In step, six feet apart.
By Maura Mulligan
I hadn’t seen my New York City Dance students since early March, except when they showed up on screen for my Zoom birthday dance party in May. I miss dancing with them and long for the friendly exchanges we have every Friday at Ripley Grier Studios on West 72nd Street when we share news of the week, before and after class. Sometimes, we stroll along to the local Patsy’s pizzeria and put back all the calories we lost during the hour-long class.
Maybe, I thought, one or two might accept an invitation to an outdoor class in the local park here on the Jersey side of the Hudson? When I made the suggestion, nearly all of them including Marty who lives on Staten Island were delighted. They “couldn’t wait,” they said. Of course, I was elated. We met on the first Sunday in September at 10 a.m. We decided that if the park wasn’t crowded and the dancing helped boost our endorphins, we’d continue until the weather becomes too cold for outdoor dancing.
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Stretching before class.
The venue I chose in West New York was the tree-shaded Thomas Donnelly Memorial Park with its benches and stone tables for holding our bags and bottles of water. We could dance and admire the sun-drenched Hudson on the space near the bronze bust of Thomas M. Donnelly erected by the Foresters of America in 1938. Donnelly’s statue atop a two-sectioned granite base would be our landmark. The cement circle surrounding the statue would be a good spot for our six-feet apart social distance dancing.
Thomas Donnelly keeping an eye on things.
I had never heard of Thomas M. Donnelly (1862 – 1937) until I started looking for a shady spot and paying more attention to my surroundings during this pandemic. Donnelly is labeled as an “Idealist, fraternalist leader.” The caption on the bust states that his “wisdom made it possible to save the Palisades.” Patrick Cullen, West New York Town Historian and author of the book, “1780 Battle of the Block House of North Bergen, New Jersey,” told me that Donnelly was the Supreme Secretary of the Supreme Court of the Foresters of America, the organization that arranged for his statue to be placed in the park bearing his name. He was a legislator in the New Jersey Assembly, Cullen said. One article from the Jersey Journal dated Dec. 10, 1937 mentions the Save The Palisades Association of which Donnelly was a key member. I had an instant connection with Thomas M. Donnelly and felt he would be glad to have us dancers there, enjoying the view he fought to save.
The class begins.
With the space chosen, it was time to think about what I would teach. The usual céilí dances we practice in class where holding hands to form chains and circles would not work for social distancing. I also considered the hard-stone floor for those of us in the group with aging knees. It was time to create a new close-to-the-ground social distancing dance and so, “The Covid Reel” came to life.
The dancers arrived and after elbow bumps and shouts of “great to see you” followed by preliminary stretching, I introduced my newly composed dance.
We smiled behind masks as we formed a circle six feet apart with the New York City skyline in the background. The class joined me in wishing that the step I christened “Stamp Out Covid” would indeed bury this disease underfoot and that respect for Mother Earth would increase. The move labeled “Hello World” – a stepping forward advance, might send energy into the earth to help bring about the freedom of travel again without restriction. Then we’d have no need to dance the step called ”Quarantine” where dancers take 14 steps in one direction or another marking the two-week isolation period. We can only hope.
Anyone wishing to receive a copy of this dance and others meant for individual or group social distance easy dancing send an e-mail to [email protected]
Maura Mulligan, a certified céilí dance instructor, is author of the memoir, “Call of the Lark.”