While DC is enjoying the warmth and sunshine of a truly perfect April weekend, I am on a mountaintop in Tennessee, shrouded in a drizzly, forty-five degree fog. Sewanee, The University of the South, is a small, Episcopal liberal arts college and school of Theology that sits atop 13,000 acres on the Cumberland plateau in the south central portion of the state. It is well known for its excellence in education, its pristine environment and unspoiled natural beauty–as well as its propensity for occasional miserable weather. There’s a saying around here that’s familiar enough to make it onto t-shirts and sweatshirts that you can buy in the campus bookstore.
I’m here because my daughter, who is now a junior at Sewanee, is involved in the annual arts event known as Perpetual Motion, which is a student-led dance extravaganza celebrating any and all expressions of the art form, performed by any and all who wish to participate, regardless of training or experience.
Since the university offers no formal dance instruction, the students who have an interest in creating a dance opportunity for themselves and others organize and execute not only the choreography, casting and rehearsing, but the planning, publicity and logistics for pulling off this annual three day event. It is truly a labor of love for those who take part. Perhaps one comes to it out of a lifelong passion –or maybe another simply has a desire to try something new. Regardless, the result is a performance encompassing such wonderful variety, raw talent, and sheer fun– that despite the distance, I’ve been drawn to it for three years now.
This year’s show was every bit worth the sojourn south, this time accompanied by my eighty-something parents, who enjoyed it so much two years ago that they wanted to come back. They not only got the treat of seeing their granddaughter and meeting her college friends, but of seeing her creative gifts come to life in performance. One of the highlights was what came to be known as the “Redhead Dance, which she choreographed and cast with herself and two other bright ginger tops and set to the music of Florence and the Machine. They looked like dancing candles onstage–one of those beautiful sights you want to hold in your mind’s eye forever.
The weather kept my parents in for the last performance tonight, but for me, it was not to be missed. As I left the theatre afterwards, the fog was so thick that I could barely see the road in front of me as I inched my way back to the hotel. But the glow of that pure, youthful, exuberance from the evening felt like such a joy and inspiration, I imagined that perhaps it was like a light, an energy field pulsing through the darkness of that mountain, visible from as far away as heaven and everywhere in between.