Requiem for a dancer


Super Moderator
Pat took dance classes from me for so long that I can’t even recall now when she started. Dance didn’t come naturally to her; she had to work hard for every small advance. Sometimes she got frustrated to see others perfect a move that she struggled to learn. But Pat had something just as important as a natural aptitude for dance: she had persistence, grace of soul, and a fine sense of humor. Every semester saw some improvement in her skills and in her confidence, a thing I can’t say of some of the more advanced dancers who were content to stay in their comfort zone rather than struggle to the next level.

Over time, Pat began to falter a little, though she never quit working on her skills. She struggled to learn choreography, and once she learned it, she was liable to forget parts of it. Pat and I were about the same age, and I thought she was just dealing with the same forgetfulness that plagued me. When she told me that she’d been diagnosed with dementia and was dropping the class, it was like a jab to the solar plexus. We didn’t want her quit, none of us, not teacher, not students. We told her to stay and we’d get her through the performances. She disappeared for a semester, but then she came back. Her sister dancers rallied around her, working with her on difficult moves, whispering clues to her during performances so she knew which way to turn and which arm to lift. She loved us and we loved her. When I retired several years ago, she finally retired from dance, too.

But she wasn’t done with life in the world. She started volunteering at the wildlife museum where I work and quickly became one of the most dependable, hardworking volunteers we had, putting in at least twice the number of hours most other volunteers donated. She was at every event, smiling and talking to people, and pointing out exhibits they might’ve missed. Even after she wasn’t able to work alone in the museum due to policy changes, she turned up twice a week without fail to greet visitors and do whatever little tasks needed doing. Gradually, though, her visits thinned out. One day, she simply didn’t turn up as usual. I called to see about her, but the calls eventually weren’t returned either. I lost her long before she was actually gone, and I have missed her.

Backstage spring 2013 004 Pat.jpg