Liz Lerman's Learning Story


During the five years I was in residence at Children’s Hospital in Washington DC, we did only one major performance. On that day they brought all the kids, families, and available staff down to the atrium where we danced several pieces from our repertory. Except for the lack of a conventional stage, it was very much a full-fledged performance. One of the dances, called Bonsai, was a quiet piece that told the story of how the caretaking of these long-lived trees passes on to a new generation. I noticed as we were performing this that a youngster in the front row had fallen asleep. I had met this child earlier in the week and had liked her, so I was sad to see her miss so much. As I was leaving the hospital, slightly dejected, one of the nurses ran after me and said in a very enthusiastic voice, ‘Thank you, thank you, we have been trying to get that kid to go to sleep for three days.’Up to that point I had thought one of the most important functions of art was to wake people up. Here I was confronted with information teaching me the opposite. I was grateful. I would never have learned this if I had stayed in the studio making my dances. If we are lucky and paying attention we can discover over and over again that the intersection of art and real life affects the art form as much as it affects the community and the people involved.