In dance, transitions should be invisible, devoid of noticeable effort. The moment between each step should not really exist, but since, of course, it does, it should exist in such an organic way so as to connect two disparate elements seamlessly. Truly gifted dancers do this naturally, their muscles and tendons seem to reach through their skin to find the next movement, keeping it all together as a whole.
My favorite dance teacher used to say: "Transitions are dancing; they are what keeps choreography from being a string of tricks and poses".
Not surprisingly, transitions are the hardest, most nuanced part of dancing.
From the last week of school, to the first week of camp.
From afternoon gymnastics classes and rigid bedtimes to afternoons spent with the sprinkler and hose and bedtimes pushed for BBQs or firefly catching or just because we didn't realize how late it was.
From air conditioning to steamy pavement to stuffy car and back again. From wet bathing suits to nubby towels to dry sundresses.
From just finding our stride and rhythm, to having to find a new stride, all over again.
Years ago, I attended a summer dance festival that culminated in a night of performances in a lofty barn surrounded by looming white mountains. Near the end of the show, a spot normally reserved for the most esteemed teachers, one of the students took to the stage, sweaty, beaming, alone in a halo of light.
He was clearly preparing for something monumental.
The music started and he just stood there in fifth position, gazing out at us and seeming to pulse with energy. Then he took off in a single movement, not a magnificent leap or a spinning turn or any of the latest tricks we all tried our hand at that summer. Instead, in the brief moment before the lights went out again, he executed one perfect "contretemps", a small, classical, normally ignored transition step.
The roar afterward was deafening.
For just a moment, there had been nothing but that one step, one that is usually forgotten, rushed through to get to the next thing. He gave every molecule in his body over to that moment and made us pay attention to the lowly contretemps.
"Transitions are everything," our teachers had been saying all summer. But it took this performance for us to actually pay attention and see.
Dropping Z off at her first day of camp, we are both immediately overwhelmed, overstimulated. Drop off is in a large basketball court, not the type of room exactly known for soothing acoustics, filled with nervous children, not the type of people exactly known for quiet calm.
She clings to me, asks me to stay and I don't blame her. There is nothing welcoming here, unless you find a teeming mass of children with backpacks welcoming. I stay, shooting plaintive looks to the teenage counselors who watch, disinterested or unaware, from the other side of the room.
Her counselor finally leads her group out the door, off to arts and crafts or music or, uh, 'smores? Z waves, wary, not quite ready to go to the next thing.
But the next thing is here and she must move toward it and I must let her.
I sit on the couch folding laundry and watching "So You Think You Can Dance". I am a bit twitchy as I watch, dying to dance like that, some of my muscles remembering how good it felt, others reminding me that much of it hurt, still others reminding me I was never that good, never, ever.
There are showboats on this show, dancers with big leaps and turns and legs always extended up to here. They want to catch our eye, impress us. This is TV, after all; there is very little room for nuance.
I am impressed, not by tricks, but by the dancers who move through each movement as if propelled by tidal forces barely within their control. They ride those waves with a potent mix of abandon, trust, and curiosity. Whoa, yeah, and where does this lead? They make it look easy, every trick, every transition, just flowing out of them, each movement as effortless as the last.
I stop folding and just watch.
I pick Z up from camp, leading her out the door by the hand, E perched on one hip. Z prances to the car, bubbling over about a new funny song and the "orgamami" they did in art. We are all smiling.
But when we get to the car, she winds herself quickly into a fit. I didn't bring her any water for the 5 minute car ride home and she's THIRSTY and her water bottle is EMPTY. It's HOT IN HERE. NOOOOOO, I DON'T WANT TO GET IN MY CAR SEAT. WREAAAAAAA.
I can feel my jaw tighten and I fight the urge to forcefully move us on to the next thing: carseats, home, lunch, nap/quiet-time and on and on and on. These moments, caught between different parts of our day, between one world and the next, one activity and the next, they just don't come easy for Z. Or me. It seems she struggles every time to change gears, to let go, to accept what's next. I struggle every time not to rush or ignore or force.
I close my eyes and wait a breath, half listening to the tantrum I am still learning that I cannot end or control.
I tell her plenty of cool water is at home, the AC's coming on now, let me know when you're ready to sit in your carseat. And then I wait, arms vaguely open if she wants help or a hug.
It takes just long enough for me to question my approach. Then she's in her seat, wiping her tears, ready to go.
Ready for the next thing.
We are learning to ride these transitions together. They matter. They are a part of our lives that I am learning to shine a light on. They seemed inconsequential, unimportant, unworthy of my time and effort.
But Z has shown me that transitions are not to be ignored.
It is my hope that, one day, we will both approach them fearlessly, navigate them seamlessly, with abandon, trust and curiosity. Like the very best dancers.