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The Artist as Sin-Eater

I have a guilty little secret: I love So You Think You Can Dance.  I’ve been watching it for several years, but some of the routines in the past two seasons have left me badly shaken and, more often than not, in tears.  Although the lighthearted dances showcase the unbelievable talent of these young people, it is the power of dance to tell a story, particularly a sad story or a dark story, that has taken me by surprise.

Last night, this season’s front-runner, Kent, a fresh-faced farm boy from Wapakoneta, danced a jazz routine about a couple with a seemingly perfect marriage that in reality is falling to pieces.  Kent’s perpetual smile was missing  after the dance and he seemed to struggle to keep from crying.  He said he became so invested in the story that there came a moment when the steps didn’t matter – he just wanted to dance.

I understand.

There have been times when I have been so deep in a story, I had one thought only – to give it language, breath, birth, even though I knew there could be no happy ending, knew some would be offended by it and me.  In holy cards: dead women talking I had several opportunities to crack my funny-bone in some of the more absurd stories about the she-saints, but it was the dark stories…Valentina and Thea clinging to each other, trying to comfort each other as they burned alive, Agatha raging against St. Peter’s ridiculous offer to restore her breasts the day before she’s martyred, Ebba and her sisters choosing self-mutilation to avoid rape, Edith Stein wondering what the proper response should be to finding one’s self standing in a gas chamber beneath a hissing spigot…these stories moved me, transported me to another place where the whole world fell away and the only thing left was the story.  Consequences be damned.  Write!

Like all artists, writers are the sin-eaters of society, swallowing the darkness in our words and leaving our readers the pure absolution of emotional release.  And while there is a price to pay to accomplish this, we have no alternative but to pay it.

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