Thursday, March 01, 2007

MARTI ZUCKROWV "Dance on Paper"

Late 1940's. The East Bronx streets, midnight on a school night, the first snowfall of the season. We'd bundle up in winter coats, wrap woolen babushkas around our heads, pull gloves on our hands, slip into galoshes and head out for Bronx Park East.

My mother and I would be the only ones out. The neighborhood was sleeping, except for us, or so it seemed to an 8-year old. We'd step out into the cold, excited as two kids, my mother already reminiscing about her short happy childhood in the streets of Odessa, Russia, before her father died and she was unable to accompany her mother to America because of failing health.

She rarely talked about that part of her childhood, the years in an orphanage, the years living with relatives who didn't want her. Bound by all our clothes, we plodded along while the snow fell as soft as cotton. It was magical to walk through the vacant lot at the end of our block,the trash and litter, the broken bottles and empty cans shimmering under the light coating of snow.

We'd make our way under the El. Even the filthy platform above our heads glistened with specks of virginal snow. Snowflakes spotted the parked cars along the curb and the fire hydrants looked statuesque, dotted with white. The bulky clothes originally weighing me down seemed to lighten on my back as we trudged ourway to the beginning of Bronx Park.

Snow would be falling faster by now and I'd lift my face to they sky and catch the flakes in my mouth. Oh, the thrill of being part of the night, the snow. I stepped out of myself and became one with something so much bigger,indefinable, but clearly in another dimension, far from everyday life. The graceful snow transformed the ordinary to spectacular.

We didn't talk much, my mother and me, as we neared the park. We didn't arguethe way we did most other times. We came close to liking each other. A blanket of snow covered the ground.

The surrounding trees and tall bushes were outlined in white, as if they'd been sprinkled with sparkly white powder. No longer were they the bare naked trees of winter, they became magnificent wonders of nature, proud and tall, the bushes beside them billowy forms of elegance.

Not daring to enter the park at night, we walked along Bronx Park East, a wide boulevard-like street that ran parallel to the park. Even the trash cans, by now covered in snow, lent magic to the night. I'd run ahead of my mother, frisky as a puppy, then leap into the air and skip back to her. Free to jump and twirl in the empty streets with the soft snow falling in my face and the cold air invigorating, I'd yank my babushka off and it became an extension of my arm.

I'd wave it over my head, then spin around and use it like a whip, imagining myself riding off into the distance on a wild stallion and I would become that wild stallion, untamed and brave and ready to conquer anything. An energy would build somewhere inside of me and move into my arms and legs and back and chest and even my neck had to find expression for the lightening surges running through me. My mother as well, moved lightheartedly through the cold. Her chunky legs and her thick peasant torso carried her down the block and away from the drudgery of her existence.

In the morning she'd drag herself out of the house and take the hour subway ride into Manhattan, standing smashed against the other garment workers bound to their factories. She'd return home each night exhausted and spent. Day after day, week after week. Year after year.

But on our walks on the snowy cold nights, she, too, could be carefree. Here it is now, 2007. My children are grown and mygrandchildren are older then I was when I walked in the snow with my mother. Now, I am the one who gets to be carefree in a child's presence. I watch my granddaughter play basketball, my little shy girl block a pass or dash across the court and make a basket and my body once again remembers the amazing feel of spontaneous movement. I stand cheering my grandson on as he wrestles his opponent down to the ground, applauding the magnificence of these two young athletes. I applaud the brilliance of the human body, the miracle of movement and kinesthetic wisdom, and the soul living within.

Writer Marty Zuckrowvia is a lifelong dancer and performance artist who teaches movement classes to people with disabilities. She lives in California.

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