Art Making, Artistic Process

Today I am 67 years old

This post was written on my birthday, December 25th, 2014 while I was visiting my daughter in Cambodia.


Today I am 67 years old.  Here is an account of some of what I have accumulated.

Two parents and I have lost them both.

Five grandparents, all gone, two never met, two of consequence, one a Bubbe — my father hated and therefore so did we. Who knows what might have been?

Two brothers.   I lost one, a tragedy I will not get over.

Many sister-in-laws and a brother-in-law I never ever knew and nine nephews and nieces as well as grand nieces and nephews who are part Indian, Dutch and German.  I cannot keep track of them all, but every now and then I try to count them, which is part of how I know I have accumulated them and it brings me great joy.

Eight houses and three apartments and left all of them but one.  Some of those homes still have meaning. Once I visited the second house, the one that my family left when I was five.  A life is a serious business, even as a youngster, maybe especially as a child so I remember with some fierceness what happened in that house and neighborhood including being on the Betty White Show (who was a neighbor and because this was Los Angeles of course she had a TV show) and I declared that I would be a dancer and I twirled and they laughed and gave me a big doll I called Jimmy. I have lost that doll but accumulated others.

I have accumulated thousands of hours of dance training and dance making and dance sharing and dance musings and then many many hours of saying it is not dance, but something else that is driving me. Something about the body, about motion, about culture, about being with others while moving, about ambiguity that lives between the body and the mind and my own incessant belief that you can have it all…body and mind; story and no story; freedom and submission; solo and collective genius and that it is OK to talk about dancing, while dancing, and after dancing.   I have accumulated a lot of articles by others that support these ideas including a recent batch that say being stubborn and willing to have people dislike you and your ideas represents creativity.  So it seems that having accumulated a long series of bad reviews in the New York Times, is a good thing for an artistic being.

I have accumulated a shelf of pitchers I like to look at that occasionally hold fresh flowers. And a shelf of tiny objects given to me by others including the kitschy sleeping baby my mother gave me when my brother was born, the brother I lost and can’t get over.  So of course I love the porcelain infant that lies amidst the other tchotchkes all of which have some worth or I would have gotten rid of them long ago.  Instead I have accumulated them.  I do curate these shelves ever so often. I move the objects around and think about the design, the adjacent quality of one to another and question whether it is time to be rid of the origin story.  Alas, I think the sleeping baby will be left to my one daughter.

And yes, I have happily accumulated a daughter.  With this child has come a host of items and experiences that accompany such a wonder.  PTA meetings, school essays from pre-K to grad school admissions, basketball games and triathlons, lots of her friends, new music and old music and lots of music, late night and early morning conversations with my husband, with other mothers, with younger artists contemplating and questioning whether to take this journey of parenthood.  I always say yes.  But like so many accumulations, one cannot really speak for another.

This year mother and daughter (and my husband and her boyfriend) are together for my birthday.  We are in Cambodia where she lives.  It is another surprise, the fact that I now accumulate international visitations, not by choice, or because of work, but because the family needs to be together and she will always live elsewhere.  It is no mystery that there is a turning point in these parent-child relationships. Many others have written about this before me and yet it is an awesome moment to see that the taught one becomes the teacher.  That the loved one now loves.  The daughter is making her decisions, and her bravery and her openness are guiding me to a new world.


4 thoughts on “Today I am 67 years old

  1. Katie says:

    I took a class from you as a teen during a vacation in West Virginia. You and your family were there, free vacation if you taught a class or two. I fell in love with your philosophy and ease in teaching and comfort with yourself and ideas. I tried to see as many performances as I could when I found you through the years. I took some classes at your dance studio on the AHA moments.

    I so admire you for being so real, authentic and accepting. I am 242 pounds, with bad feet, and can celebrate that I just took a ballet class tonight in Rockville’s ADI Institute, which is closing. It is your philosophy that anyone should be able to dance no matter what their size, body, age that gave me the confidence to walk in with my socks and chico’s outfit. I now have a 9 year old with Autism and hope someday he takes hip hop or tap. I think he would love it!

    As soon as I heard that the owners were letting the school close in August, I said, “Can Liz Lerman come to Rockville?” Please consider it! I feel we need you here desperately.
    Fondly, Katie Smeltz, MSW

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