In this heartwarming episode, Mary Simms dusts off an old dream and has the courage to dance again. Award-winning storyteller, Kelly Swanson, takes us back to her beloved town of Prides Hollow when Old Man Withers leaves them a challenge to do something brave. To watch these stories on video go to www.PridesHollow.com Youtube Channel. And to become a Patron go to www.Patreon.com/kellyswanson. Thank you for listening.Support the show
The world often defines courage by an act that impresses others….sometimes the world is wrong.
There’s an old theater in Prides Hollow. Tucked downtown in between the Dusty’s Formal Wear and Suzie’s soaps. Safe to say all three of them were business ideas that didn’t quite pan out - now just faded window fronts passing time like three little old men sitting on a park bench watching people hurry by.
The Prides Theater never really presents anything bigger than graduations, summer camps, and the occasional small town pageant. When it comes to its upkeep, many people figure what’s the point. Hard times always turn their eyes in a more important direction.
But to Mary Simms, it’s always been important. For it’s her job to keep it clean. And every day for years, as she dusted the seats, and polished the bannister leading up to the balcony, she would breathe in the smell of what should be. And when she pushed that giant broom across the stage, to wipe away the last remnants of a Junior League meeting, she would pause right there in the middle of the stage. And practice. The music was in her head as clear as if it were really playing. The movement of her arms and legs didn’t try to remember their places. They didn’t have to. She had been dancing this piece her whole life. A dance that changed with each new season of her - each new heart ache and silver lining poured out into the music like the brush of a painter, whose colors and strokes tell his story to an empty page. Sometimes in a language nobody understands but him.
No one had ever seen Mary dance. Well. Almost no one. There was one audience when Mary was five and her older sister was seven. And Mary had danced for her family before dinner in the dress she had spent days decorating with a marker and ribbons. But as any busy family knows - the hustle of making dinner - the chatter of how bad it was at the office today - the buzz of the news playing from the small TV in the kitchen - and her older sister upset that it was her turn to set the table again - well, it didn’t make for the best audience for a debut performance.
The music was buried under the sound of the telephone ringing while Mary danced for them all - just as the program she had colored and hand delivered yesterday had announced. The little girl spun into her final twirl, the dramatic finish, and waited for an applause that never came. That’s nice dear, her mother mouthed while on the phone, before doing a furious double take at what Mary had done to her church dress. Her father didn’t even look up from the paper. Her sister glared as she threw down another plate and hissed, Nobody cares about your stupid dance.
And that day, one tiny sentence, handed down by a seven-year-old who didn’t even remember saying it a year later, became Mary’s truth. And that day her dance became her shameful secret, and her dream was hidden in favor of a more sensible path.
But here’s the thing about some secrets. They fester. And itch. And strain to break free into the light. As if they are trying to reach truth. As if it becomes their only job. They seem to get heavier to carry with age.
So when Old Man Withers challenged the town to do the thing that scares them, it wasn’t the money that made Mary obey, but more like the secret - now bigger than her - finally seeing its opporutnity to break free.
We were all beyond shocked when we got the hand delivered invitation that announced a dance recital in the Prides Theater. A one-woman dance recital of all things. And there was her name, right there. Featuring Mary Simms. In a gold caligraphy font that was far fancier than Mary.
Mary? The woman who cleans the theater part time? That Mary? Well, I’ve never heard her say three sentences at once. Surely this coudn’t be right. And dancing? Who ever heard? Does she even know how to dance? What will her older sister think? You know she’s on town council. This will surely embarrass her to no end. If she thinks this will help her find a husband, well she better think again. I’m sorry. But she’s just not stage material if you ask me.
It wasn’t the free attendance that brought people in. It wasn’t the promise of seeing something amazing. We were all quite sure it couldn’t be as good as the invitation. But we all came anyway. Most of us. Maybe a little bit morbid curiosity, but mostly because at the end of the day in Prides Hollow, you take care of your own. No matter what that looks like. And if someone is about to crash and burn - well who would want to miss that?
The stage wasn’t decorated. At all. I mean a plant or two at least would have been nice. There were no concessions. Well good grief, you could at least have served a nice Chardonnay. Seats weren’t assigned. Well for heavens sake, how are we supposed to know who’s VIP and who isn’t?
There was no special lighting. No emcee. Just one spotlight on a dark stage. Then the house lights dimmed and the music started….
…. and Mary began to dance across that stage that she just cleaned hours ago
Her costume was simple. The tights faded. The skirt had seen better days. Well you’d think she would have picked a better outfit.
The movements weren’t perfect. The coreography was just okay. It’s not near what you would see on Broadway - or even off. You would think she would have at least hired a director.
The music was plain. A catchier tune might have been nice. I’m just not really feeling the music she’s chosen. I’ve never heard this before.
But even the comments and whispers couldn’t drown out what the rest of us began to see.
Began to feel.
The more we watched.
Yes, her costume was plain
Yes, the music simple
So maybe the movements weren’t polished.
And maybe you would never see this on Broadway.
But it kind of didn’t matter
Because there was something deeper happening…(music picks up here. 1:10 music gets faster)
It felt like Mary wasn’t really trying to impress us. Shoot, it kind of felt like we weren’t there at all.
…almost like we were intruding
…She looked so - well - happy. And free.
Like this is what she was born to do.
Like this stage was made just for her
Like it wasn’t her at all - but the little girl who finally gets her chance.
Yes. That’s it. It was like Mary was five again. With that child-like wonder that makes you throw out your arms and dance. Like the dream before the world talks you out of it.
And the judgments began to fade and get crowded out - as we watched her beautiful secret find its way to the light
And I think some of us stopped seeing Mary, and started seeing ourselves - and the child we left behind
It was like Mary was giving us permission to wonder
……..what would we do if we were brave?
If we didn’t have to be good enough.
If we didn’t have to worry about who would come.
Or how much they would like it.
And we didn’t have to worry if we were too old.
Or if our children would laugh.
Or if the world really needed it or not.
A chance to go back to when were five
And anything was possible
And all you needed was construction paper and crayons
And when you smiled and bowed at the end
You meant it
What if…..we could step into that spotlight on that stage that was meant just for us?
That day - when Mary’s song was finished. They clapped. Some out of pity. Some out of politeness. Some harder than they have ever clapped before.
That day some people saw a woman floundering around, well beyond her prime. And the threads of gossip began to weave about a woman who should not have been up there on a stage meant for much shinier things.
And those people - well - what a world they will miss - trapped in the fears of their untapped dreams
Because the rest of us saw the silver strands of beautifully choreograped bravery - and I believe that some took a deep breath and stepped into their own spotlight.
And Mary? Well I don’t think she cared what anybody thought at all.
Sometimes the benefit of art isn’t found in the one who likes the painting, but in the one who holds the brush and dares to bring their secret to the light.
The world often measures the worth of someone’s gift, by the amount we pay to see it. But sometimes the world is wrong.
So when the virus hit and my stages disappeared, and the buyers stopped buying, and there were no more flights to take or hotels to sleep in - and I had done everything I knew to do to make a living.
I came to this place where the desk was cleared of all projects that might make me money. And then a quiet voice whispered, “You’ve created a living - now let’s go create a life.”
And I asked myself “What gives you joy? If nobody is buying anyway - screw it. Create what you want. What have you got to lose?”
And I became that little girl again - and the feeling was incredibly thrilling. Just the idea of it - was a rush.
And I fell in love with my art again. The way it was back in the beginning.
There are certainly many things I do NOT like about the virus and how it has turned my world upside down. But I’m not certain I would have come to this place without it.
That’s what I love about Mary and her act of courage. It reminds me to stop censoring myself - or holding back my joy because I’m worried it’s not good enough - or that you won’t buy it.
And that if anything else - it’s something I do for me. And that’s enough.
However….. There is a strong urge in me and many other artists to share what we have created. After all, Mary didn’t have to invite an audience to enjoy her dance. There must be something in us, as artists - just as a little child shows his mother what he drew at school today - and waits anxiously with held breath - for her to put it on the refrigerator.
So there must be something we crave - need - hope for - in bringing our art to the light for someone else to see.
Or maybe there’s a deeper divine intention when we share our art - and it speaks to someone else’s soul. They love your music because it sings of their own pain. They recognize their emotion in your painting. Or in the simple act of creating, you have inspired them to do the same. So maybe it can be both. Something we do for us. And a vessel for something much bigger than me.
When we “support the arts” we aren’t just supporting one’s ability to sing or dance or wow us. The arts unite us for they tell the story of our world and how we show up in it. A world without art is a world without emotion and the sharing of stories. Art will always seek to find the light.
So today’s challenge is for you tap into that five-year- old artist again. To look that one thing that whispered to you but you didn’t listen. Maybe it’s to paint. Maybe it’s to sing. Maybe it’s to dance. I don’t know the maybe that is your art.
There are no rules. Just your chance to have a moment where you dance and we don’t judge you for it.
Share it with us in the community page - so we can hang it on the refrigerator.
Not only will we appreciate your bravery - a little might just rub off on us.
Thank you Patrons for supporting my work.