MONDAY: Around 8:27am I leave my apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan, and cross the street to my gym. The manager has been gracious enough to let Tamar and I use their downstairs studio space on Monday and Friday mornings free of charge. As I get up stairs I greet Josh, the morning shift worker, who grabs the keys to the downstairs studio and leads me out the door and around the corner. We chit-chat about our weekends, make small talk, etc. Once inside, Josh disables the alarm, hands me the keys and then goes back upstairs to the gym. It’s 8:32am. Tamar is late. I untie my shoes, slip off my socks and stash them in a cubby. I don’t want to be here. It’s early. I haven’t had my coffee. I stand in the middle of the mirrored studio surrounded by reflections of myself from every possible angle and scan through my body, starting with my toes and working my way up to the crown of my head. Are my toes gripping the floor? Why are my hip flexors so tight today? Am I jutting out my ribs and puffing out my chest? Breathe. Remember to breathe. I walk around the studio hoping to wake myself up by degrees. My steps are slow and lumbering. I’m dragging my left foot a little. I can feel my knees wanting to turn in. I stop. Adjust. I take a few deep breaths. I imagine my feet at my hip sockets. I envision having a left-rightness to my pelvis. I take a step. Then another. The difference in sensation from these slight few adjustments is beyond description. Six months ago I didn’t think any of this was possible. I hear the door slam upstairs and footsteps on the stairs. Tamar is here. It’s 8:47am. I keep walking. Tamar puts her belongings in a cubby next to mine and goes to the bathroom. When she enters the studio I know the real work will begin. I just don’t know what surprises she has in store for me today. Neither does she. In my experience these sessions can go one of two ways: Either the work is small, supple and intricate as we focus on a particular point in the body or a specific muscle/joint relationship, or we make some “monumental” break through which results in me discovering a way of moving that has been unavailable to me for the past thirty years. Whatever we do, it’s always intense and never boring. Somewhere between eleven o’clock and eleven thirty, we tidy the place up and head back upstairs. Tamar leads the way looking back at me and giving me directions about how to walk up stairs with measured, open steps. I lock the door and walk out onto the street. I can feel Tamar’s eyes on me even though I’m turned away from her. This is one of her least favorite parts of the day. We’ve just spent over two hours correcting and adjusting my alignment. All that work almost disappears as I reach the doorway and step out onto Delancey Street. She practically screams, “Threshold! Threshold!” I feel her hands on me immediately; one on my sternum the other just above my waist pressing on my lower back. We’ve discovered I have a habitual pattern out in public that reinforces my old way of walking. I arch my back and puff out my chest bracing myself from the onslaught of stimuli that is New York City. Tamar’s hands are there to remind my body that it doesn’t need to be in a constant defensive stance masquerading as openness and approachability. Walking slowly in near perfect alignment is a suitable alternative to my usual lurch. Not to mention it feels a whole lot better.
We talk almost incessantly on the walk back to Tamar’s apartment. I ask questions about the body. Tamar answers. We ask each other about our weekends. I've recently started dating again after my divorce, and Tamar inquires about any sexual exploits I might have engaged in. If I have, she wants details- as they relate to our work. Could I feel my pelvis? Was my sacrum engaged? I speak with surprising candor and she continues to inquire and offer advice and suggestions about things I should be asking my partner to maximize my alignment and body’s full potential during sexual intercourse. We walk through Thompkins Square Park. People stare at us. Who is that strange man in a t-shirt and camouflage pants ambling along under the trees? Was he injured in war? Who is that woman beside him? Is she his mother? Are they lovers? Who knows what they think. I’m too busy focusing on my body to notice. The only person Tamar and I might be interested in running into is the man who saw us walking through the park a few months ago. A tall African American man with a white schnauzer who said, “Oh, he’s getting better! He used to walk like this…” and then did his best to imitate my old gait. These are moments we wish we had a video camera. We haven’t seen him since. When we get back to her apartment we realize we’re famished and in desperate need of food. Having a choreographer who also happens to be a Jewish grandmother certainly has its benefits. There’s no chance of me starving during this rehearsal process I can guarantee that. As we eat, we continue to talk about the body. I bombard Tamar with questions about the process, dance, life, the universe and everything. We try to record ourselves as much as possible with an audio recorder, and more recently a camcorder. Hopefully someone out there will find this interesting. After a few hours I get ready to leave. Tamar gives my body one last once-over with her eyes before I walk out the door and usually has one last tip or piece of homework for me regarding the unevenness in my shoulders or the slight collapse on my left side. I tell her I’ll work on it and give her a hug. I walk down the hallway to the elevator slowly and with as much focus as I can muster. Somehow I just know Tamar has her ear to the door listening to every footfall I make until the elevator arrives, the doors close and I descend to the lobby of her building. Out on the street I’m talking to myself constantly. I'm trying to remember all the lessons from that day and integrate them with the hundreds of things I’ve learned about my body over the past few months. I start making deals with myself. If I can make it from Avenue C to Avenue B without my feet dragging once I can spend five minutes looking at the pooches in the dog park or stretch out on the grass. If I can make it from 7th Street to 3rd Street thinking, “my feet in my hips,” the entire time I’ll treat myself to a coffee. If I can stop my lower back from tightening up for the rest of the way home...I’ll talk to the brunette with the tattoos on her legs that lives in the building next door. It’s July and I still don’t know her name.
TUESDAY: There’s a mosquito in my room. It just buzzed my head and my eyes open wide as my hands frantically swat the air. I missed it. I can’t hear it anymore. I don’t know where it went. All I know is that I want it dead. I sit up in bed. I must have been sleeping on my left side for some time because I can feel welts from my ankle to my thumb along the right side of my body. “My wife,” the affectionate nickname for the dark blue body pillow that Tamar has given me to put between my legs to keep my feet and knees from turning in as I sleep, has come loose at some point during the night and is now smooshed up against the wall looking hurt and rejected. “I’m sorry, baby,” I say and pull her close to me. I check my phone. Great. I’m wide awake and itchy and it’s not even 6:00am. I really need more sleep. One of the major problems with receiving so much information and listening to my body more over these past few months is that my body doesn’t know when to shut up. It has been keeping me up well past 2:00am most nights recently. I have rehearsal today. I can’t be tired. I slip my wife between my legs and try to go back to bed. For the next two hours I toss and turn swatting at imaginary mosquitoes out for my blood. Just after 8:00am I decide to get into the shower. Even in the few steps between my bedroom and the bathroom I’m thinking about how I’m walking. I shower. No shaving for the next couple of months. The costume designer needs to see how well I can grow a beard. As I brush my teeth I notice that my legs are a mess. One is splayed all wompsided in front of the other, my knees are falling in, I’m favoring my right side- it’s not pretty down there. I step away from the sink and parallel my feet before continuing to brush my teeth. As I do, I imagine two spiders crawling out of my anus and spinning golden threads in spiral formations down my legs from my buttocks to my pinkie toes.
I walk out my door around 9:30am and make my way to class, which Tamar has been teaching on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the last twenty-six years. A few members of the class have been coming that long, which is a testament to how good Tamar is at what she does and the effect she can have on people. We usually meet at LaMamma, ETC’s rehearsal space on Great Jones Street, but they’ve closed for the Summer. We’re currently in the basement at Theatre For A New Audience on 9th street and 1st Avenue. We refer to this as, “the dungeon.” The class is an hour and a half and serves as a great warm up for the rehearsal that will follow. This is not a traditional dance class. I would describe it as, “experiential anatomy.” Tamar never comes in with any set plan on what to work on that day, but it usually correlates with what we’ve been working on in the studio- the lower back, the shoulders, the hip flexors, etc. After class, we gather our things and head onto the street. The deli across the street is having a special on Balance Bars- two for the price of one. Score! We stock up and Tamar shoves half a dozen in her purse. For whatever reason, we started getting these as snacks in between class and rehearsal when we first started working and the tradition has stuck. Ha! Balance Bars? I just got it. We walk west to 2nd Avenue and hail a cab. For the month of July we’re rehearsing at the Joyce Soho, a beautiful facility on Mercer Street, which coincidentally was founded by the wife of the artistic director for Theatre Breaking Through Barriers, the Off-Broadway company that did the production of Romeo & Juliet which Tamar saw me in. Small world. Once in the studio Tamar and I begin working on the latest solo she is choreographing for me- the one that will take place in Act III. If I’m allowed to say that this is difficult because I’ve never danced before, then I can only imagine that working with me is challenging every choreographic bone in Tamar’s body. I’m sure no other choreographer/dancer has ever worked like we do. Movement just doesn’t move through my body like other people's. This is of course why Tamar was interested in working with me, but it also presents one of our biggest challenges. Tamar will give me an idea of what she wants to see and sometimes I can hit the movement right off without any difficulty. Other times our rehearsals are an exercise in figuring out how to get my body to make the choreography work for me and vice versa. This takes a lot of patience and requires us to work very slowly. If I’m not careful my frustration with my own body and my inability to find a solution in the moment can throw me into my head and disconnect me from the work. Tamar’s answer to this frustration, which I’ve expressed to her on several occasions is always, “You can get frustrated with choreography that doesn’t exist yet, but I don’t know what good it will do.” I hate it when she’s right. It’s important for me to ask questions and take as much time as I need with a particular section and sometimes this means telling Tamar to leave for five minutes so I can be alone with my own body and find a solution on my own. It turns out the body always holds a solution. That’s what’s so amazing about this. It’s the most purely collaborative relationship I’ve ever had with another artist and myself. It’s extremely rare to have the space and time to be able to work like this. Even with all its difficulties and challenges, I’m constantly reminding myself that, “I love every minute of this.” Ten minutes before the end of rehearsal after having danced for nearly three straight hours, I’m drenched in sweat and exhausted but completely adrenalized. I want to go through the choreography one more time, but Tamar insists that I rest, lie down on the floor and bring my body to a state of calm before reentering the world. I lay down and my body starts shaking almost immediately. This is my body’s response to all the work and its own unique way of releasing the huge amounts of tension it’s amassed over the rehearsal. Tears usually come next. They’re not connected to any specific emotion, just another form of release. It would be easy to think this was my body freaking out and saying something like, “What the hell are you doing to me!” But it doesn’t feel like that at all. It actually feels quite wonderful. It feels like my body’s saying, “Thank you.”
We walk out onto the street. Tamar has an errand to run, so we hug and part ways. “See you tomorrow,” is our familiar refrain. Right before I hit the Bowery there's a thunderclap, the sky opens up and rain starts falling sideways in torrents. Everyone around me is taking cover under awnings and in storefronts but I’m still dancing- all the time thinking, “feet in the hips, feet in the hips.” A little rain never hurt anyone. I need a shower anyway.
WEDNESDAY: I wake up realizing I’ve been dancing in my sleep. Shoulder blade/elbow/forearm/wrist/first knuckles/second knuckles/fingernails. Wednesdays are WILD CARD days. Tamar and I will usually reserve this day for bodywork, but it’s also the day we reserve for, ‘field trips.’ I’ve been to the Hospital For Special Surgery three times, consulted with a doctor of physical therapy, been photographed by a world-class photographer and met with a Para-Olympic body building champion gold medalist with cerebral palsy. Today, however, I’m standing in the middle of Central Park at 7:30am in the morning with thousands of other people hoping to get tickets to that evening’s performance of William Shakespeare’s, Twelfth Night presented by the Pubic Theatre. Tamar shows up around 8:30am. She’s brought blankets and snacks. We’ve got four and a half hours until they start releasing tickets so we might as well do some work. For the next few hours, Tamar has me looking at everyone walking by, asking me to identify problems with their alignment and how I would correct it. She then has me get up and start imitating these different body types. After a few hours of this work and some video recording we get our tickets and part ways, agreeing to meet up later before the show.
Later. I'm in the back of Tamar's car watching the Upper East Side pass me by through the passenger window. Tamar is sitting up front and her husband Dick- the original Faun in Tamar's life- is driving. We get to the theatre, my friend Emily joins us, we have a beer under a tree and then go take our seats. The show is amazing! The acting is incredible, the music by Hem is outstanding. It's one of the finest productions of Twelfth Night I've ever seen. Life is good. Life is good...
THURSDAY: Thursdays start out just like Tuesdays; class from 10:00am to 11:30am and then rehearsal at the Joyce Soho. We have an hour to brush up on all our work to date because all the designers and some other folks are coming today. I do my two solos and then Tamar works with Emily on her solo in Act II. I go to another part of the theatre to continue going over my pieces but I’m watching Emily out of the corner of my eye. It’s unavoidable. She’s an amazing dancer. I know it’s not fair to compare myself to someone who has been dancing for longer than I’ve been alive but I can’t help myself. It’s a beautiful thing to see someone move that well. Seemingly without any effort at all. Tamar is getting ready for people to arrive and talking to our film crew so Emily and I go through our duet. Until this project I had never ‘partnered’ anyone before. In the beginning I was terrified once I realized just how difficult it was. I was falling down, unsteady, and unsure of myself. My frustration with the process and myself were at an all time high. I'm happy to say it’s gotten a lot better and a lot easier. Emily and I can now move through the entire act, which Tamar informs us is a whopping seventeen minutes long, with only minor mistakes typical to this point in our process. It’s been a few weeks since Emily and I have danced the duet, and when we perform it there are more mistakes then I am happy with. We get through it through, and the feedback from everyone there is really positive and encouraging. I leave feeling good about the rehearsal but not as good as I want to. I’m frustrated. Every time we work I can’t help but think that I’m starting from scratch. This is of course totally false. I’m being too hard on myself. I call a friend and ask him if he wants to meet for lunch. He suggests a place on Mott Street which is close by. I say I’ll meet him there. While I’m waiting I’m trying to calm myself down, trying to stop myself from leaving my body and from getting stuck in my head. While I’m waiting for my friend to arrive I decide to call my youngest sister Meredith, who lives in Virginia. Because she’s a first grade teacher, I know she’s not working during the Summer. “Hey honey, what’s up?” She asks in her thick southern drawl. She’s the only one in my family to have picked it up from living in North Carolina and I love it. I tell her about the rehearsal- how I just needed to admit to someone and myself just how hard what I’m trying to do is. She listens, which is all I really need, and then she says the greatest thing, “Don’t worry darlin’,” she says, “You know you’re the best dancer in the family.” If you knew my family this isn’t saying much but it makes me smile and I instantly feel better. My friend arrives. We eat noodles. Good food seems to be the answer to everything.
FRIDAY: See MONDAY. In the afternoons on Fridays I give private acting coaching to a fifteen year old girl with cerebral palsy. I usually work with my friend Pamela, but she has a conflict this week and can't make it. I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out how to fill a ninety minute session with this young woman and then decide to conduct a little experiment. I want to see if the work Tamar and I have been doing will translate to her. I work very slowly and focused as I try to explain the approach and concept behind what we're going to do today to this skeptical, precocious girl. I have her lay down and after ten minutes of working she starts to shake. We work through the whole ninety minutes. At the end she says, "It felt like the opposite of when my I get CP spasms. It felt like a release." Hot-Diggity-Dog!
SATURDAY: I’m stretching out my psoaz muscles on a metal stoop next door to the Joyce Soho which hasn’t opened yet. Weekend mornings are my favorite time in New York City. Everyone’s still asleep and the city is actually peaceful. I’m staring up at the sky. There’s a giant line of cloud drifting above my head that looks like a spine. I seem to be seeing spines everywhere these days. It reminds me to keep my lower back connected to the stoop as I continue to stretch my leg. Emily walks up and we chat and stretch out on the street until we can go inside. Twenty minutes later I’m dancing in my underwear in the biggest dance studio I’ve ever seen. There’s an issue with the original design of my costume and Tamar and the designer need to see what I look like dancing with next to nothing on. This would totally work except for the fact that I’m wearing kneepads. They sort of ruin the entire effect. Funny, sexy and maybe, just a little bit creepy. That's me.
SUNDAY: My day off. Or is it?