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There’s a saying about two men riding in a wagon, one looking forward and one looking back, that asks the question, ‘which one are you?’. It’s a good reminder to not get stuck in the past, to keep moving forward, but this morning I had to ask, where’s the man in the middle? The one just being there in the moment, taking it all in?

I noticed that my blog archives are being read way back to the beginning in 2013. (Anyone who’s a writer can understand both the joy of someone reading your work and the horror of how badly it might have been written back then.I’ve been reading through these meditations and reflections on Faith and Family, Work and God’s Nature, and you know what? It wasn’t so bad.

Looking back, I reflected on a friend that left Danceworks to take on a new role elsewhere. Her years of faithful giving were like a canvas painted with stunning colors, swirling brilliantly with joy, and also with misty-covered shadows of solemn-toned grays blending into the darkness of great sorrow.

In fact, I found many beautiful memories in those words about my work at a place called Danceworks. And I spent some time realizing how much it had all meant to me and how grateful I am for the experiences I’ve had.

She had developed many deep relationships and collaborations that helped create much beauty on stage and off. She had also experienced disappointments and failure because some long-standing relationships had been broken at the end, and perhaps along the way more than she and others had realized.

During the last months of giving it her best, as if swimming upstream against the current, I wonder how it might have gone differently if my friend and others a part of that community thought, “We are grateful for the many good things that have come out of our work together, and for the many relationships gained as a result of this, and for all the creativity and art that has transpired because of it, the well-being brought to so many and, oh, yes, the joy—the joy only dance and creativity can bring. We simply must give it our best to try to accept the painful moments along with the good.”?

Today, I wonder what it would mean for my friend and those surrounding that work to choose to be grateful for all that happened during that time they were together. Because there was overwhelming goodness brought into the lives of so many as a result, into the city and world because of those beloved relationships that had taken form.

And moving forward, I wonder how this gratitude could help them step more fully, more deeply, into a dance of health and healing, into a joyous celebration on this the 30th Anniversary.

I wonder because accepting both the pain and joy of the past, along with hope for the future, allows God to be a part of it all in the present, not just the good parts of the past like the standing ovations, and sitting around a big hand-me-down table together sharing their stories and guacamole and chips with the sounds of laughter raising the roof. Because the Spirit of the Dance, took that work into the dark places of the city and souls that needed light and healing, love and acceptance, making little jewels shine everywhere.

If we separate ourselves from the pain, we’re holding back a part of ourselves that God wants to heal. So we can be open to greater work—His work among us. In order for that to happen, we have to come with our hearts—as shriveled, hardened, and wounded as they may be—so He can squeeze His big beautiful Self into us and bring the light of His glory with Him, into us, our families, our work, and our communities.

What if?

I used to love to write about our work, the people and the community. Oh I miss that. Yet here I find myself facing my own wounded, shriveled, hardened heart, presenting it in all its fragile breakability to God with all the vulnerability and humility I can muster, asking Him to be here in it all with me. And I find myself writing about what I once loved to write about and wondering why I had tried to block it out as if it were no longer a part of me. When it is and ever shall be.

Danceworks—the joy, health, and creativity—the people who came by foot, by bus and bike, by car off the freeway, all the people we went to, all the precious children and elders. And those brave and bold and feisty artists just asking for a place to create, to just be who they were and were becoming. All of us just longed to be who we were. And I think we came the closest I’ve ever experienced to being just that. People just being who we were and are becoming, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health as long as we all shall live.

It was wonderful.

I have come to realize that every dance of celebration, whether it’s the 1st or the 30th, must choreograph both pain and joy into the movement. “The mystery of the dance is that its movements are discovered in the mourning,” Henri Nouwen writes.

For healing to take place, we listen to the Spirit of the Dance, calling us into the movement to believe again in the midst of pain, to not be afraid again. And to not ignore it like a lonely, hurting overlooked child crying to be held. Or to numb it any longer. We begin to learn that we really can let go and be held, and let The Lord of the Dance take the lead.

I can just imagine my dear wise friend Janet saying, “Deb! Don’t separate the pain from the joy! It prevents you from letting your whole past be the source of your whole present (and future)!” She was that way, she said what she thought when something needed to be said, and she was big on living in the present. And we were all better for it.

As long as we isolate from the things we wish had gone differently or had not happened at all, we’re keeping a part of ourselves shut off from God. When all along, it has all been a part of our heart’s transformation.

So we reclaim our entire pasts as the way God has brought us to this day and no longer separate the past into good and bad parts, and instead, embrace it all—within ourselves and with each other.

True gratitude embraces all of life–the beautiful, the ugly, the Divine and temporal, the joy and grief. This is the place we belong, in the midst of all that happens, until we realize that where we are is in the Presence of God.

Nothing can separate us from His love.

“The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment can be claimed as the way of the Cross that leads to new life.” (That’s Henri Nouwen too.) At the Cross there is both suffering and new life found.

Then everything becomes grace.

To remember my friend’s story also as her journey with God at her side, will ground her gracefully and purposefully on the path in the present, in order to move forward into her new calling.

You may be wondering who my friend is?

It’s me.

Below, some of my many pictures over the years (2002–2020). A few moments in time, capturing the joy of Danceworks performances and many programs

One of Danceworks’ second Artistic Director Dani Kuepper’s dance extravaganzas with Milwaukee Opera Theatre at the Lyndon Sculpture Garden
Co-founder Polly Morris (L), Dani with her twins looking on.
An intergenerational cast.
Danceworks Intergenerational Multi-Arts Program (IMAP) at the Milwaukee Arts Museum. IMAP stood for: “I map the future to honor the past and present.”
Danceworks Performance Company members Melissa and Corey.
IMAP theme: “Dancing in Someone Else’s Shoes“
First Artistic Director Sarah Wilbur dancing with my parents at IMAP Celebration.
IMAP (renamed Generations) artists Teresa (L) and Liz (front R) with participant and Danceworks third Artistic Director Christal Wagner (second row R)
Dani could get anyone moving anywhere, anytime.
So could Janet Lew Carr, (former Community Programs Director.)
And founding member/Education Director/Danceworks on Tap Artistic Director Amy Brinkman Sustache could put on a show anywhere at the drop of a hat. With tapper Patrick.
Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap Competition
tap students dancing at the Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
One of the early Mad Hot Competitions with Rachel Payden, Outreach Director, who organized it all.
Getting ready to dance.
With Mad Hot Program founder Mario Costantini (second from R), emcee Van and the folks from the Bradley Center who volunteered their time and facility for the kids.
When I accepted my position at Danceworks, I felt I could do the job but thought, please, God, no public speaking or writing. I was a dancer. God has a sense of humor.
Jacqui Lefebvre, dance teacher extraordinaire with students.
Debrasha, dancer/artist/teacher/Finance/HR Manager who like just about everyone, developed administrative skills on the job.
Danceworks 50+ Initiative that grew and grew
Danceworks Youth Performance Company
Studio faculty gathered before an end-of-year student showcase
One of the great Showcases directed by Youth Programs Manager Gina Laurenzi
Waiting to dance.
View from the wings of students.
Jolie and Wanyah at the front desk. Nothing was more important than the front desk.
Our families never seemed to mind being stuffed into our narrow (often cold) waiting area/hallway.
Or being packed into a studio.
Kim Johnson’s popular Barre Workout class that keeps many happy and fit.
One of my favorite photos of Dani and Company/faculty member Kim Johnson (photographer?)
From one of Sarah Wilbur’s powerful community building dance performances.
Another one of my favorites with the first two Artistic Directors, Sarah and Dani. (Photographer?)
The hand-me-down table.
With the women that made a lot happen with a little.
The old workspace where we got down to business (or not.)
Just a regular board meeting.
My old desk (passed down from my dad’s office.)
This, like an ‘Amen,’ about says it all.

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