I recently spent two weeks in the woods of Vermont teaching choreography and dance improvisation to high school students at what is known as The Governor's Institute on the Arts. What follows is a letter to the program and the people, an experiment in gratitude.
So I'm home now, and I miss you. I didn't think I would. I thought I'd miss you some. But not as much as I do. And it's funny because when I was with all of you, teaching, laughing and watching the art making process unfold, I missed home.
I suppose that's part of living - missing something or someone no matter where you are and how full you feel.
I wanted to let you know I miss you because... well, it's another way of saying how wonderful of an experience it was. Wonderful for so many reasons, most of which had little to do with what I expected or hoped for and everything to do with what emerged, magically, by many, many small acts of grace.
What happens when you put talented, smart, loving people together in the middle of the mountains for two weeks to make art and celebrate the arts? GIA. Before I arrived and even during the first few days, people told me how amazing the program was. I've rarely been among a group of people so convinced of the magic of something. Truly. Everyone was a fan. And so I knew I was in for greatness, regardless of how intense or unfamiliar it might be.
In the first few days, I struggled with an overwhelming sense of anticipation and push. The need to figure things out, know what was happening and get things done, the desire to have mini-successes in class each day, the desire to spend more time with everyone and get to know them - it all simply subsumed me.
And so I surrendered.
I let go of my desires and wishes for things to be known yet magical, successful but still grounded in some sense of reality. I softened into my surroundings. I boarded the train with everyone else.
On the train, everyone was so kind. And I really mean that. Just as the magic of the place amazed me, the compassion of the place floored me. Everyone seemed to accept each other for who they were and what they needed. "How are you doing?" and "Awesome" were two things I heard over and over again.
When I asked questions and seemed unsure of things, one of the RAs said, "Everyone wants to be your friend, Colleen." The little high school girl inside of my woman-self was elated and thrilled. For where in this world does everyone want to be your friend? And where in this world do you truly want to be everyone's friend in return?
This instant enthusiasm seemed to allow people to step out of their comfort zone and explore. And it was in the exploring that magic emerged. And opal-colored brew of intelligence, humor, depth and expression. A true lesson in the art of being human in a community.
I could go on, but I won't. I just wanted to let you know how awesome and lovely you are, and how thankful I am to have been a part of the community for two weeks. I also wanted to let you know something else, something about our love and time together.
Do you remember when we all reflected on our experiences at GIA and the upswell of emotion and power that overtook the room? Do you remember how we spoke from an honest place and declared our love for each other? Do you remember the silence and how we all listened?
I remember crying, then, not for the loss of the magic or the return we were on to our homes, but for the people in this world that will never experience first-hand the magic of GIA. I cried for those souls and hearts that have an ache in them and want so badly to be compassionate and happy and expressive in the ways we were together but don't know how and don't have the means to learn how. It wasn't pity, some form of privilege. It was a human response, an empathetic response.
In the crying, I felt a sense of responsibility. I felt the power in the room and how much energy it generated. I felt each one of you, members of this magical community, standing tall like a tree needing to be transplanted into different communities around the world to provide shade, song and strength to those lost souls.
This letter is not a lament for what is lost. If it isn't clear by now, what was gained was a dense jewel of truth and beauty that has embedded itself in my heart. It will not leave me now. No, I have you with me here.
This letter, rather, is me remembering how art making can lead to personal transformation. It's me remembering that in the personal transformation comes a call to take the next step beyond one's self, a call to provide service to others in this world to help them find their own personal transformation. It's me realizing that however much of an amazing circus dance GIA is, it's also a place that generates a lot of power and insights. And we would be remiss if we didn't commit during the rest of the year, rest of our lives, to transmitting some of that power into our communities. It's not simply about talent. It's also about your heart and how willing you are to love what happens next just as you loved all of those moments when we were together.
So what am I saying? We don't all need to be together to continue to create the magic that happened at GIA. In fact, it would be selfish. The world needs us. And that's a good thing.
And I still love you. And I still miss you. And I'm happy to be home.