Sparkle Net, Light Blue
Sister Norberta told me I was a dancer and so I was.
Perhaps someone else would have told me that later, or I would have somehow discovered it myself, but I only know that she did, and she unknowingly influenced my life in a very deep and transformative way.
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Reflection on “Sparkle Net, Light Blue”
I was a happy first grade student at a small Catholic school run by Irish nuns in the 1950’s. I loved everything about going to school: my teachers, fellow students, the school building with its big playground, our parish church next door, the classes, and school uniforms, all of it. Looking back I see that I had the exuberance typical of six year old girls who manage to have boundless energy and who are easily stirred up by new experiences.
One such new experience happened during our school’s annual school play which involved everyone in kindergarten through eighth grade. The older students always had the main parts and the younger ones filled in as the chorus and sometimes scenery. Peter Pan was the play the year I was in first grade. I had seen the televised Broadway play with Mary Martin as Peter Pan. For weeks we learned all the songs which took us out of ordinary time and into another experience I was beginning to like a lot, rehearsals. What child wouldn’t like to learn the lyrics to “I Can Fly,” or “I’ve Gotta Crow” with all its rooster sounds? I was perfectly content with being in the chorus with all my fellow classmates and watching the older students acting out the parts of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the lovely Wendy.
About a week before the play my friends and I were happily jumping rope during recess when Sister Norberta, who would usually be eating lunch in the convent with the other nuns, came outside and observed our jumping rope skills. We were delighted to be “showing off” for her. “Watch me, Sister Norberta!” “Look at this!” we shouted, excited to have an audience. Little did we know we were auditioning for a special part in the play.
At the end of the day, Sister Norberta called the jumping rope group up and pinned notes to our uniforms. When we asked what the notes were about, because notes could carry both good and bad news, she announced, “You’re going to be stars, children!” I remember being confused. Then she said, “You’re going to be dancers in the play!” Then she proceeded to tell us that our parents needed to make us tutus out of netting called, sparkle net. And the netting should be light blue. I thought I had to remember it in my head not knowing that all the details were spelled out in the note she had pinned to my uniform. So for five and a half blocks to my home I chanted, “Sparkle net, light blue! Sparkle net, light blue!”
I had never thought of myself as a dancer. Looking back, I can see that I was an athletic child: climbing trees, doing summersaults in the grass, running everywhere, jumping rope, but I don’t remember dancing. But Sister Norberta told me I was a dancer, so from that day forward, that’s how I thought of myself. And the experience, from the announcement to the actual performance, actually defined me in a new light to myself. I was introduced to the dance department at the university where our instructors were young women-not mothers, aunts, sisters or teachers, yet older, an exciting mysterious group to a young girl. I experienced being on the very large stage at the university. More important, because the experience wasn’t heavily steeped in technique or precision, I was able to experience being myself, a dancer. It was a free flowing exuberance that they were looking for. We were sprites, like Tinker Bell. So we got to do what we did best, flit around, hop, jump, twirl, smile, slip sometimes, which made the whole thing more authentic, and adoring to our enchanted audience.
Between then and now, I minored in modern dance in college with Martha Graham as my inspiration. “Dancing is the hidden language of the soul,” she wrote. I also had the profound experience of being taught for a semester by one of her students. I got my first teaching job in an elementary school because of my dance background, and besides that, I could also teach reading. I became a dance aficionado, loving Judith Jamison from Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, Dance Theatre of Harlem and making sure I saw Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhael Baryshnikov when they came to town. Later, I joined the Liturgical Dancers at my church. Being a dancer is a part of who I am.
I never forgot Sr. Norberta, who would slip into her Irish brogue with “Child of grace, what are you doing?” and her seemingly unimportant statement, “You’re going to be dancers in the play.” Fifty years later, I wrote a story called, “Sparkle Net, Light Blue,” for a series of books I’m writing on my childhood. Later, I made a collage of the experience. When planning for the collage, I looked for pictures of little girls dancing in tutus, of which there is no limit. But as I began to assemble the collage, the picture turned into something deeper, not sinister, but something more serious and profound to me. I discovered that the dance experience in first grade was an expansive experience of growth into self awareness, an encounter with the self. In one week the world opened up to me, hence references to the solar system and quotes about how dance is connected to the soul, certainly to my soul, are all over the collage.
Sister Norberta told me I was a dancer and so I was. Perhaps someone else would have told me that later, or I would have somehow discovered it myself, but I only know that she did, and she unknowingly influenced my life in a very deep and transformative way.
The night of the performance, Berry Lynn was in a bubble of excitement. She was nervous, yet excited, too. She and the other jump ropers were a sparkling group of bouncy, pony tailed sprites.
Everything was shining. The sparkle wasn’t just in their costumes, it was also in their eyes. It poured out of their fingertips and their toes. It sprayed out of their hair when they turned their heads.
“I’m a dancer! I’m a dancer!” Berry Lynn shouted inside herself.
“Sparkle net, light blue, I love you!”
(from, Sparkle Net, Light Blue, Barbara Grant Jaworski, author)
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