Twyla Tharp Is My New Guru

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scan0001Last fall the News Hour had an interview with Twyla Tharp celebrating her new book, Keep It Moving.  Its subject is the importance of keeping yourself moving as you age. When I went to order it I discovered that she also has done a book called The .Creative Habit: Learn it and Use It for Life. I go for creative coaching books, so I ordered that one too.

They both looked so good that I read them simultaneously, a chapter in this one, then a chapter in the other.  Each book has twelve chapters.  Each book has exercises accompanied by episodes from Tharp’s career.  Keep It Moving is nicely organized, with one exercise per chapter.  The Creative Habit has thirty-two exercises, more about focus and mental preparation than the physical.

The television interview showed repeated images of Tharp exercising, with an energy and agility far beyond what most of us near her age can even think about.  Fortunately, the exercises in the book are not that drastic.  She includes jumps and endurance pieces, but it’s clear that what matters is to, as the title says, “Keep it moving.”

The first exercise is a particularly intriguing one.  She calls it “Take Up Space.”  Don’t start shrinking may be what she means, but she avoids the negative.  Stride when you walk.  Spread out your papers on the table if you’re at a meeting.  Is this real exercise?  Maybe not, but it’s a great opener.

Another is “Mark your day.”  She describes dancers waiting for the subway.  They keep moving though in small space, doing the movements of their dance with restraint but in real time.  Her challenge for the reader is to not separate “work” and “exercise” as you move throughout the day.  She writes: “Thinking of computer or desk work as one job and then exercise as another seems to me like holding two halves of a card deck in separate hands.”  Those cards need to be shuffled.

My favorite of the exercises I have so far put into my routine is “Squirm.” Like a worm, she says.  Starting with the torso she gives a sequence for moving, stretching, curling and arching, covering the whole body, and all of it to be done before getting out of bed in the morning and having to deal with gravity.

That’s only three of the recommendations in this elegant, short book.  But it’s time for me to leave the computer and get moving again.


Worship: a Poem

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This poem begins as a literal description, which can also be taken as metaphor.  The end is meant to include all who participate in the dance of life.


The floor is cold as barefoot
dancers take their stations,
red-ribboned for Pentecost,
the church’s birthday.

Be there! the teacher cried
at each new step.  Her students
stretch to get there.  The need to be
on the right foot, in the right place
pushes them past balance.
Cross front, cross back,
they coil into the grapevine,
a twisting line of ordinary saints.

Light through windows splashes
mottled rainbows round us.
That we are right
where God wants us,
there is no proof.

This poem was first published in Christian Century, May 27, 1992.

Trying too hard to be “right” is something I struggled with for many years.  It so often backfires as we “push past balance.”  Dance has helped me keep, or regain, my balance.  Sacred dance fits in many other traditions besides Christian.  Go to http://www.sacreddanceguild.org to learn more.

Dance This Poem!


The Sacred Dance Guild holds its biennial Festival in Holland, Michigan this week.  In honor of this event, I am posting a poem I had published back in 1984 in alive now!, a small devotional magazine.  The poem was later danced at the ordination of a friend.

The Proper Turning

The proper turning
from the world to God
is a conspicuous somersault
half joyful leap, half fall.
Power tumbles, selfish
interests spill, desires
turn upside down,
a very public mess.

Laughter dances round.
Is it delight or scorn?
No matter to the acrobat
who’s newly joined the troupe―
the company of artists
who proclaim the names of God.

At the time of writing, I had no idea how many names of God there are: the number is beyond counting.  Dance, movement, gesture, can convey some of them in ways no words can.

Although the somersault in this poem could be metaphorical, actual movement in worship is a wonderful thing.  The Sacred Dance Guild gave me an excuse to dance again after no lessons since I was a teenager.  Most of the people I’ve met who dance in church are free spirits, liberated, as if keeping their bodies limber did the same for their minds.

Dance also proved to be a good balance for my writing.  Most writers have some physical work or hobby or habit to balance all the sitting and head work.  I recommend dance if you’d like to try something new; sacred dance is for all ages, genders and levels of ability.