As long as I can remember, dancing and I have been inseparable — it was the thing that set me free and made me feel safe…at the same time.
I started taking lessons when I was two. It was 1953 and Miss Mary Roth taught in the old Chipley Elementary School gym. When I was four, I started taking from Mrs. Mary Cleveland in LaGrange and continued there until I left Harris County High in 1968.
We mostly did tap dancing…there was a little ballet thrown in. But the main course was good old-fashioned tapping to Broadway music. Miss Mary Cleveland, as I called her, loved her some show tunes.
I even majored in dance at UGA for one year. But the department was part of the physical education curriculum — and teaching P.E. in school was not what I had in mind. I wanted to perform.
In addition, the UGA School of Dance emphasized the modern genre. The music was weird and nobody smiled on stage.
I was definitely a fish out of water.
So I put down my dancing shoes for five years and promptly gained about 20 pounds. Yikes…I’m not too tall and 20 pounds on me is like 50 on most folks. I wanted to change what the scales said. Motivation, however, eluded me. .
But when I left C&S Bank and took a job as the advertising manager for The Athens Observer, the opportunity to dance again came my way.
One of my coworkers told me about a dance teacher I really needed to meet.
So I went to Mell Street Studio and introduced myself to Gail. As soon as she saw me move my feet, it was love at first sight. She took me under her wing and encouraged me. She challenged me to dance in a way I had never done before.
She taught me about my center — the physical one in my diaphragm that needed to be the strongest muscle in my body. She turned my classical ballet illiteracy into a good, basic knowledge of my body’s strength and resilience.
And getting stronger made my tap dancing on point. Pun intended.
But she also taught me about having an emotional center — that core in our being from whence our little light shines. She taught me to breathe into my center all the good I could hold and exhale all the bad energy.
She literally gave me the tools that have helped me survive the darkest times of my life.
And I loved her dearly.
She was my mentor — my idol.
I wanted to be just like her.
But we lost her this week — her sweet spirit crossed over Monday.
And we all weep…all of those lives she touched, challenged and encouraged.
We all weep.
But I know she’s singing and dancing somewhere — as full of life as she was in her studio.
So this one’s for you, Gail — a giant of a person in the body of a sprite…the sweetest of sweet spirits.
“She’s Dancing in the Stars”
She’s dancing in the stars and shining with the sun,
Endlessly living a life that’s just begun.
Flying like the wind and singing with the trees,
She disguises her touch as a springtime breeze.
The pain of losing her is deep and sad,
As empty a feeling as I have ever had.
But her love is in my heart and will always be,
As precious as the sweet dancing one was to me.