Bert – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love

Bert, originally from Germany, started his show business career as a young boy with the European circus. Eventually he migrated to the United States, where he had danced in Las Vegas. In the 70’s, when I started classes with him, Bert lived on a small farm in the country an hour away from San Francisco. He had to drive to San Francisco every Friday night for his class, but he never seemed to mind.

When teaching, he wore his cowboy boots and jeans and simply tied up his shirt at the chest. His gentle German accent gave us encouragement, words of wisdom, and stories. We danced to Baladi, Bolero, Chiftateli, 7/8, 6/8, and 9/8 rhythms. We rarely did floor work or separate finger cymbal patterns. Instead, Bert would teach us a combination of steps, and then around in a circle we would go, repeating them until we learned them. Often, he would choose one or two students in the class to demonstrate the step or combination as it looked when done well. The dancers would have completely different styles unique to themselves and their body types, so the combinations looked very different on each person. Bert consistently and emphatically supported the individuality of every dancer, a quality of his teaching which strongly appealed to me.

 Bert was who people studied with when they wanted to get jobs in the clubs. The talent scouts for the local night clubs would occasionally come to class to watch. They loved it when Bert had the dancers demonstrate his steps. On those nights, the more advanced dancers would wear their finest outfits and hope to get hired. Then the scouts would choose people to perform at one of the famous North Beach clubs such as the Bagdad or the Casbah. It was both exciting and intimidating for us newer dancers. At the next class we would feel the absence of the lucky women (I don’t remember men in that class, except of course for Bert), usually the best, who were now working on Fridays and so were unable to attend class. 

©2022  Marianna Mejia

Unacknowledged Death – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love

…through my psychotherapy internship at the Parents’ Center, I took a bibliotherapy workshop. I remember sitting in a dark, little room at the Parents’ Center, reading and talking about one of the books, when my eyes suddenly welled up. Long suppressed tears rolled down my cheeks, uncorking the realization that I had never mourned the death of my first child, the ephemeral Dawn Leaf, who had been premature and had died after twenty-four hours. At Black Bear Ranch commune, where I had been living, her death had been ignored, never mentioned at all, and I had stuffed the sadness deep inside me, unable to express it to anyone, not remembering that death must be mourned. The hospital had not told me anything about her burial, and I arrived back at the Ranch with no body and no certificate. It was as if she had never existed. At that commune we had not yet learned about death rituals, having not experienced much death at our young ages. We did not know how to talk about it or acknowledge it. And I was too traumatized to ask about burial or funeral. I did not even realize that I was traumatized. I only felt empty.

©2022  Marianna Mejia 

No Longer a Frightening Mystery  – Tuning My VW – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love

I would make the half-hour drive from Watsonville to their house in my little blue Volkswagen Bug. After I had learned to tune its engine, I was feeling competent and powerful in that knowledge. But one time, when I was driving there, just after tuning the engine, I heard a loud pop and was barely able to pull into a gas station before the car sputtered to a stop. Looking under the hood with my newly found expertise, I saw that a spark plug was out, so I stuck it back in. But it didn’t stay. There was a bigger problem. I had made a costly mistake.

Because my how-to manual had not cautioned me to only hand tighten the spark plugs on this model car, I had used a wrench and inadvertently cross threaded the plug. Unbeknownst to me, the next time I had tuned it, there was nothing to hold the spark plug in. The whole engine and to be pulled and fixed. A Heli coil had to be machined in. My step-brother was studying mechanics at the time and he generously did the work for me. I was disgusted because it was such a preventable mistake. After it was fixed, I decided that only mechanics should work on my car and that I should stick to dancing. It was dance that grabbed my heart, not mechanics. But I remained happy that engines were no longer a frightening mystery to me. 

©2022  Marianna Mejia