From Quaking Rabbit to Leaping Tiger

I’m a 57-year-old retired lady with a pretty sedentary lifestyle. Three years ago I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. It was quite a shock. I thought that happened only after you hit 65 or so. My doctor suggested Pilates, but exercising with no real end goal in mind did not appeal to me. Since my husband has cancer and his treatment regimen leaves him in a weakened state, partner dancing was not an option. I decided to try belly dancing. Seeing a friend roll a quarter up and down her stomach performing a belly dance some years back during my college years, the dance form seemed a great option to strengthen my core muscles while having fun.

In my former life I was pretty active. I used to hike, rock climb, scuba dive, and bike. The highs I experienced through my successes with these efforts left me always wanting more but not knowing where or how to get it. With my aging body and declining physical prowess, I felt that such highs lay beyond the scope of possibility for me. In spite of that, I attended the “assessment” at Saffron Dance Studio where I was selected for the Oriental Apprentice Group, a group for not-ready-for-prime-time dancers. The studio director informed us that if we were not sufficiently prepared for the performance, even up to the day of the event, she would yank us out of the lineup.

In addition to my physical limitations, I also have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I’ve had it all my life and it has been the bane of my existence. The disability has achieved recognition in the modern classroom and children receive special assistance to compensate. Schools didn’t have that in my day. You were left to flail about on your own. I took diving lessons in high school. Once I leaped on the board to execute my dive. In mid-jump, I blanked out. When my feet descended to the board, I froze then emitted a high-pitch “Whoops” and flopped into the water. My 9th grade gym teacher heard about the incident and told me that she heard I was a clown. For the rest of the school year, she harassed me to insure that I would not be a clown in her class. With ADD, people try to tell you that you just need to be better organized or concentrate more. Without a lot of training, it’s like telling an anteater to chew. It just doesn’t have the equipment. Our group dance instructor noticed this. When she would give me instructions, she would repeat them or make sure to speak to me directly to make sure I understood or was paying attention. Because of my disability, I also took private lessons to improve my dancing.

Up until the afternoon of the performance, my self-confidence remained at low tide. My insides quaked like a bunny rabbit. I breathed like a freight train, drying out my mouth and causing my ears to pound. When our group rehearsed in the morning on the theater stage for the first time; other dance troupes, sitting in the auditorium, ululated, shrieked, and clapped. Totally unprepared for this visceral reaction, my brain short circuited and I missed my cues. My director reprimanded me later. We repeated the routine a few more times and I asked one of my teammates to review the ending with me individually. She did so graciously in the face of my request to repeat it at least ten times.

For our piece, we wore purple circle skirts, jewel-sleeved midriff length stretch tops, and a body suit, accessorized with a beaded gold belt and rhinestone jewelry. Our director taught us how to apply makeup, which was a whole new experience for me. Stage lights require a whole different level of investment in makeup and learning how to apply it. It started with face primer Wall primer I know. Face primer, not so much. For theater, you need to have face, eye, and lip primer to prevent fading, topped off with setting powder. I never heard of setting powder either. My husband was staggered by the transformation: from wife to Elvira. Our director added glitter to our hair and outfits before we went on stage.

The dance piece that our director selected for us was “The Seventh Veil.” When we were told we would be performing with veils, many of the group members were a little alarmed. I drew my inspiration from the biblical story of Salome and the dance of the seven veils, where she seduced Herod to get John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter. Not the most charming endgame, but that wasn’t what Salome was thinking when she danced. She was going to get what she wanted. To complement our purple costumes, our director chose gold veils, the colors of royalty and wealth. Our routine was short, a little under three minutes, but the rich swirl of colors created a moving tapestry across the stage.

I never totally believed that I would get through the performance. I no longer feel like a quaking rabbit. I am now a leaping tiger.

Preventing Another Sandy Hook

I can’t look at the pictures of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newton, Connecticut without my eyes brimming with tears. Now from every corner someone blows in with solutions, theories on why it happened, what could have been done to prevent it, who’s at fault:  ‘We need better gun regulation’;  ‘God and the Bible should return to the classroom’; ‘teachers should carry guns’;’improve the mental health system.’ Reading the few articles that I can bear, I have determined that, among them, only better gun regulation may have prevented this slaughter. As we saw occur on the same day in China, where a madman attacked students and teachers with a knife, everyone lived.

The Second Amendment

I agree completely that assault rifles should be removed from store shelves and not available for general use. Writers of our second amendment could not foresee the decline in gun use throughout the nation, leaving unarmed individuals vulnerable. When the amendment was formulated, the founders perceived that a defenseless population would be doomed to capture by an occupying force. Everyone who owned a gun taught their children how to use and respect them. Banning assault rifles may not have prevented the tragedy, but it certainly would have reduced the casualties.

God and the Bible in the Classroom

Perhaps we do need God and the Bible, but I don’t see that as a winnable dispute. What we do need and a battle that could be won is to promote better cooperation between teachers and parents. When I was teaching and called the parents to talk about their children, I was told time and again that it was my fault. The teaching colleges, school administrators, and fellow faculty members encourage this view. If parents do not demand respect at home, the teacher is faced with an ongoing contest for the children’s attention and deference. I saw the difference between the two. It was huge and directly impacted the children’s behavior in the classroom.

Teachers Should Carry Guns

This proposition is absolutely ludicrous. Guns are not permitted on school campuses anyway and keeping them out of the hands of students would mean that teachers would have difficulty getting access in an emergency, besides anyone who has ever been a teacher can tell you that students would crack that security in no time at all.

Improve the Mental Health System

I worked at the Veterans Administration psychiatric hospital when I witnessed the ‘lunatics’ being released from the ‘asylum.’ Many of these former patients became the mentally ill homeless who accosted people on the streets.

From what I read about the mother, she wasn’t open to outside interference in her home life and she alone would have been responsible for having him committed. It appears that the boy was never in a school long enough to be referred for treatment. If he had been, I’m sure the mother would have prevented it.

Another problem with that argument is: how do we remove the stigma of psychiatric treatment? I sought and received treatment for depression. If I told anyone about it, they looked at me with fear, as though I would become one of those maniacs who would gun people down in a fit of anger. It became a part of my permanent personnel record, because not revealing it could have resulted in my being fired. I believe it played a role in my being able to receive a promotion at the institution where I worked. The general population needs to recognize the wisdom of seeking treatment.

Possible Solutions

I think we should start with regulating automatic rifles and handguns, then begin the longer and much more difficult task of demanding respect from our children. Educating people about mental illness should also be a priority.