Notes from the Dancer
When Jomarie first asked me if I identified as a caregiver, my answer was “no.” My parents are healthy and well. And then I thought of Bob and Eileen.
We live in a small building in Manhattan in Murray Hill. There are only six apartments in the building and we moved into apartment 2 in 1990. Bob lived in Apartment 3, Eileen in apartment 4. Bob was a single gay man with no children and Eileen was a single lesbian, also with no children. The years in the building were super special since we all knew one another and took care of each other from apartment 1 through apartment 6.
Once I identified the stories of Bob and Eileen that I wanted to share, I knew immediately the music I wanted to use. It’s a jazz blues piece written by Vinnie Cutro who plays trumpet in the piece. I’d been married to a jazz musician, was working in a jazz dance company and worked at the Blue Note in NYC when the dance company was not on tour. It was an incredible time in my life – the theme of jazz woven through everything I did.
Blues music is often meant to heal the soul, and I thought this music was perfect to tell the stories of Bob and Eileen and all that I had learned from each of them. I brought the stories to Teresa, the choreographer, who was able to capture the movement for me that had me falling in love (again) with Bob and Eileen, the dance and the experience of caregiving – something I did not fully take the time to appreciate at the time I was taking care of them.
Once I learned the movement, I started to put the meaning back into it. Why had I told Teresa about these specific events in the caregiving stories – Bob with the vertigo and Eileen with the morphine? The dance is not completely sad for me because there were many joyous moments with them as I look back on the experience. As a New Yorker living in an apartment building, I was reminded how important it is to look after others well-being and have a sense of community within the building. By the time I came to perform this piece, I felt I could write about each movement and what I was saying in each part of the choreography.
Being part of this project deepened my awareness, strength and ability to be present with my Aunt before she passed during rehearsals. I had traveled to see her on a Saturday with that pressing feeling that I needed to see her now. I brought tutus and tiaras for us and laid a vibrant pink tutu across her hospital bed and a gold tiara on her head. We laughed and had an incredible afternoon together. Less than 24 hours later, I was back at the hospital to sit with her until she passed. Even writing this I feel in my heart I have not taken the time to fully feel the impact of all of this. Had it not been for The CareGivers’ Project, I’m not sure I would have had the strength and trust within myself to be there with my cousins during my aunt’s transition. Since I began dancing with The Caregivers’ Project, my feelings around caregiving have deepened enormously. I haven’t fully been able to put words to the entire experience, but I have called it “life changing” to be able to perform this piece.
• It was a joy to return to the stage after nearly 30 years.
• It was an honor to bring the stories of Bob and Eileen to life.
• It was a privilege to bring awareness to the awesomeness of caregiving.
I look forward to sharing this project with others – to be able to continue to shine a light on caregiving – the joys, the challenges, the blessings and the privilege to care for another. There is no right way to do caregiving. I found ritual and creativity blended into the process can create powerful experiences for the person and the caregiver. Caregiving is not something you do on your own – you need to surround yourself with a support team as well and continue to take care of your own health. I believe The Caregivers’ Project will help people connect in ways to ease the burden and come to a place of deep reverence, patience, empathy, compassion and understanding of the awesome responsibility that has been placed in your heart.
Dancer Rochelle Rice earned her BFA in Dance from UMASS, Amherst and performed with the San Francisco Jazz Dance Company, and Jazzdance: The Danny Buraczeski Dance Company. Rochelle is grateful to have learn so much about life, love and the art of transition from both Bob and Ellen, neighbors for whom she was the hospice caregiver.