The dancer, a library, an architect, and an actress. A full circle of healing.

That’s a lot of characters for one not-so-lengthy post.

Where to begin?

My small journey first launched from a random YouTube search.

I was reading an article about the role of music therapy in various healing settings and I found a reference that put me in the direction of a recorded video interview with dancer-theater artist-healer, Anna Halprin.

At 93, Anna continues in the work she pioneered in the expressive arts of healing when she founded the San Francisco Dancer’s Workshop in 1955 and the Tamalpa Institute in 1978. With her affirming belief in the connection between movement and the healing power of dance, Halprin works closely with terminally ill patients.

Halprin, herself a Cancer survivor, lives life by way of her adage, “Aging is like enlightenment at gunpoint.”

She is a truly amazing woman and I hope you might be led to know more. I’ll share just one of the YouTube videos that first captured my attention.

So now we’ll move from the dancer to the library.

The church I attended as a child sat neatly adjacent the Los Angeles Central Library and so the area is very familiar to me. Even as a child I admired the architecture.

A devastating 1986 arson fire closed the library for ten years, during which an extensive renovation project preserved the original 1926 five-story tower and added a new eight-story wing. It is both familiar yet at the same time quite changed from what I remember as a child when I stared admiringly, imagining how many books I could read.

I also remember walking the gardens with our Sunday School teachers, and the boys, it was always boys, occasionally falling into the lily pond.

The original pond is now gone, but the current grounds, with several very interesting art installations and water features, are quite lovely.

I have some nice photos of the exterior of the library, but a movie shoot in the garden abbreviated my garden photo opportunities. Maybe next time.

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I tried to understand all the symbols on the steps and the surrounding buildings, but since I’m not a cryptologist, or Dan Brown, I had to consult with Mr. Google. And while I was searching for answers…

Enter the architect!

Maguire Gardens, the landscaped area around the library which includes several fountains and water features, was conceived and created by landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin. Recognize the last name?

I didn’t immediately make the connection, but the lightbulb went on when I realized the same architect designed the wonderful Bunker Tower Steps, also adjacent the library, and compared his love of architecture to choreography.

Bunker Hill Steps

Lawrence and Anna lived life together as a  creative team until he passed in 2009. He was 93.

And while I was at the library, I couldn’t resist one book. It was calling my name from New Books!

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted

I am such a HUGE fan of the American television phenomenon, the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Airing for the first time in 1970, despite the changing social attitudes accompanying the rise of the Women’s Movement, the executives of the show were convinced America would not accept an edgy show about a divorced career woman. So the role of Mary Richards became a breakthrough with the first never-married, independent career woman as the central character.

The book tells the story of how this show almost didn’t come to be in the first place.

It’s hard to choose a true favorite from the incredible and memorable ensemble cast, but the character, Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper, with her edginess, vulnerability, complex relationship with her mother and Bohemian fashion choices, was popular enough for her own spin-off.

And that brings me to the actress.

I was really sorry to see Valerie Harper leave the dance floor in last night’s Dancing With the Stars elimination. It was her turn to go, but I’ll miss her smiling face.

She was an inspiration on the dance floor and I wonder if Anna Halprin had any knowledge of the weekly performance.  Despite a diagnosis of terminal Cancer, Valerie Harper impressed the judges and the audience with her commitment to keep on dancing, on the floor and in life, amazing her doctors with her stamina and ability to live life NOW!

She has been quoted as saying, “Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral.” 

Pause with that one for a minute.

So that’s how I connected the dancer, a library, an architect, and an actress.

Did you get lost along the way? Trust me. These are incredible people worth knowing. And I think they have something to say to each of us.

44 thoughts on “The dancer, a library, an architect, and an actress. A full circle of healing.

    • Hi Ginny! I was delighted to see your name here. :-) I would have enjoyed working nearby the Central Library. What a fun noon-time activity! You must have been downtown close to the time of the fires at the library then. I had forgotten it was closed for ten years! That was a long renovation. If you haven’t been downtown for awhile next time you’re in town, let me take you! You’d love the gardens at the library. :-)

  1. This is a fantastic share of phenomenal people.. and as for the saying “Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral.” .. I’m going to try hard to be late for mine…

  2. I took a deep breath before I plunged in, Debbie :) There’s so much in this post! At a trivial level I loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show at the time but don’t have strong memories of it now. I didn’t know your Dancing with the Stars was still running (engrossed in Strictly :) ). I’ll have to search channels for it.
    Love the library architecture, and the other inspirations I’ll probably have to come back to. Phew! Hope you’re fully well again. Have a good week :)

    • Thank you for bravely reading on, Jo! :-) It was a little convoluted, but I have been captivated by these interesting people. Each one has a story that truly inspired me. I have been enjoying several on-line interviews of both Anna Halprin and Valerie Harper. They simply exude joy, even under very difficult circumstances. I am really glad I could share them with you. And we should all “Ke-e-ep dancing.” I like that!

  3. I just have to come back and say I watched the Valerie Halpin video. You know what life’s like- I’d never come back!- and you’re so right. What an inspiration! As our Brucie says “Ke-e-ep dancing!” :)

  4. That’s a lovely story about people who have touched your life with their optimism, creativity and resilience. That they are somehow intertwined seems right, and I often wonder if we know just how many links there are between the people and places we think we know so well. It only takes some kind of dramatic event usually to see these connections. Thanks for sharing Debra!

    • That’s exactly what it was for me, Cathy, optimism! And an exuberance about life, but sharing their lives so generously with others. I was so delighted when I learned that Lawrence Halprin was married to Anna Halprin. I didn’t know of either one of them by name until sometime last month, and since then, I have been reading about them and enjoying on-line interviews. It is inspirational to learn of people who have lived joyously into their 90′s! I’m glad I could share them with you. :-)

  5. At first glance, Debra, they seemed like disparate people listed in your post’s title but I had faith in your story telling and knew you’d tie them together for us. What I didn’t count on was my walking away inspired as I am. I certainly wish Valerie Harper could be spared the ordeal she faces but, for oh, so many, she is the voice in the wilderness. By her words and by her actions, she gives hope. “Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral”, indeed!

    • Thanks for hanging in there in the reading, John. I almost didn’t press “publish” when I concluded. I was afraid it was a little too all over the place, but in fact, the way I was introduced to the Halprin’s within just a couple of weeks of each other, and then being so impressed with Valerie Harper’s determination to get on that dance floor, when it was obviously very difficult for her, I just haven’t been able to get them off my mind. I think I could easily become a YouTube junkie…I have been watching these very inspirational interviews and learning so much! I have such admiration for Valerie Harper, and I really wonder at how far her positive and loving attitude will take her. From what I’ve read, she’s already amazed her doctors. We’ll all be watching, won’t we!

  6. Love the connection that you made. The first one was my favorite along this journey. Meanwhile, Valerie’s time on DWTS was long enough, but not too long. Although she was struggling, she sure kept her chin up!

  7. I love Halprin’s quote about age. The May Tyler Moore show was the best ever!!! And I am in awe of Valery Harper, what a trooper, she really is such an inspiration to all.

    • You’ve shared so honestly about your health issues, Linda, and I am sure you have a very strong and poignant perspective on how attitude plays a role in healing! These people, each of them, really appear to live their lives with enthusiasm and a strong sense of purpose, even within their illness. I’m so delighted you’re familiar with the MTM Show! I wasn’t entirely sure it was well-known internationally. I can still watch those episodes and laugh like I’m watching them for the first time! Thank you so much for commenting. ox

  8. Dear Debra, thank you. There are days when I realize how old I am and I feel old and somewhat useless, as if my best years are behind and beyond me and what looms ahead seems blank and boring. That’s a word that’s never been part of my vocabulary and so any time I see that word etched in my mind over the coming arc of years, I say, “Cancel that!” and I think of all that’s left to do. All I want to do. And one thing I’m going to add to my day is to do some dancing, some movement of my body, keeping in mind the torso and lungs that Ms. Halprin speaks about in the first part of the video. She’s inspiring. Peace.

    • I’m so delighted you found Anna Halprin inspiring, Dee. I did, too! I think aging, at each and every stage, requires courage! Courage to look forward and courage to accept that we may need new strategies to get the most out of our days. It’s not easy! You have such a lovely spirit, Dee, and I really find your thoughts about adding in new movement and breath into your daily experience, a lovely thought. If you have the time you might want to google Anna Halprin’s youtube interviews. There are a few and I’m working my way through them. There is also a documentary, “Breath Made Visible,” and I haven’t yet seen it, but I am hoping to find a copy and see it before too long. I think there’s a lot to be learned from her life! I hope you dance, my friend. :-)

    • Each of these people very definitely spoke to me, Nancy. I don’t have anything going on in my life nearly as complex as the issues they are either facing or have addressed in support of others, but the joie de vivre, despite really heavy loads, is nonetheless really beautiful. I’m glad you enjoyed the threads. I was unsure if it was a little too dense. Thanks for hanging in there. :-)

  9. What a great post. So much inspiration. I loved the MTM show. I watched it most nights and loved it from the opening music score. Valerie Harper sounds truly inspiring and that quote of hers is so very true – let her live while she’s still living! xx

    • I’m so glad you, too, know the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Charlie. I wasn’t sure of its international scope! I should have known! It was so popular. Before television shows were so available on-line and streaming a good friend gave me the boxed set of videos. I still watch them from time to time, and I can always count on the episodes to make me smile. It’s a great show to watch if you’re a little down. LOL! Valerie Harper is an astonishingly positive person, and she isn’t going to leave this world without inspiring others. What a way to be remembered. I hope she has a long time yet. I’m glad you hung in there with this convoluted post, my friend. :-)

  10. I DID connect the dots, Debra, and appreciated the strong threads you used to weave this together.
    A magnificent library! I know the old one holds special memories, but, this new one looks to have merged the past with the present, and looks to the future.
    What an inspiration all these people are, but, to me, most especially Valerie Harper. She is one of those women who seemed to always know her center and never abandoned it. Of course, the Mary Tyler Moore show is one of all-time favorites. I’ve been known to burst out laughing – just thinking about an episode. Now, I must find and read the book. It’s amazing how we sometimes can’t even get past the door without finding all the books we need in a library.
    I’ll give you another thread, my friend, but, it will start a different pattern. Mary Tyler Moore is adored in our home, for many reasons; her beauty, grace, and style, the roles she has played from “ohhhh, Rob” to “Mr. Grant”. Her best role, however, has been herself. You might want to read her autobiography, which was published several years ago. Mary was one of those brave souls who courageously announced years ago that they had Type I Diabetes. Oh yea. That thread. Tom and I just started initiated a new blog together about living with juvenile diabetes.
    Like Tony the Tiger said, Debra, this post is GRRRREAT!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the people I highlighted in this post, Penny. I was so impressed by Anna Halprin, and then one by one all the other characters came into play in short season. I think I must have been intended to hear something from their messages, because I could not have missed it–I kept running right into each of them. I’m delighted we share a love of Mary Tyler Moore. Whether her wonderful show or an appearance in another role, I simply love her. You just must track down the book! It’s so full of memories! I was so pleased to find it just staring at me from the stacks because I hadn’t heard a thing about it. I now want to read Valerie Harper’s book and now you’ve introduced me to one by our Mary! I will find that one, too. This being October we are supporting two families with children with Type 1 Diabetes. It’s such an amazing thing, but my daughter’s two closest friends each have a child with the disease. Aimee participates in the walk/runs with the families, and we are always sure to donate towards a cure. One of my closest friends, my age, was diagnosed at 3 and I see what she goes through. Living with the disease isn’t simple, I know from their experiences. Sending you and Tom a big hug, my friend. ox

  11. I first “met” Anna Halprin a few years ago when we watched the documentary “Breath Made Visible” which is about her life and career and I highly recommend it.
    http://www.breathmadevisible.com/?lang=en

    About a week later she came to my cash register [at the museum where I work]. Although we’re not supposed to let famous people know we recognize them, I was so excited to see her standing there that I told her how much I loved the movie. She was so gracious.

    I didn’t know that her husband designed the L.A.P.L garden. Wow.

    • Oh Rosie! I would just love to be able to say I’d met Anna Halprin. I have only even known her name such a short time, and yet I’m intrigued with her amazing philosophy of living, and the way she has dedicated herself to improving the lives of others. I have been trying to track down a copy of Breath Made Visible for a couple of weeks. I may end up purchasing it, because it doesn’t appear to be one I can rent. If you know otherwise, would you let me know? I’m going to repeat myself…I would just love to meet her. Good for you! :-)

  12. Yea, got a little lost in the flow of the story, but your summation helped me pull it all back together. Interesting characters, with interesting lives. You always do a great job on your blog of bringing your writing down and making your environment understandable for others who are not so close by. Thanks!

    • Thank you for hanging in there with this one, Tom. I definitely wondered if it would resonate at all! I love the work and the inspiration of these amazing people, and for me, each revealed themselves in a particular way to me, and within just a few days of one another. I think I was intended to really listen to their voices! You paid me a very nice compliment with stating I made my environment relatable, and I really thank you!

  13. Very amazing interconnectivities, Debra. Your attention to detail is what I envy of.
    Love the look of the library. You captured it very well. To me, It looks like it has so much Renaissance influence to it.

  14. That’s a fascinating quilt of subjects all pulled together by the magic of dance! I remember the Mary Tyler Moore show when it appeared over here – it was another first on the same scale as that Star Trek interracial kiss between Uhura and Kirk… Moments that US TV can be proud of – breaking down taboos :-) A great post Debra – though I must draw your attention to a terminological inexactitude… “and the boys, it was always boys, occasionally falling into the lily pond.” Boys dont ‘fall’ into lily ponds – they jump in to annoy the teacher ;-)

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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