“To touch, to move, to inspire; this is the true gift of dance.”
~Aubrey Lynch II
Many years ago, I cannot remember exactly when, a journalist wanted to interview a young dancer in training. Someone recommended me as the candidate and I eagerly gave the interview. I can still remember talking way to fast and getting stuck on some of the words with my embarrassing stutter. Stuttering plagued me as a child and occasionally still pops up now, out of nowhere, without warning and is as humiliating as ever. I don’t think many people notice right away while people that know me well, have learned to ignore it, some even find it charming. I hate it and every time, even now as an adult. Stuttering is absolutely humiliating. This may be one of the reasons I was drawn to dance. It required no speaking and is proudly now, my first language.
In any case, the interview wore on, animated and full of youthful, dancer, energy. Despite my at times unintelligible sentences due to the speed with which I spoke and the deathly pauses as I struggled to get past a stuttering P or S, I managed to rattle off the line, “To touch, to move, to inspire; this is the true gift of dance.” I believed deeply in each word. The journalist gasped when I said it and asked me to pause while she scribbled it down. Then, I totally forgot about the interview and quote. I do not remember the resulting article nor do I know how or when the quote got from her pad to the world but it did. Many years later it was sent to me on Facebook, emblazoned on a dance poster, like a time capsule, complete with my name! I gasped as the memory of this early interview came flooding back along with all of the years of failure and triumph in between then and now. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Lion King, launching a line of one-of-a-kind wearable art, hand crocheted and kitted by me, the auditions, the go sees, the rejection and the glory, all washed over me in an instant, my entire life and career up until that point.
I did a quick search and incredibly discovered that this quote had been appearing on many posters and dance sites all over the internet for years. How had this escaped me? Where was the original article and who was the journalist? Lost in the blurry cobwebs of my forty-something year old mind, I could not remember. This made the rediscovery of my own words even more profound. I first breathed these words, before my career had barely gotten started. I had so many dreams, so many fears. Reading those words then, after most of my performance career had ended, was incredible. To realize that even before I had barely gotten started, I innately understood the power of dance and held a belief that would become the very foundation of my whole career, my life’s work. Even then as a student, I was determined to do just that, to touch, to move and to inspire whether it was through dance or through one of the many other paths that my life might take. Fast-forward ten or so more years since I first discovered the quote and it is as true today as ever. I indeed found myself on many paths, some pure dance like my time with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and others in what I call the Pedestrian World made up of people who usually only touch their feet when putting on shoes, many of which have been shamed for their inability to dance early on in their lives.
Dance is our birthright. We are all dancers. We danced before we had a spoken language. We danced for harvest, for birth, for death, for anything we didn’t understand. It is a language that transcends spoken words. My work with Emily Nash and Creative Arts Therapies taught me that indeed there are parts of us that have no words, stories within us that no language could accurately illustrate, stories that can only be expressed by the abstract universal language of dance and other arts disciplines. Dance is a metaphor, a window, a doorway into the deeper parts of humanity, that which makes us different from other living things. The quote is about life.
I feel that I was put on Earth to point people towards seeing their truth, to inspire them to be the grandest version of themselves. If I had become the chemical physicist that I had gone to college for, thank God I did not waste much time finishing that degree, I am certain that I would have found myself in theoretical physics and mathematics, asking huge life questions about who we are, where we are from and where we might end up, trying to prove my theories about people through endless chemical and mathematical equations, hoping to touch, to move, to inspire the world. It would have been that part of math and science that becomes almost philosophical and religious, that part of the world that cannot yet be proven and must be believed like faith until the right equations and physical experiments can be written, conducted and proved.
Luckily, I did not have to discover the world through science though I find myself noticing predictable patterns in the work that I do and certainly spend much of my spare time reading books on theoretical science and math. I also love science fiction that is based on hardcore science. In any case, I have come to realize through teaching, choreographing and directing that human behavior is at times completely predictable. This is why dance is the universal language that connects us all. Basic, daily pedestrian gestures are the vocabulary of every human and to know this language is to transcend all languages. To be able to predict what gesture will resonate most at a particular moment is to understand what is most primal about all of us. To be able to put together these gestures sometimes with a known dance vocabulary like ballet or Horton, adding music, costumes and light, expressing that which has no words in a way to touch, move and inspire others is the greatest gift of my life and a skill that I am continually honing.
When I saw Alvin Ailey’s, Revelations for the first time, like many people, I was brought deeply within myself. I was reminded of how the simplicity of dance could move an audience deeply. I was also struck by the way the dancers expressed themselves. It seemed as though they were dancing for me, dancing about me, another gift that stayed with me. Dance should always be an extension of our humanity. We are not dancers trying to move, imitate and act like people. We are people first, who happen to be able to dance. In this world of technological wonder, it is critical for young choreographers to remember that the audience wants to be in on the joke. They want to understand what is happening. Yes, some want to be challenged and prefer deeply abstract work but even at our most conceptual, dancing to the sound of running water, static or silence for example, we must always have at least a tiny bit of accessibility, a connection with our deeply human selves. This is essential in all that I do.
“Dance is the ultimate in self-expression,” another one of my favorite quotes stated long ago by Alvin Ailey. If I also quote my acting instructor, Anthony Abeson, “What is the most personal, is the most universal,” it brings me to an important layer of my life purpose. Dance for me and in fact any medium within which I work, must always be based on something deep and meaningful for me personally. The work may be light and comedic, but must always be based on truth and integrity. All that I do must come from my most vulnerable and raw self. In connecting with those most inner beliefs and feelings, I believe the witnesses of the work see themselves as I see myself in them. Through this vulnerability and intimate partnership with the audience, I can help the world connect with one another, turn on the light, guide people towards seeing and being their truth.
I was teased horribly as a child and was too small to fight. I had to endure the insults and physical threats while refusing to believe that the people acting like monsters were truly monsters. They were as afraid as I was and at times, I felt sorry for them. I came to New York City having just turned nineteen during the peak of the Gay Plague. I was gay and my family had no issues so I thought I would come to the gay mecca of the world and find my prince. Instead, over fifty of my friends died before I stopped writing their names in my journal. I was too afraid of death to love. When I danced Sinnerman in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, I made it real. Running from Armageddon made no sense to me. I was raised Catholic but never really believed in Heaven or Hell. However, running from HIV was real. I was certain that I had the disease and sure that I, like my friends, would never see age twenty-five. Every night I would cry in the wings after Sinner Man and be reborn in the final section, “Rocka my Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” and each evening be closer to healing the real pain and fear that I felt. I managed to survive the epidemic physically as an HIV negative man, but I am not so sure I survived psychologically. I have used dance every since to heal myself and to help guide others towards healing. This experience of making the story of my life real through dance on a regular basis, finding true relief at times, was a window into my future work with children and adults. A dance class is never just a session where we learn shapes and tricks. The exercises are merely the alphabet for the language that we will use to write the poetry of the heart. We use this language to tell the stories from deep within us that must be told that have no spoken words. Movement is the doorway into deeper sharing and my classes often hint of moving therapy sessions, therapy for me as well as my students. Dance was a place where pain could be healed and dreams could take flight. Music was the backdrop, the canvas on which to paint and the human body was a tool to be used to bring our deepest stories into the light without necessarily ever knowing what the literal story was about. When the audience watched me run from the fires of Hell in Revelations, they didn’t know my real fears. However, they certainly experienced real fear, maybe their fears. Hopefully the fears explored in their minds were healed some as mine were as Revelations ended. This was an absolutely profound time back on those stages across the world from The Paris Opera to The Kennedy Center and they are experiences that have never left me. To this day when I hear the first note of Sinnerman my stomach turns and nervous butterflies return from remembering being in the wings ready to run from real terror.
This part of my journey is what I call knowing, The Self. This self-exploration is what we all must do as training artists and is present in my work with students. Being on a genuine search for who we really are is the first part of a life formula that I teach by, one that I live by. I call the life formula, the Dream Leap.
Know yourself. Before we do anything we must know ourselves. This is a life long journey. When we we can be our authentic selves, doors open and it feels great.
Pick a dream. No matter what our circumstances, dreaming is the beginning of everything. Do not be limited by your reality, our circumstances or our confines. Dream with no limits.
Find the courage. Dreaming and knowing yourself takes courage. Courage is stepping forward despite any fear.
Take the Leap. Then finally no matter where we are in knowing ourselves, picking the dream or finding the courage, we have to take the leap. If you can leap once, you can leap again and again and my life is full of leaps that still give me vertigo when I think about them. Everyone I work with is definitely going to be leaping before too long. No sitting still around me.
Dream Leap. In my effort to touch, to move and to inspire, I have had to live by and teach my version of this universal formula, one that we will all discover in our own way, in our own time if we are truly living. We may not realize we are living by these universal truths, but anyone in the game of dream seeking, dream living, is dream leaping.
Self + Dream + Courage + Leap = Dream Leap
I wrote the lyrics to a song now available on iTunes, sung by children that I work with, teach and coach. I live by these words and it is my mission in life to teach them, always.
Dream, leap, soar, fly,
Always your best
No time to waste
Don’t be a fool
Nature has only one rule
The stars are yours
Dream, leap, Fly
Make that Dream Leap
No fear, just leap
Make that dream leap
Courage, love and harmony
Making dreams leap!
Born out of the journey of an artist from Alvin Ailey’s Revelations and Disney’s The Lion King, I am about inspiring others to own their dreams and connect with their most authentic self. I am about finding the courage to make risky leaps and living a fulfilling life at one’s greatest, unique and unlimited potential. With over 30 years of experience as a performer, choreographer, director, producer and educator, I proudly point people towards their light. I create opportunities for children and adults to attain their highest level of excellence. A firm believer that, “The arts aren’t extra curricular; they’re extra-essential,”® I have most recently launched Aubrey Lynch Extra Essential Arts
AL-EEArts for which I am the founder and Director, a youth performance ensemble that provides a training ground and unique performance opportunities for the most gifted and passionate students.
I learned everything by diving in. “Dance now. Learn it later,” as Alvin Ailey said. Like my life, my programs empower children and teach life lessons through experiential learning. I believe that a well-rounded education must include the arts. Without the chance to explore and nurture creativity, celebrate and promote self-expression, we are not complete human beings and our children will not be sufficiently prepared for life and the challenges facing our world.
I am blessed to be able to do what I love to do. “To touch, to move, to inspire; this is the true gift of dance.” This is the true gift of life, of my life.