activities to burn calories and to build muscle and, yes, to try to look a certain way, but I dance for other reasons. Like the girls who attend Susanne Liebich’s GirlPower! workshops (see “GirlPower!,” page 54), the women in my belly dance classes are all shapes and sizes. We wear leggings, skirts, tank tops, cholis, sports bras. We shimmy and undulate and do hip slides. At the end of each class, we form a circle and take turns dancing in the center. We clap for each other.
At my next PT appointment, my therapist asked if I had made it back to dance class. “I never stopped going,” I said. —Heather Turbeville
DSL copy editor Heather Turbeville holds an MFA in creative writing and literature from Emerson College. She lives in San Francisco, where she writes fiction, studies belly dance, and performs with Zakiyya Dancers.
Remembering Debbie Reynolds
When Debbie Reynolds appeared in her first leading film role as Kathy Selden in the 1952 musical classic Singin’ in the Rain—at age 19—she had been studying dance only a few months. Yet, in the film’s “Good Morning” song-and-tap-dance routine with iconic, well-trained hoofers Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, Reynolds held her own. She went on to hold audiences’ attention and hearts for decades, and continues to do so even beyond her death at age 84 on December 28.
Making up for what she lacked early on in dance training and performing experience with exuberance, determination, and natural ability, Reynolds relied perhaps most of all on her plucky self-confidence. In a 2012 American Film Institute interview, Reynolds said of her role as Selden, “I certainly had no training. But if the part is you, and you’re not afraid—and I wasn’t afraid . . . I didn’t feel you could fail. I felt it was me and I really just marched straight ahead and I wasn’t frightened of the huge task: I had never danced, so to dance with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in three months . . . I just thought, ‘Well, let’s get started.’ ”
In her 2013 autobiography, Unsinkable: A Memoir, Reynolds told of Fred Astaire’s encouragement while she was filming Singin’: “He invited me in to watch him rehearse—nobody got to watch him dance, [but] he let me watch him until he was just red in the face, and it showed me, even the greats find it hard to be really excellent, but you have to keep striving.”
And she did, throughout her long career. Singin’ was followed by a series of movie musicals in the 1950s and ’60s, including 1964’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown, based on a Broadway musical; Reynolds was nominated for an Academy Award for the title role. A triple threat, she also embarked on a music career that included a Billboard number one hit single, “Tammy”; headlined in Las Vegas; garnered lead roles on Broadway and for the U.S. national tour of a 1989 revival of Molly Brown; received an Emmy nomination for her recurring role in Will & Grace as Grace Adler’s over-the-top community-theater-star mother; and engaged in business ventures such as the 1979 launch of the still operating Debbie Reynolds Studio, in North Hollywood, California, where a new generation of dancers can follow Reynolds’ advice to “keep striving” for excellence. —Thom Watson
DSL editor in chief Thom Watson is a San Francisco Bay Area–based aficionado of ballet, contemporary, and folk dance. He has also been an internet and social media executive and a political columnist.