“Break Beauty” by Lisbeth Davidow
The lights of lower Manhattan shone in the night sky beyond the bank of large, paned, arched, uncovered windows. In front of the windows, the other eight members of June Finch’s dance company stood quietly in the dark. Wearing a pale yellow leotard and matching tights, I danced alone under a spotlight in the center of the broad, sumptuous Merce Cunningham Studio on its smooth, blonde wooden floor.
I arched my back, threw my arms high above my head and turned sharply on one leg, the other reaching behind me in a low arabesque. I had never been less concerned with how high my legs sailed, how fully my feet pointed or how flattering the color of my costume was against my skin. The audience, who sat on risers before me—smart artists, dance critics, fellow dancers, well-wishing family and indifferent strangers—could view me with pleasure or with disdain. It didn’t matter. Three Mile Island, a nuclear power plant on the outskirts of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had just had a core meltdown. Nobody knew how safe we were, what had been changed, or how much would be lost.
When my father died more than a decade ago, I discovered in my shock and grief a similar freedom. Not, at first, the freedom to do as I pleased, despite how fiercely he would have disapproved of my smoking pot, marching against a war, losing my virginity to a poet or becoming a modern dancer. That would come later. The first freedom, which was strangely calming, came from thinking that I had little to lose compared with losing him.
Now, as I rolled soundlessly to the floor, surrendering to gravity like it was a lover, I was not trying to impress or seduce or charm or execute movement cleanly or beautifully or even intelligently. That part of my brain had blown up. Instead, I was trying to say with how I brought my body to lay on my side, how I rested the side of my head on my arm, bent my knees toward my torso and allowed my ribs to rise and fall with each breath, was that all I could do was to be there.
Here we are, I thought. What matters now? What can the critics say now? We are in a dance studio in the West Village. We could be on a farm in West Virginia. How far are any of us from Harrisburg after all? Here I am. Here you are. We share a fate. I can dance my heart out, or I can lie like a hill of sand on this sand colored floor. You can watch me, or you can think about a lost love, or what you would like to eat when this concert is over, or about whatever radiation may be coming our way. If I bring you beauty, take it. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s ours. Take it. Break beauty with me in this space, in this city, in this moment, under these hot lights.
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Lisbeth Davidow’s Artist Statement: Lisbeth Davidow’s work has appeared in print and online in Alligator Juniper, Blue Lyra Review, Helix, Lunch Ticket, Mandala, Marco Polo, Pilgrimage, Prime Mincer, Spittoon and Sliver of Stone. She has been a finalist in Alligator Juniper’s national creative non-fiction contest and in The Southeast Review’s Narrative Nonfiction Contest. She was also nominated to be included in Best of Creative Nonfiction, Volume II. She has a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, an Ed.M. from Tufts University and an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Malibu, California with her husband.