Dear Great Grandma Sarah, I’ve been writing to you in my mind for as long as I can remember. So much so that this letter feels like the continuation of a lifelong conversation. It is truly an honor to spill my mind onto the page in this letter to you. Collapsing time so we can be together across time and space. My name is Sarah. My mother named me after you. She wanted me to know you as if you were right here in my blood. That’s what it feels like. My mother told me that you loved me before I was born. She told me that you dedicated your life to working with young people who loved to dance and tell stories, and who were commit- ted to creating a world where ALL people are free. She told me that you dedicated your life to the idea that I would exist, and that I would love myself without any limits. I exist! I’m 14 years old now. I’m a dancer like you. And I love myself as if I were the sky or the ocean. I love myself like the color of fresh green after a spring rain. I love myself so fully that I see my beauty everywhere. And I revel in the beauty of everyone I see, as if I’m witnessing a glittering rainbow over a field of yellow flowers. I laugh big. I sing loud. And oh, I love to dance. The elders say that people did not love them- selves in this way when you were alive. They say that especially Black and Brown bodies were scorned and vilified. They say that round bodies were seen as ugly compared to slender bodies, and that people became more and more invis- ible in society as they got older. They say that female identified people were seen as less than their male identified counterparts. They say that people who were called queer in your time were considered perverse. I’ve also learned that the
climate crisis was at its peak when you were alive. The books say that humans were willing to sacrifice the health of the planet and all life forms for financial gain and political power. All of this is unfathomable to me. I have cried many times thinking about what was happening when you were alive. I have cried thinking about you having to hold those burdens in your body and in your heart. You taught young dancers of all shapes and sizes and colors and backgrounds, that they were worthy of love, that they were beautiful. You taught them that they could change the world by creating dance and theater pieces about the things that mattered to them and that mattered to their communities. You helped them challenge the status quo in order to envi- sion something different. For me. I am here and I am free to be who I am because of you and so many people who knew that being joyful, in spite of all the oppression that was hap- pening in your time, was an act of revolution. My Mama told me that you were a beauti- ful dancer, that you looked 7 feet tall when you performed because you danced with a gen- erous heart. I have a generous heart too. It’s easy for me to have a generous heart because of the hard work you and people like you did in your lifetime to dismantle systems of oppres- sion from the inside out and the outside in. You helped young people value building community over competition. You helped young people see the value in their stories, their bodies, and their dreams while you pushed them to be disciplined in art and in life. You brought young people and elders together to create magical dance/theater pieces. We know that the connection between
of our dances have intricate choreography that we create together. Other dances are completely spontaneous. When the dances erupt without any planning, we weave through and around each other in mysterious synchro- nicity. Those are my favorite times. Oh my. I have so much to tell you that I could write to you forever. But I have to say good- bye for now. Before I go, I want to ask you for something: Please keep dreaming of a beauti- ful future. Please keep encouraging others to do the same. I know that there were people who did not believe that dreams could come true, so they became cynical and stagnated the evo- lution of humankind. But dreams matter. Your dreams, and the actions that blossom from those dreams, have literally made my world possible. And this is a world worth dreaming into being. I promise.
young ones and elders is sacred, but that was lost during your time. You kept choosing love over fear, even though you must have been afraid a lot. You worked really hard to love your dancer body even when the dance world of your time said it wasn’t thin enough or flexible enough or white enough. And then you shared that love with your community. Thank you. Every part of my being is grateful for who you were and what you did so that I could be who I am. You would be so proud of the seeds that you and so many others like you planted. They have borne the most delicious fruit. The world is a magical place now, my sweet Grandma. The air and water are pristine after genera- tions of working to reverse climate change. I can drink out of any lake or stream and the water is so healthy and so sweet. All our food is organic, as you would have said in your time, but that is just how it is now. We would never even dream of using poison to grow the food that we eat. We have amazing festivals and ceremonies to honor the seasons, the harvest time, the birth of a child, the death of an elder. There are also ceremonies dedicated to love - cosmic love, friendship love, familial love, and romantic love. There is no fear or discrimination in love. We understand that now. Love is love was a powerful mantra of your time. Our mantra is simply everything is love. All bodies are honored as sacred. Bodies of dif- ferent sizes and shades. Bodies of different gen- ders and sexual orientation. Human bodies are seen as vehicles for our souls, so of course we see each one as precious. I’m part of a large group of dancers of all ages and genders who dance at the ceremonies. Some
Yours in love throughout all time, Sarah
SARAH CROWELL is a retired professional dancer who has taught dance, theater and violence prevention for over 30 years. She is the Artistic Director Emeritus at Destiny Arts Center in Oakland, where she served in different capacities from 1990-2020, including Executive Director. She founded and co-directed the award-winning Destiny Arts Youth Perfor- mance Company, which was the subject of two documentary films. Sarah facilitates arts integration, anti-racism and team building professional development sessions with artists and educators, both locally and nationally. She has received many awards, including the Bay Area Dance Week award, the Alam- eda County Arts Leadership award, and the National Guild for Community Arts Education Milestone award. She is a four-time finalist for a Tony Award for Excellence in Theater Education. Sarah performed and toured with Impulse Jazz Dance Compa- ny in Boston and the Dance Brigade in San Francisco. She also co-directed the dance/theater company i am Productions!
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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org
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