Layers

She walked onto the stage wearing layers. How many I wasn’t sure. A long-sleeved t-shirt stretched the length of her arms. Cotton rippled round her waist, hinting of more beneath, and a pair of khaki pants hung loose on her hips.

All eyes were on her, as she began to move.

I’ve seen Jill dance enough times to know the outline of her body wasn’t her own. It was thicker. And the way she moved looked weightier, more burdened than usual.

Jill and I danced together in high school – even choreographed together – and to my delight, we now live around the corner from each other. She is our primary pianist, her husband is in our bishopric, and more than once, she has made dinner for my family, driven my daughter to school.

But Jill is also a dancer – whole body and soul – the likes of which you will see maybe once, twice, in your lifetime.

When I met Jill, our two dance backgrounds merged (mine traditional, hers modern), and I noticed something different about her. It was the curve of her body – the way she used every vertebrae, leapt bigger than big, and pulled inertia with her.

She danced from the inside out.

In 1996 Jill was asked to join Ririe-Woodbury, Utah’s premier Modern Dance Company. For two years she danced with them and toured the world. Then she left for Boston to support her husband in an advanced degree. Two moves and three children later, they returned to Utah. Now she and another Ririe dancer, Juan Carlos Claudio, produce a concert once a year that features Ririe-Woodbury Alumni, called Momentum. Two weeks ago, I walked into the Rose Wagner Theatre to watch her dance.

Jill stepped methodically, traversing the stage on a diagonal. Her hands moved through the air, as if she were folding something like an imaginary shirt. With a flick of the wrists she shook out the wrinkles, pressed the sleeves flat across her chest, and folded it against her belly. Another dancer joined her, and together, they “folded” as they crossed the stage.

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Before deciding on any of the movement phrasing, the choreographer, Chia Chi Chiang, asked both performers to demonstrate how they would fold a shirt. Those folding movements became the infrastructure for the piece. Chiang, having just delivered her second baby, wanted to choreograph a dance that would speak to the many roles (or layers) a woman wears.

Seconds into the dance, Jill carefully took off the first layer she was wearing and handed it to the dancer behind her, who folded it gently and laid it down. A minute later, she peeled another shirt. All the while spinning, folding, leaping, and stopping abruptly – feet wide – so close I could hear her breathe.

As the piece progressed, Jill’s folding movements got faster – more compulsive and deliberate. Then, all at once, she began to shed the remaining layers. Quickly. In a siege of determined abandon.

Her arms crossed in the shape of an “X” at the trim of her shirt, then she pulled it rapidly over her head. She took off another, and another. Again and again.

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Seconds went by, and to the disbelief of the audience, she was still shedding layers.

I twisted in my seat.

I was sweating for her, feeling the bulk of her living with all those layers, wanting just as much as she did, to throw them off.

Camisoles of different colors – thirteen of them – eventually fell to the floor. A silver leotard revealed her true form, and Jill circled the stage, kicked big, flew her body high. Gracefully, she then slid to the floor in an exhausted, elongated, fetal position.

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Something caught in my throat the moment she peeled that last layer and I saw her move like I knew she could – the way I’ve always watched her. She was uninhibited, uncluttered, and unburdened. Jill was soaring.

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I hadn’t expected to cry. But when I saw her bare at the neck, whittled to her waist – dancing without pretense, I pressed my hand to my chest, and swallowed against the tightness.

Maybe it is the weight of so many expectations, the questions and choosing, the burdens we tend to carry so long they become a part of us.

Maybe it is the roles we lose (and gain) in all the folding.

But watching her spin under the spotlight and fly against gravity made me think, I want that kind of freedom. I want to live that unburdened. That free.

I want to live the layers that matter.

What roles have you chosen for yourself? How do you live the ones that matter? When have you felt layered? Or stripped down to the essential? And how do you make God a part of your choosing?

Photos by Fred Hayes.

About Catherine A.

(Blog Team) is a mother of five small children including two sets of twins. She and her husband spent nearly eight years in Northern Virginia, but now call Utah home. She reviews books for Meridian Magazine, writes for Power of Moms, dabbles in poetry and works on the prose editorial staff for Segullah. She blogs about her wild and precious life @ www.wildnprecious.com.

22 thoughts on “Layers

  1. Beautiful article Catherine. I’m so grateful to have been part of such a meaningful dance. Your insights are powerful. You definitely understand all the layers of womanhood/motherhood. You do it beautifully and are an example to us all. Love you!

  2. Jill is our daughter. We too have seen her dance many times. We missed her concert this year as we were traveling. From your poignant description, I am confident nothing we saw in Paris or Prague could surmount Jill’s performance as you narrated it. Thank you for taking the time to present this tribute, not only to Jill, but to all of us who have layers we would like to shed…need to shed…should shed.

  3. I thought I had submitted a comment…could it have gotten stuck in spam? (Or maybe I was too out of it and didn’t actually send it.)

    I wish I could have seen this. It sounds amazing. Much food for thought!

  4. [Ah, here it is. I didn’t submit it.]

    Wow. I wish I could have seen this.

    I have many thoughts swirling through my head. One question I am left asking myself is how much of layering can be removed, and how much of it is part of mortality. I feel another one of those tensions as I consider this. Some of the layers I wish I could shed are simply from things that come with a mortal body, the bounds of time, and the weaknesses that I feel won’t be removed until the resurrection. Others, of course, are layers of my own making and how sometimes I complicate life in unnecessary ways. I want to strip my life down to the core, but I so often fail there. It’s so easy to get distracted, tired, lazy.

    This does make me think of something I read recently in the new RS book. From Belle S. Spafford:

    “The average woman today, I believe, would do well to appraise her interests, evaluate the activities in which she is engaged, and then take steps to simplify her life, putting things of first importance first, placing emphasis where the rewards will be greatest and most enduring, and ridding herself of the less rewarding activities.” (xiii)

    I think this is what Sister Beck has been reinforcing with her emphasis on personal revelation and eternal roles. I’m feeling that message as I read the new book. The image of this dance brings a cool visual to my pondering process. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I just loved this. Sometimes I feel layered. Sometimes I feel stripped bare. I love the thought of the true me dancing her way out of the layers. Thank you.

  6. I wish all of you could have seen this in person. Trying to craft dance into language is/was a challenge.

    But I like what LoraDawn said about these ideas taking her to a tender place. Art is fascinating that way. It rouses within us emotions and understandings in extremely powerful ways. Jill’s performance took me to a tender place – one I hadn’t realized existed, until her art form revealed it.

    Jill – I failed to mention your last name in the post. Thank you for commenting. Every time I watch you I am lifted. Not just because of your gift and the way you express it, but because of who you are beneath the layers. Your ability to dance, however, is one of those layers I am so grateful you felt inspired to put on. I know it is not easy to keep putting it on, to keep changing hats (or shirts), as you try to balance all the important things and people in your life. You are brave. You inspire me. And I love you.

    Kathy – Thank you so much for your comment. Jill is so blessed to have such wonderful support from you – from all of her family. I loved this: “all of us who have layers we would like to shed…need to shed…should shed.”

    Michelle – You bring in an additional element – the layers handed us – the ones that are not of our choosing. Those kind of layers are what make life so complex, so difficult at times. As you mentioned, looking forward to the resurrection is sometimes the greatest hope. At that time, all layers, ones we could not shed in this life, will fall from us. An excellent insight, and question.

    And the quote from Belle Spafford is wonderfully appropriate. It is wise to examine our lives, sift from them those things that are not rewarding or enduring. PS – are all relief society sisters due to receive a print copy of the new book? I can see it’s available in PDF online. Thanks for sparking interest, and for your thoughtful comment.

    Andrea – “the true me dancing her way out of the layers” – beautiful.

  7. Thanks for this! I was a modern dancer in my previous life (not that good, but I enjoyed it). This post made me cry. I need to peel off unnecessary clutter from my life.

    I will be thinking about this, and trying to act with more faith and mindfulness with my family. I appreciate the tie in with laundry. Recently laundry has come to represent living in the moment for me. It just keeps coming and I can choose to ignore it and let it pile up or I can participate in making my family’s life easier by giving them clean clothing. Something so symbolic and concrete about this.

    Sorry for rambling. I should be sleeping. Here in NY it’s 1:23am.

  8. Catherine, yes, everyone should be receiving a copy soon. They have shipped to most U.S. locations, I think. Ask your local leaders if they’ve received theirs. I think some areas had only limited copies on this first go-around. A searchable text version will also be available on Sept. 24. I’m enjoying it!

  9. Catherine, this was so evocative.

    I’ve just come back from District Conference – which is the Stake Conference’s country cousin equivalent – which meant I drove 400kms/250miles there, 400kms back, and so much of what I heard and felt there is wrapped in your post. “Attending my meetings” is one of the layers I put on, time after time after time, when I’d often much rather put on my ugg boots instead!

    There are layers I have shed – some joyfully, some painfully – and there are layers I’m about to start pulling over my head, or am still getting used to the way they sit and move. God was the one who said “Put this one on – it’ll be fantastic!”, and encourages me through my apprehension – sometimes I kind of feel like Lucille Ball trying to fill in for Ginger Rogers.

    Thank you for the post Catherine!

  10. This imagery was so powerful I dreamt about it after commenting. Some pride layer was exposed as well as discomfort I have with someone at church; a layer of self-consciousness.

    Visible in the dream were people’s selves they carried around as pieces of fabric embroidered or embellished by others and themselves as they moved through life.

    Thanks for describing this inspiring dance piece.

  11. Cath, I thought about your post all day yesterday. So beautifully written and described. There are so many places to take this idea, that of shedding layers.

    A few thoughts I’ve had since reading your words….

    The last year I’ve struggled with bouts of insomnia. There have been nights when I’ve just laid there unable to find sleep. At first it seemed like a curse, but as time as gone by, I’ve learned (for the most part) to let go and embrace the dark stillness. I’ve just prayed and prayed and connected with God in a way that I never have in my life. There is no one else demanding anything of me in those quiet hours. Nighttime has become a bit of a wilderness for me in which I sometimes get a chance to lay aside distractions that cloud my vision and just reach out, a daughter to her Father.

    I also thought about the notion of having so many different roles that demand our time and attention, and I reflected on how important one-on-one interactions are to me. This week as you already know, one of my sons stayed home from school for a few days. It was such a pleasure to focus on him and just be this little guy’s mom for a while. Or, last night, my other son opened up his sweet soul and spilled out some of his concerns. For 15 minutes, I was there completely with him. In that little window of time, I had shed all my layers and was able to simply listen and love.

    Thank you, thank you for your thoughts and questions, Catherine.

    Michelle, I really enjoyed your input too.

  12. This post evoked for me the scripture about how all things must perish, but charity endures forever. Loved the image of children of God as silvery,weightless beings composed of pure charity.

    As Michelle said, the trick is the balancing. My love for my children is as close as I get in this life to that pure, glorious light. So I desire to help them learn and grow. So I take an interest in their education. Next thing I know, I’m all stressed out about the coloring contest for the PTA book fair, and not sure how I got there….

    The layers are–or seem to be– woven into each other.

  13. Sage – your dream is so intriguing. This part especially: “Visible in the dream were people’s selves they carried around as pieces of fabric embroidered or embellished by others and themselves as they moved through life.” It begs the question of how much we let others influence our layers. I know, for me, it is easy sometimes to care too much what others think.

    You would have loved another piece in Jill’s Dance Concert titled, Actual Script. It begins with a beautiful young dancer sitting in the middle of stacks of scattered books. She is writing in her notebook, copying from the other books.

    While she dances, other dancers join on the periphery, and they too have notebooks, but they stop to observe her and write down their thoughts, maybe their judgements and criticisms. In the end, they wall her in with the stacks of books and her movements are frantic, like she’s trying to escape. The message I drew from it was about the script each of us is living. Are we living the script everyone presumes we should live? Or are we living the actual script God has written (and is writing) for us? Maybe it is wise to “throw out the script” and listen to God’s Spirit. Anyhow, I loved your thoughts. Didn’t know you were in NY. Lucky girl… ;)

    Kellie – Putting on those kind of layers, driving the distance for your meetings, is no small thing. Nor is putting on the sometimes uncomfortable layer when God is urging you to do so. Your faith continues to inspire me. I love you over the ocean and all those miles. You are good as gold. Chuckling over your Ugg boots and the Lucille Ball line. xo

    Anne Marie – I had no idea you were living with insomnia. What a struggle! Your ability to find grace in those dark moments, see gratitude in the empty of night. It just amazes me.

    I loved how you said it: “I’ve learned… to let go and embrace the dark stillness. I’ve just prayed and prayed and connected with God in a way that I never have in my life… a chance to lay aside distractions that cloud my vision and just reach out, a daughter to her Father.’ Everything here is profoundly beautiful.

    And I thought your last note about shedding layers moment to moment was extremely insightful. To be able to see which layers need to be shed at a particular time – like when your son needed you to do nothing else but hear him. I must do better at this. I’m so grateful for your wisdom. Love to you.

    Lee Ann – Your first two lines took my breath away. “all things must perish, but charity endures forever… the image of children of God as silvery,weightless beings composed of pure charity.” I feel exactly as you – that my love for my children is the closest I get “to that pure, glorious light.” I’m right there with you though, stressed out the very next minute over non-washable markers on the wall and my two boys fishing in the toilet. You must be a kindred spirit. Thanks for your words.

  14. “The last year I’ve struggled with bouts of insomnia. There have been nights when I’ve just laid there unable to find sleep. At first it seemed like a curse, but as time as gone by, I’ve learned (for the most part) to let go and embrace the dark stillness. I’ve just prayed and prayed and connected with God in a way that I never have in my life. There is no one else demanding anything of me in those quiet hours. Nighttime has become a bit of a wilderness for me in which I sometimes get a chance to lay aside distractions that cloud my vision and just reach out, a daughter to her Father.”

    You have a much more beautiful view of insomnia than I, although I do relate to the positives of those quiet hours. I need to do more real communing as you describe here, too.

    ~A chronic insomniac ;)

    And Lee Ann, I LOVED your slippery-slope description of how quickly divine roles can turn into distractions. Pure awesomeness. Please, write a post taking that thread a little further, will you?

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