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Reply To: The River Erdman,” with Dr. Diane McGhee”


Diane, what a glorious myriad of experiences you have had in your life!

I loved reading your journey above!

It is like a jeweled labyrinth!

Now it feels as though there should be two myth blasts! One for your journeys in the world!

And another for your introduction to and knowledge and love of Jean Erdman!

I am loving this!

When you mention taking a “wrong turn,” in your adventures and how that led to other adventures you did not expect to have…it reminds me of the recent myth blast written by Kristina Dryza “The Myth of Missteps.” It is almost synchronous with it…that sometimes that “wrong turn” becomes the journey itself! But rather than regrets that turn led you to a deeper love of dance.

And when you mention wanting to be a mechanical engineer…I laughed because my Mom wanted to do something similar (I think work on helicopters) but she faced similar barriers. She did work punch cards at Lockheed back in the day but went into her other loves: astronomy and art.
Thank god for Lockheed though or she wouldn’t have met my Dad!
I strayed only a little from the field…found a love in dance. Thanks to my Grandmother suggesting it might be nice for me to take it for balance and coordination. Though in my first class at 4 one would not have guessed I would love dance. I stared at my feet in the air for the whole pre-ballet! 😅

Those feet have done a lot of tapping since and bared  the burden of some years of point. And enjoyed modern and free form. And sharing steps and guidance with students.

But this is exciting!
I am so thrilled that you are a part of CoHo!

Love the metaphor of Jean Erdman as the River Liffey but it’s also true as she choreographed and performed that role!

I know it’s not quite the same, but since you mentioned Ireland, Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance” and “Feet of Flame” come to mind.

The little fey flute girl I believe is supposed to represent the Spirit of Ireland or the land.
So I’m fascinated to see these types of connections translated into dance, which bring an extra radiance to these stories and images!
What you write about Jean and the River Liffey, reminds me a little more of a work of fiction based on the Finn McCumhal legend in which the authors imagine Brigid (the Goddess of smith craft, inspiration, poetry and fire) to be a part of the land.  Bonfires are lit all over Ireland or Eire and they conjure Brigid’s image and energy as a Goddess of the land.

One of the things I really love about both your journeys (Diane and Jeane) is how much freedom each of you had in those adventures! It’s very beautiful!

And yes believe me I know there was hard work as well!

But I take in mind that if one chooses or is privileged to go far say in a ballet company, there might not be as much freedom. One can be beholden to the artistic director’s paintbrush. And even very good dancers might not always move beyond the Corps.
There was a time when ballet dancers needed to be more uniform in appearance in order to not stand out. Thankfully some of that is changing. And I’m thankful for the ballet I’ve had and the teachers (it is a backbone of dance) but I’m also aware of it’s “shadow side.”

But every time I read more about Jean Erdman, I am impressed with all she did and within her time! Even in the thirties and forties! And it’s remarkable! Of course the director of a modern company has the first say so too…

But to me, it feels like it would have been a freer experience for those who danced as part of Jeane’s company. And if she choreographed a piece on someone, I have the impression that she would be taking all she knew about their qualities of movement in mind as well as encouraging inspiration. And that it would feel like one of those wonderful and challenging mentors on the best journeys rather than a “guru of dance” who needs dancers to be “mere paint on a canvas,” rather than something dynamic as a living breathing person or living breathing people being part of the work…the art.
Not that there aren’t beautiful ballets as well. And not all artistic directors are so “static.”
My mind was blown, when I found out that Joseph Campbell’s wife was a dancer! Did not find out until after reading Reflections of Living. 
At 10 or 11 I was too young to appreciate the “Power of Myth” series though I sort of knew who Campbell was through my Mom.

Then when it re-aired, at 17 I was ready! And had to find as many Campbell books as possible!

Then to find that Jean Erdman had danced with Martha Graham! And started her own company! Too brilliant!

After a few summers taking classes at Alvin Ailey, I learned appreciation and humility for the style of Martha Graham as well as Lester Horton.

But enough on me…

This is what I love so much about your journey Diane! How all those twists and turns bring these crossroads and synchronicities and connections!
So then you come full circle and meet Nancy Allison! And meet that River Liffey (The River Erdman)through her!!

I completely agree with you and Stephen that anything on Joe Campbell is not complete without Jean Erdman who was well known and respected in her own right!
And I have to laugh at her “taking off” and leaving Joseph Campbell to hold the fort as “she went on her own journeys!” Oh Goddess that’s fantastic!

Have to wonder if he ever mentioned being the one waiting behind? Or was he too stubborn to do so? (Hehheh)

Or perhaps I need to go back to the Ecstasy of Being again (which was a treasure in Campbell’s works I never expected to find!) I can certainly see how Jean influenced more nuanced perspectives (grin.)

But what is so cool is that Jean travelled the world! And thanks I imagine in large part to her Joe Campbell extended his travels!

This is why the story of The Two of them is important!
For a while, I have had the impression, that most surface readers of Campbell assume he was some kind of professorial armchair mythologist who read dusty old tomes by old authors rather than someone who experienced world journeys himself.
Or someone who was married to this Dynamic dancing river who freely danced her own powerful course across history!
But I should have expected that dynamic when Campbell said “Jean is the one who drives the car.” Hehheh. I think it was a wee bit more than that!

And I think it is absolutely glorious all the paths that you Diane have experienced in your life and Jean in hers!

I wonder if Jean were in the prime of dance now…would she do anything differently?
I can tell that both you and Jean had great respect for learning dances from other cultures including indigenous ones and showed respect in incorporating those dances into new inspired pieces. Sort of as you said a fusion of dance.

From what I have read of Jean (as well as from you now) it felt like she was welcomed when she traveled to foreign places and that her dances were well received. It felt like glimmers of cultural exchange that kept growing across time. Love it!

But I also take in mind that things are more complicated now. In Jean’s time it’s incredible what she did and achieved. But many cultures have become very protective of their traditions. So it feels that one would have to not only be respectful but ask permission for “using inspiration.” I certainly understand!
And I’m sure Jean would follow through! But I also know that some cultures who feel they have more of a voice today want to be the ones who speak about and perform their own traditions. And they may not want outsiders involved at all beyond just watching and learning about those traditions from those cultures themselves. They might see fusion as too much “borrowing.” Or “philosophizing” as “misrepresenting” their own words or experience of being a living members of certain cultures.

I think that would be a challenge for Jean and Joe as well. But thankfully Jean was able to make all those beautiful works of living art in her time and shared them with us!

Of course there is always Robert Mirabal the Pueblo musician (who had experience with traditional and modern dance and was a world traveler) And he enjoyed opening the barriers to share his work with everyone, while still remaining deeply respectful of his Pueblo traditions.

I think there was a CoHo participant who had the privilege to see Jean perform live and it brought her to tears!
(maybe Marianne? Stephen. Can’t remember now.)

Okay sorry for this long and winding road Diane. But wanted to thank you again for not only your lovely essay on Jean Erdman, but also sharing adventures from your own life story!