A student of mine spontaneously leapt up and started moving to a peer’s piece of poetry during a summer camp workshop this past summer. This inspired a whole session of interpretive dance to poetry. Right away I thought of my daughter’s dance company, the Isadora Duncan Youth Ensemble, directed by the innovative Carrie Tron. I visited Carrie that week at the studio and shared my excitement and delight. Her response? ”Let’s collaborate!”
We decided that the Isadora Duncan Youth Ensemble would be a part of Writopia’s December Reading at the Katonah Library, and that I would pick three poems from three different Writopians to share with her, so that her students would have a chance to do their own original choreography. The IDYE is comprised of both kids and teens, thirteen girls ranging in age from 7-18. The dancing is about clearing away inhibitions and internal conflict so that the dancers can authentically respond to the music and to each other. It is about being true to yourself. Interpretive or improvisational dance is much like what we do in Writopia Lab to excavate the rich, interesting and varied thoughts of our students.
Neither Carrie or myself were quite sure how this was going to work, but part of the creative process is being able to take that leap of faith into the unknown—whether it is on the blank page or an empty stage—and the result was nothing short of astounding. Two of the poems, “Bumblebees” by Kaley Mamo and “Mood Indigo” by Sarah Senese, were choreographed by the young dancers themselves, while the last piece (“The World of Apparition” by Sophie Nadel) was directed by Carrie Tron and done to an existing Duncan choreography. The poets and I came to one rehearsal so that they could practice the reading and pacing, and Carrie and I both wanted them as readers to be part of the dance themselves, on stage with the dancers rather than behind a podium, a true marrying of two different creative disciplines. Sophie and Kaley both said that they “want all of their poetry interpreted by dancers,” and Sarah, who is a dancer herself, wasn’t sure how it was going to manifest, but found the finished pieces to be profound.
So of course this past reading I was moved by the incredible expansion of what creativity can be and how important it is for all of us — kids and parents alike — to tap into this. Why do so many parents think of themselves as uncreative? Could it be that we are stuck in a story where we tell ourselves that we have so many responsibilities demanding our attention (does anybody else want to stab their eyes out dealing with the family schedule?) there doesn’t seem to be any room for creative personal growth?
But that’s just it— not only is there room, but we can change the false stories we tell about ourselves. It is impossible to not be creative — we do so in the way we express ourselves, the way we dress and interact — and yet “creativity” still feels like this amorphous thing we don’t have time for.
We must take a lesson from our children and learn to engage in the world, continue to develop our creative and empathic responses, and to remember we can still lead by example. The joy of creative expression has always been within our grasp- we just need to take that leap of faith into the unknown.
Léna began teaching Writopia Lab workshops in Manhattan in 2009, then went on to bring the program to New York City’s northern suburbs in 2010. Léna is the author of the YA novel, Edges, published by FSG. She co-authored Becoming Madeleine, a Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters, coming out in February 2018. She co-edited the award-winning Girls Write Now anthology, First Lines. Her writing was featured in the essay collection for middle school kids and their teachers: Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Essays to Devour: Your Favorite Authors Take on the Dreaded Essay Assignment. From 2014 to present, Léna has been recognized by the Scholastic Awards “as an outstanding educator whose dedication, commitment, and guidance are represented by student work selected for national honors.” Léna earned her BA from Barnard, studying English and Italian literature, and her MA in Drama Therapy from NYU. Mentoring has long been the connective tissue in Léna’s life, whether through her work with at-risk adolescents in Utah, California, and New York; or through her own writing discipline, as fostered by her late grandmother, author Madeleine L’Engle. It was her grandmother who taught Léna to transform the solitary nature of writing into a sacred sense of community, where her art and the art of others can flourish. You can visit Léna at www.lenaroybooks.com.