I have a soft spot for dance flicks. Specifically of the late 1990s/early 2000s: Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, even Honey (anyone?). Whether trying to make it at the American Ballet Academy, get into Julliard, or open up a dance school for inner-city youth, I watch these young women pursue their passions while dancing their hearts out, and it gets me every time. But I’ve recently realized that it isn’t just the dance moves that draw me into these admittedly often cheesy films. At their core, these are actually stories about people embracing and loving the art in themselves and wanting to find a way to share that art with the world.
When I first read The Pianist of Willesden Lane, I was struck by Lisa Jura’s amazing journey from Vienna to London via the kinderstransport and her own story of survival. But hers is also a tale of art’s power to propel us forward. Lisa’s concert pianist dreams are specific. She didn’t just want to play the piano; she wanted to play and perfect masterpieces for the masses, to share her gift and her love for music. In those dance films, the protagonists don’t just want to dance, or even get into the highly-sought-after school. In each instance, these artists define success on their own terms…and rarely does that definition equate with the status quo’s.
Perhaps that is what makes someone an artist. In each instance I can think of, the dream is actualized not when they achieve the goal, but when they get to create the art they want to create. Also, these moments tend to be the best scenes in these movies. Jody turns down the American Ballet Company to dance the blend of ballet and contemporary in a new company that embraces her strengths as a dancer; Sara creates a routine that blends her newly-discovered hip hop style with ballet; Honey puts on a killer dance benefit to raise funds for her school. As they overcome the various obstacles in their paths (snooty teachers, being out of practice, even the allure of the celebrity-making industry), these characters discover that during their journey to achieve their goals, the goal changes. Success comes when they are able to create the art they are meant to create. It grows as they can share that art with the world.
This seems to also be at the heart of Mona Golabek’s non-profit, the Hold On To Your Music Foundation. Named after the final words Lisa Jura’s mother said to Lisa before she left for London on the kindertransport, this organization “seeks to expand awareness and understanding of the ethical implications of world events such as the Holocaust, and the power of the arts, especially music, to embolden the human spirit in the face of adversity.”
Whether it’s music or dance, theatre or painting, art can become our tool or our touchstone in times of need. It can also be what keeps us going.