From time to time, NDEO features guest blog posts, written by our members about their experiences in the field of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a personal reflection by Susan Pope on the important role that her father played in her dance experience. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please email Shannon Dooling-Cain at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dance with my Father
By Susan Pope, MA
Photo by Ron Barkley
I was asked by my church to dance for Father's Day in 2016. In preparation for this dance, I listened to different songs and prayed that God would give me just the right message. I settled on the song “There is a King in You” by Donald Lawrence. As I started working on choreography, I realized how important this message was, not just to the men who would be in the congregation, but to my dad as well. Daddy used to get depressed because he thought he was a bother to everyone. He suffered from COPD and struggled every day just to breathe. He was a humble, proud man who was not used to being dependent on others to take care of him.
As I began to choreograph, I realized I needed to have my dad on stage with me. I wanted him to embody the words of the song:
You come from Royalty,
An aristocratic Dynasty.
The goal of the enemy,
Is that you don’t know who you are.
There’s power when you speak.
Be mindful of words you release.
I know that life has challenged you,
But the King in me speaks to the King in you.
You were born to rule.
There is a king in you.
I was apprehensive about asking daddy to come on stage with me. I told him he didn’t have to do anything, just be there with me. He asked to listen to the song. When I played it for him, he closed his eyes and smiled. I knew then that this was going to be special.
My dad wasn't comfortable with learning actual choreography, so I gave him a starting shape and an ending shape, and everything else in between was improvisation. For his beginning shape, I asked him to give me an inward, rounded shape that conveyed a feeling of sadness. We both decided he would continue to demonstrate sadness with minimal movement throughout the beginning of the piece. He would then transition to movements of joy, freedom and release when I gave him a fist bump. I tried to rehearse the dance with him at home but every time I played the music, he would close his eyes and just listen. I realized he was getting the music in his spirit. Despite the lack of formal rehearsal, in performance we danced like never before. Daddy responded to every move I made. We were both consumed by our love for each other.
Photo by Ron Barkley
Through our performance, I wanted my dad to know that I am who I am today because he had poured so much into me. By his example, he taught me to care for others and take pride in what I do. He taught me to be the best at whatever I decided to do with my life, whether it was a dancer or a sanitation worker. He stressed that I didn't have to be the best, just be my best. I also wanted my dad and the men in the congregation to realize their rich heritage. I wanted them to know that they are loved and valued.
My dad loved to see me dance. His side of the family is very artistic so he always had a love for the arts. Our family is comprised of visual artists, singers and musicians. I am the only dancer in the family so it was intriguing for him to watch me dance. He was proud of how I excelled in dance and always encouraged me to do my best. I remember him driving me to an audition for the Dance Theatre of Harlem School. He was so apprehensive about allowing me to travel on a weekly basis for class. When I was accepted to the school, he compromised about my commute. At the time we lived in Long Island and Dance Theatre of Harlem was in Manhattan. This was back in the early 70's, way before cell phones. He allowed me to travel by myself to the city on the Long Island Railroad, but I had to take the bus once I got to NY. He would not allow me to take the subway by myself. I am the dancer I am today because of the incredible training I received from DTH, and my father’s support of that training in spite of his initial apprehensions.
I remember him trying to teach me to swing dance and do the jitterbug. The lessons did not go well. I was so consumed with my technique classes I didn't appreciate the social dance lessons he tried to give me. I wish now I had paid better attention. I would give anything to have that time back and learn swing dance from him. I make sure today to share with my son, nieces and nephews the crazy social dances I did as a kid. I teach my students in school about Vernacular dances and the cultures they come from. I encourage my students to embrace and share the dances they learn from family members.
Dance experiences within our families create priceless memories. As dancers we spend so much time in the studio rehearsing and preparing for the performance. We sometimes forget how we came to this great art form. We might remember to thank a dance teacher, but do we stop to think about the parent or family member who introduced us to dance or took us to our first dance class?
I lost my dad in 2016, just 6 months after we danced together. He was 93. This memory of us dancing together is one that still helps me cope. I celebrate my dad for being the best dad ever, my first example of love and my favorite dance partner.
Susan Pope holds a BA in dance from the University of Maryland and a MA in dance education from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. She is an Arnhold fellow in the doctoral dance education program at Teacher’s College. Currently she teaches dance for Newark Public Schools. 2017 Susan was inspired to create I DANCE BECAUSE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing scholarships to dedicated dancers. May of 2000, Susan was invited to the White House to speak at the Raising Responsible and Resourceful Youth conference. Susan spoke on the impact of dance education in the lives of her students. Her publications include: an article in Dance Education in Practice titled TEACHING DANCE HISTORY TO MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS, an article in the International Journal of AAHPERD titled Mourning into Dancing, I DANCE BECAUSE…, a collection of stories, essays and poems about dance; and DANCING MY PRAYERS, a movement and prayer guide. In 1998 she was selected to be in Who’s Who among American Teachers. She is a member of the National Liturgical Dance Ministry Network, National Dance Education Organization, NJ Dance and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Susan believes God created her with the definite purpose of helping others through movement. Ms. Pope's headshot courtesy of Spencer Charles Photography.