I’ve been wondering just what the heck I could write about Nancy that hasn’t already been said, especially as others (whom I admire so) have written of their deep and multi-decade relationship with her. I took a little walk around the neighborhood so I could think think think, when the Chögyam Trungpa saying that Nancy loved to share came to mind: “Replace ambition with curiosity.” So, I stopped thinking as much as I could, continued on with my walk, and took some phone snapshots of a streetlamp behind some tree branches instead. In a similar vein, I will just write what comes to mind, letting my curiosity lead me rather than ambitioning to be someone I am not.
When I heard of Nancy’s passing, what I experienced feels difficult to describe with words. I could (and did) say that I felt numb, but that really wasn’t it. After receiving the news, I walked across the street to the park, journal in hand, to see if any words would come. A few did, so I wrote them down. I don’t remember them right now, though. I do remember that I soon found myself just lying on the grass, feeling the weight of my body—my mass, atop this large sphere of the earth. What was it that Nancy said? Something like, the earth is the biggest dancer out there, so might as well become friends with it? I forget. It doesn’t really matter right now, and it didn’t then either. Over the span of a few minutes, I sensed a shift. From clock time to body time. Letting my body guide the whole of me, without words. Just, simply, bonding with the earth.
So much of Nancy’s vocabulary—her literal words and turn of phrases—has seeped into my own. After my first workshop with her at Earthdance, I helped her clean her room in the dorm and asked her what she thought I might be able to work on when I went back. She took a moment from her packing to think—that thoughtful pause of hers—and gave me three words for me to think about: Availability, Permeability, and Mutability. I have to say that these three words have stuck with me in so many ways, and I am still reflecting upon them.
Her ability to describe the ephemeral and the experiential felt inspiring—as though she had developed a conduit between the somatic and the cognitive. There are plenty of folks who wax poetic about bodily experiences that feel fluffy and leave me hungry, or those whose kinesthetic descriptions feel abstract and kind of crunchy between my teeth. Nancy’s articulations felt, somehow, refreshing yet substantial. Like, simple—although, certainly not easy. Kind of like how some people can make miso soup out of the ingredients they just had in their fridge and make it warm the depths of my heart.
Consideration. Deliberation. Articulation. Her reading glasses, usually with colorful arms, would seem perched atop her head when she spoke about something. She would slip them back on to write a few words or to consult a few notes. I remember evenings during Glimpse retreats in a living room full of dancers, tired from the day’s research and full from a hearty communal meal, engaging in conversation of this or that aspect of the Underscore; I remember spending about three evening sessions a couple of hours each to go through a collective talk-through, and we still barely scratched the surface. While sipping red wine (usually from the Ribera del Duero region), Nancy would share the history of a certain connection, and how it reminded her of falling leaves or a group of fish or a certain dancer or a painting—and, then would nimbly shift into talking about Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen’s idea of generative space, or to interrogate us about our own aesthetic responses of what excites us. How, yes, “Pow-wow” didn’t feel right anymore but that she wasn’t excited about “Opening Circle” (seemed too generic) and was toying with “Assembly” (although it sometimes reminded her of school assemblies)—while some of us in the room felt frustrated at having to wage the same argument for years (if not much, much longer for some folx).
Within that is a lesson of sorts for me, though. Coming from a hierarchal culture where those in power, especially elders, are not to be questioned, that Nancy was open to receive such arguments and deliberate (albeit at her own pace at times) feels really important to me. That I could formulate my weight, and push into her. That she was, indeed, available, permeable, and mutable herself allowed me to come as I was. (Her words echo in my being.) Even if I failed to show up for contemplative dance practice at 7:00am, I felt no reprimand. Of course. And, to be able to perform with her and celebrate that her handwritten Underscore posters hung by the studio entrance with “Assembly” written by her, for the very very first time.
A couple of other quick vignettes also come to mind. During some projects, Mike would join us at some point. It could have just been my imagination, but I swear she would do little pitter-patters on her feet the closer the day when Mike would arrive. I don’t know how else to describe it—as though her own body felt lighter, or had more ping-pong balls jumping around inside of her? I think she was giddy. Really.
And, on the drive from Santa Fe to Boulder, we stopped briefly at a tiny town. She said she and Mike had driven the same road before (with Mike’s daughter, I think) and she wanted to get a map—a real, physical, paper map—so she could know the names of the Sangre de Cristo mountain peaks that we were passing. As we went back to my car, she paused and took a photo of a building across the street. I don’t know exactly what she saw and I wish I knew. At the same time, the mystery keeps me taking pictures and taking mental compositional snapshots when I don’t have a camera handy.
And, here we are, in a world changed through a global pandemic. In which grieving occurs through Zoom. Over texts and phone calls. Through seeing her smiling in her orange-and-white shirt and her braid cascading in front of her left shoulder, over and over and over and over again on Facebook. When touch is to be avoided. When the best we can hope for, really, is to be alone together. Amidst all of this sadness is, indeed, deep gratitude. To encounter a human being with such depth of investigation—of body, mind, *and* spirit; with such rigor in introspection and expression; with infinite interest for the unknown, but with few attachments to the outcomes. That I am now practicing as a somatic psychotherapist, I owe her sincere appreciation—not only in her writing me (in the span of 48 hours) a letter of recommendation for grad school, but through years of support for my own improvisational inquiry. That I can sit with clients through uncertainties and “gaps,” that I can remain open to possibilities outside of my own repertoire, that I can sense my own interoceptive state, that I can trust my kinesthetic instincts to explore, that I can navigate relational space across differences, that I can listen with my ears and the rest of my body—there is so much to be grateful for tonight.
So, to come full circle and to end with what so many people have said.
Thank you, Nancy. I love you. Thank you.