I used to hate Harry. Not him personally. Just dancing with him.
And not exactly hate. More like fear. Dread.
It’s not like that anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. But that came later. Much, much later.
Harry is like my friend J, who I have written about before (as have other bloggers – cursing his talent). An artist savant. J made Mission-style bedroom furniture his first go at woodworking. He didn’t even know what Mission-style was.
I imagine it is like that for Harry too – that his fingertips simply release the art locked up in the canvas, the stone or metal.
I am not this kind of artist.
Consider my recent foray into clay, my first in more than 25 years.
I enrolled in a first-time potter class at Lil Street Art Center. Bought my bucket and toolkit. Attended all of the five, three-hour sessions. Came in on the weekends to practice. And never came close to mastering centering.
Or even getting the hang of it. Which is problematic as centering – which is exactly what it sounds like, getting the clay centered on the wheel — is pretty much essential for anything of beauty to emerge.
I didn’t have much more success with trimming – cleaning up or “editing” my pots. Ditto for slab work or glazing.
I left the class with a few sad pieces I have scattered around my house – doing utilitarian duty. A tray I lean spoons on when cooking. A tiny bowl with salt in it, sitting on top of the stove. Another sitting on the window sill of my shower, filled with stones and glass I collected at the beach.
I realized this work would be work if I wanted to be any good at it. Or even just better. Like dance.
While dancing always felt natural to me – at clubs and at parties – moving across the floor in a structured class was something else entirely. Which is probably why I avoided it for so long. For fear of not knowing what I am doing. Looking “stupid.” Not in control.
The take away from my early years regarding art, music and sports was that talent was innate. Period. There was no talk of practice. Learning a craft. Or of doing for sheer joy.
I learned those lessons late. First, from my step-mother, who began painting in her 60s. I recall her early efforts – shared with me in cards and notes. Then seeing her work, in her home studio, years later. Whimsical watercolors of cows on oversized paper. Framed. I wanted them for my wall.
I learned them again, a few years later, in dance class. I have a visceral memory of my instructor Idy going right and me moving left. Him reaching up, and I, down.
“Like this, Lesley,” he would say. I swore I was doing the same, but clearly I wasn’t. Again and again. Looking at one another in the mirror. Me giggling. Them him. Until I fell on the floor in a heap.
Learning to laugh at myself. To feel the drums. My bare feet on the floor. The joy and wonder of my body leaping. Contorting. Flying.
That is, until I met Harry. He was, and is, what I call a teacher’s teacher. Reaching for rightness. What is correct. He filled in when Idy traveled. I hated it.
Walking into the studio and seeing him, my heart would sink. Frustrated by his seemingly constant corrections, I would bite my bottom lip to hold back tears.
One January, when Idy returned to Senegal, Harry led the entire session. Driven by my frail ego and fear of being found out as a “dance fraud,” I did not enroll in class. It was the first time I would not dance on a Sunday in more than a year.
I missed it.
I talked to my friend Lisa at length about it. She suggested I pray. For the resentment to be removed? To be right sized? To be teachable? I don’t recall her exact directions. I just remember, being desperate. Praying. And things changing.
I found I could dance with Harry. And I could even enjoy it.
Especially when I nailed a step, or a series of steps. He would stand in front of me clapping his hands shouting, “Yes! Yes!” I was both thrilled and embarrassed at the same time, grinning ear to ear. Then losing my footing. And laughing. I knew he wasn’t lying.
Or when he had me demonstrate a step, moving across the floor, with the other dancers following. Because I “had it.” This happened just once.
Truth told, I developed a little crush on Harry. The safe kind. I was pretty sure he was married and had been for a long time.
I found out for certain on Sunday, meeting his wife – who showed me his jewelry. Rings with enormous oversized stones – too big for my tiny hands. A copper and silver band that made my fingers look long. A snaking chain of tiny stones, each marked with a symbol. I wrapped it around my neck again and again until there wasn’t anymore. Heavy.
I saw Harry a bit later that afternoon, showing his paintings and sculpture at a different location. He waved to me from inside the store as I was approaching. And once inside he introduced me to his daughter and told me about his work. His inspiration. His process. I listened.
And then I told him how I used to feel about dancing with him. And how today I love it. That I am a better dancer because of him.
His response floored me.
He told me he can’t stand idly by when someone is so close.
It had never occurred to me that I was close. That he pushed me because I was good. Not because I was bad. That if I were hopeless, he wouldn’t have bothered at all.
He saw me, right-sized. Teachable.
(Video: Dancing with Harry)