The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

November 10, 2009

Here’s to a seat at the Nick, The Cellar on Greene, the TRUSTUS Tasting, birthdays, family and food — cheers Y’all!

As some of you may be aware, this time last year I had just celebrated the inauguration of the Year of Wine — or the year of wining and whining as the Beer Doctor is so fond of saying.  I had chosen the occasion of my humphth birthday to embark on an intense study and appreciation of all things wine, having known just enough about wine initially to know that there was oh-so-much more to learn.  Well, much to my dismay, the months on the calendar whisked right away in the wind, and before I knew it, the same date rolled around once again, sadly bringing the year of wine to a close.

I’ve learned quite a bit.  My travels have taken me to several of France’s wine destinations where I’ve wondered through the Champagne district’s chalky caves, gotten lost in Burgundy’s enumerate vineyards, and immersed myself in Alsace’s spicy Gewurtz’s, Rieslings, and Pinot Gris’s.  We’ve traveled twice to California’s beautiful rolling hills and, happily, I only broke my nose there once.  I even gave the wines of Virginia a shot and found that, though inconsistent, they did present a brand new quality of delicacy to my palate — which shouldn’t be dismissed just because it is so different from most other wines.  We had hoped to also travel to Argentina, as well as back to Italy — just for the wine — but just as it did with the Bob’s Year of Beer, time got away from us — so these countries, and more, are still on our to-do list.  Our cellar is far fatter than it ever was and has taken over our fairly large walk-in pantry — there is literally nothing edible in there at all anymore — and will soon be spreading to the closet under the stairs — thanks for that idea to my friend, who will remain anonymous because she is having her closet converted into a cellar for her beloved as a birthday surprise — hmmm … wonder if I could score a little trompe l’oeil on my closet door, too? The one casualty of the Year of Wine, other than my nose, is the reality that bad wine is far more difficult to stomach than it ever was — and in many ways I have Ricky Mollohan, Kaitlin Ohlinger, and the rest of the good people at the Cellar on Greene to thank for that.  There is no such thing as bad wine at the Cellar, and my palate has effectively been spoiled.  Thanks guys, thanks a lot.

I celebrated my birthday on Sunday this year, and rather than the fairly immense blow-out wine tasting party that we enjoyed last year, I was more in the mood for a quiet family gathering at Muddy Ford.  It was a decision deliciously well made.  The Beer Doc created for me a beautiful Chateaubriand with bernaise sauce, my second favorite liquid — next to vino — in the world.  Annie put together a phenomenally rich potatoes dauphinoise and her lovely signature sauted vegetables.  Bonnie even got into the kitchen (she found it on her own and all!) and whipped up a scrumptious asparagus and mushroom saute — a dish of which she and I share a love.

If you’ve ever been to a meal at the Ford, you know how long it takes us to cook.  But that’s ok, because we have to also take the necessary time to fully enjoy the wines we are drinking in the process.  We started our Sunday in the kitchen off with a Clicquot Yellow Lable bubbly, followed by a 2003 Schramsburg Brut, which we much preferred.  With dinner we vertically tasted one of Helen Turley’s 2001 Magnificats — which was glorious — alongside an amazing 2006 Darioush cab — easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year.  Presents were served with red velvet cake — and I’m happy to say that everyone shopped locally this year, with an emphasis on jewelry and assorted creations by local artists.  My favorite (and most highly requested) gift, however, was my very own seat in the Nick’s new theatre on Main Street.  So, Larry, if  you’re listening, I’d like to take my seat as soon as possible, dear.

Even though the Year of Wine is officially over, I can promise you that the wining and whining is not.  Just for one example, I will  happily be attending the TRUSTUS wine tasting benefit at City Art in the Vista on Tuesday night, killing two very important birds — the drinking of good wine & the support of TRUSTUS Theatre, one of the most important arts institutions our city can claim — with one only slightly tipsy stone.  You can be there, too.  We’ll be tasting 8 wines — two bubblies, 2 whites, 2 reds, and 2 ports — for a cost of only $45 in advance, or $50 at the door.  I hope you’ll join me for a taste and a toast — to all good things – wine, family, food, friends, and art.

Cheers, Y’all!


June 14, 2009

Reims, French showers, Chagall, Taittinger, Clicquot and Pommery, Oh my!

Filed under: France,travel,wine,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 00:44
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We rose early the morning after our anniversary and left our hotel in the Rue Cler area of Paris — La Motte Picquet  in the 7th arrondisement near the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides — via taxi.  La Motte Picquet is a small, two star establishment with accommodating staff and just the right amount of Parisian charm.  Located around the corner from Rue Cler,  a short street that serves as a sort of microcosm of French culture with its boulangeries, patisseries, fromageries, etc., all gathered on a few short blocks.  We’ve never stayed in this area before, usually opting for the 6th and sometimes even the Marais, and we probably won’t again — too many Americans!   (We  didn’t travel that far to hang out with a bunch of Yanks!)  We also had one little complaint with the hotel — the shower.

At the risk of sounding ethnocentric here, what is it about Europe and showers? 

Now, I am perfectly aware of the beauty and the texture that multi-culturalism provides — I am the resident preacher against judging the content of another culture based on the content of ones own.  But really, what is the benefit of a shower that drenches an entire room and all its contents?  And, I know that many of the French are certainly smaller (fitter) than many Americans, but seriously, Kate Moss couldn’t fit in the tiny shower in our otherwise lovely hotel in Paris.  A little off topic here.  Sorry.

Anyway, …

A train awaited us at the Gare L’Est station which would take us just 45 minutes out of the city to a town called Reims, pronounced “Rahnce” in France.  Reims is the home of France’s Champagne region in large part due to its excessively chalky soil — perfect for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, the main ingredients in classic Champagne.  The chalk provides good drainage for the soil, absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and gradually releasing it onto the grapes through the night.  It also served as a fine source of construction for the vast underground caves — many of which are hundreds of years old — in which the wine bottles are stored and matured.

The train deposited us a short walk from out hotel, the Hotel Grand Continental,, set on a pedestrian street lined with restaurants, wine bars and shops.  Early for check-in, we stored our luggage and stretched our legs with a short walk to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Reims — home for hundreds of years to the coronations of France’s kings,  and home now to Marc Chagall’s gorgeous Apse Chapel stained glass windows.

Having given our respects to my one of the 20th century’s finest artist, it was time for some fruit of the vine. 

There are far more champagne houses in the Reims and neighboring Epernay area than anyone has time to visit, so we had carefully selected our choices, limiting it to the houses at which we had previously made reservations:  three for our day of arrival and two for the following day before continuing on our journey.  I noticed that Mo from the Hotel La Motte Picquet in Paris who had helped me make reservations seemed somewhat impressed that we were taking in as many as five houses.  I’d assured him that we were old pros at visiting and tasting, having researched a book on beer that required us to visit and taste for over a year’s time.  Mo had just smiled … or was that a smirk?

Our first stop was one of the venerable old houses of champagne, Taittinger, (pronounced Tat-tone-zhay).  As at many wineries, our visit began with a film educating us on the processes of viticulture and methode champenoise.  We had visited a few sparkling wine houses during our time in Napa and Sonoma earlier this Spring so the film served as something of a review for us and gave us a chance to catch our breath after racing in to make our reservation.  Soon though we filed our way down a long and winding flight of stairs that deposited us deep in the cold bowels of Taittinger’s chalky caves and under the ruins of the Saint Nicaise Abbey.  Beautiful, massive mountains of bottles were stored on their sides in the shadows of the caves which went on and on, further than we could see.  (During World War I, many of the residents of Reims took refuge in the champagne caves under the city, living there as most of the city walls collapsed above them.)  After wandering about a bit we were escorted back up the long flight of stairs which proved to be just as long, if not longer, on the way up as they were on the way down.  A quick glance at my watch told me we had only moments to scoff down the Brut we were offered and hurry on to our next destination — 

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin — I am just a messy sentimentalist when it comes to this champagne and the story behind it.  Madame Clicquot, widowed at the age of 27 and in a time (1805) when even French women were thought incapable of  purposeful thought and action, changed the world of wine and put Reims on the map.  First she discovered a way to rid champagne of its previously cloudy appearance, (the process is called riddling and is still practiced either by hand or machine in virtually every champagne house today).  Secondly, she opened up shipping arrangements with Russia, creating the first real demand for the wine — a demand that also continues today.

The Clicquot tour began quite elegantly and we were pleased to mostly wander about as our tour guide used perfect English to draw attention to various items in the Clicquot collection — the Madame’s desk, photographs, etc.  But before we knew it, again we were descending another long dark staircase into the caves under the city of Reims.  And again, we were expected to climb back up them.  I’m not being a wimp here — I’m talking hundreds of stairs.  Again. 

Luckily there was a flute of Yellow Label at the top and a bit of another 2002 Vintage to boot. 

As we ran to our next appointment at the House of Pommery (hauling a heavy wooden box containing a Cuvee Saint Petersbourg and two Clicquot flutes) I remembered Mo’s smile from the day before.  He clearly wasn’t concerned about the amount of champagne involved in multiple tastings — he was concerned about the amount of steps.  And he was right.  Descending into the caves of Pommery — which interestingly enough looked very much like the caves of Clicquot and the caves of Taittinger and, I feel certain the caves of the other two houses we had planned on visiting but ditched, I vowed to be more proactive in discerning the difference in a smirk and a smile in the future. 

Happily, the House of Pommery was more forthcoming with their tastings, allowing us to sample their Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, 2000 vintage Brut, and their Dry champagne, which is actually more sec or sweet than I would have thought.  Another bonus from the Pommery visit was the site specific art installed throughout the caves — innovative and exciting, it took the edge off the cold and made the Pommery tour much more unique.

June 11, 2009

Paris, Jules Verne, Obama and Us

As I mentioned last time, we began and ended our journey through France in Paris, flying in and out of the Jetsonian Charles de Gaulle Airport.  Visiting Paris is in so many ways like visiting New York City.  There’s a lot to see behind the doors of the cities’ museums and galleries — and we enjoy seeing it — but so much of the magic of both places happens on the sidewalks.  So we spent a lot of our time there — walking the sidewalks or sitting in their sprawling ribbons of cafes watching others do the walking.


It’s easy to over-do museums, particularly when you’re somewhere like Paris and almost every great known artist is represented.  Too many tours and eventually you may find yourself passing some of the world’s most stimulating works of art feeling a bit non-plussed.  Ho hum, another Van Gogh.  So we’ve learned to limit our exposure and only bite off small morsels at a time.  This trip we focused on The Picasso Museum, the newly re-opened L’Orangery featuring Monet’s water lilies, and the three big exhibits at the Pompidou — Calder, Kandinsky and Women in Art.  (The exhibition on Men in Art is at the Louvre — it is called, “The Louvre.”)


The Pompidou Centre is what it is.  What once seemed shiny and innovative now looks rusty and very much shat upon by arrogant Parisian pigeons.  (The Pompidou Centre was revolutionary when it debuted in 1977, with all the structural and  functional elements exposed rather than hidden behind walls and ceilings and floors, and color-coded as well:  the electrical casings are yellow, the plumbing pipes green, and the heating and air conditioning ducts are blue, for example.  Patrons enter the museum almost midway up the building via a series of clear escalators located on an exterior wall.)  Maybe premonitions of its current state help explain why the French hated the Pompidou so when it was first built. 


I entered the exhibition hall as a sort of double shot espresso fan of Kandinsky — liking his early work (especially) all the way into his Bauhaus period — but left feeling more like weak coffee toward the artist.  And though I admit to feeling a bit like a poser even saying this (who am I to criticize the museum’s curator?) I think it all had to do with the redundancy of the selected pieces.  Kandinsky was nothing if not prolific, but the sheer number of the pieces displayed detracted from the impact they had as a whole. 


The Calder exhibition was completely opposite.  Selected pieces demonstrated both his tendency toward whimsy (Alexander Calder was the Texas born inventor of the mobile with a fascination for the circus) and his prowess at sculpture of literally monumental proportions.  (His piece installed at the World Trade Center — “Bent Propeller” — you may remember, was destroyed in the attack on 9/11.


Two of the highlights of our stays in Paris sort of overlap, despite having taken place on opposite ends of our trip. 


Bob and I decided to bite the bullet and celebrate our anniversary in style this year by having a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at the Jules Verne Restaurant atop the Eiffle Tower.  What can I say?  The food wasn’t as good as the view, but the view was as astronomical as the check!  This we did on the 25th of May.  Upon returning for our last weekend in Paris, we noticed on Saturday that one of the streets in the Latin Quarter leading to the Notre Dame was cordoned off and lined with French police.  After considerable multi-lingual eavesdropping we deduced that President Obama (pronounced OH – BA – MA, with equal inflection on each syllable in France) would soon be passing through.  Being above neither gawking nor stalking, we scored ourselves two primo spots on the curb and cheered along with all the French fans as his iron-clad motorcade sped by.  Twice. 


The cool part to me though was finding out that the president and first lady would be dining that night at the very same restaurant where we had celebrated our anniversary two weeks before.  I wonder if they sat at our table? 


What I didn’t know then was that the whole Obama clan would also be visiting the Pompidou on Sunday, the same day as us. 


Somehow we missed them in the crowd.

May 2, 2009

Anne Boudreau and 701 Whaley Street

Visiting an artist in residence at 701 Center for Contemporary Art on Whaley Street in Columbia is the equivalent of being allowed into the inner sancta of the heart and soul of art and creativity.  A bold statement, to be sure, but when we consider the history of the facility itself, which is all about creative productivity, and combine it with the purpose of the facility now, again all about the potential for artistic creativity — I don’t believe the fact overstated.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit 701 many times within the past few months.  In addition to enjoying a massive Valentine’s Day party and the Runaway Runway show downstairs, I also took in some of the Indie Grits presentations upstairs in the more intimate but still size-able rooms above.  I saw Miriam Barbosa dance beautifully there around Beth Melton’s huge textile installation, then I saw Martha Brim dance around Ellen Kochansky’s installation in the same space.  Finally, last week, at the preview of Anne Boudreau’s installation, which depicted just a few pieces of her works in progress for her May 7th opening, I was one of a too small number who got to see Thaddeus Davis and Tonya Wildeman-Davis dance with and around some of the larger of Anne’s pieces.  So, at this point, I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable in the facility.

And I can’t say enough good things about it. When I enter the doors and walk down the long halls, my eyes wander to the traces of paint and days and lives gone by that still cling to the walls and ceilings, and my mind wonders at the history still clinging there, as well.  As the grandchild of a mill family, married to the grandchild of a mill family, and a student of southern culture, I often feel a bit of a knot in my throat and a mist in my eye when I contemplate the massive and quite grey contribution that the textile industry has made in the lives of people around whom my life has been built.  Bittersweet.  People who were thankful for difficult and dangerous jobs.  In so many cases, the complete and irrefutable absence of choice.  Making do.  Getting by.  Cradle to grave.

And I can see all that there on the walls of 701 Whaley, scrubbed clean but still reeking of the past, the memories trapped between the layers of paint left for the rest of us to witness.  And without fail, there is one word that comes to my mind every time I enter the building:  integrity.  Here’s hoping the facility continues to live up to that regard.

To read my article on Anne Boudreau, this season’s artist in residence, please click on and flip to pages 22 – 23.

April 19, 2009

Indier and grittier

Filed under: Columbia,films,not writing,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 18:27
Tags: , , ,

Starting in the summer of 2002 and continuing for the next four summers, our family took an apartment in Greenwich Village — once in the West Village near the meat packing district, but for the most part we were right on 5th Avenue, within a block of Washington Park.  (One year we sublet a townhouse on the historic Washington Mews while the owners spent their summer at their Tuscan villa.  Seriously — their Tuscan villa.)  

There’s something about living in New York that is so different from visiting it.  When we visit we hurry to get to our favorite bars and restaurants, see the shows and the galleries — suck in a huge hit of the city as fast and as furiously as possible.  But when you’re there for a while you can just sort of coast on the vibe and slowly soak it in.  Pretend you’re a New Yorker.  I loved pretending. 

One of my favorites of the penchants I adopted during my summers in NYC is a love for art house films.  Sweaty afternoons in the city would often find me chilling in the Angelica or huddled in a dark theatre on 12th Street munching on candy I’d smuggled in from the Chinese grocery. I was able to sustain my addiction to indie flicks during the three school years we spent in Winston-Salem, (the kids were attending NCSA and I taught Sociology and Women’s Studies at Salem College), by frequenting Fourth Street Films and the River Run film festival sponsored by the school of the arts.  Then, by the time we came back to SC full time, Larry Hembree had taken over at the Nick and I was thrilled to learn that I would never have to jones for any cinema of transgression again.  Life is good.

And then there is Indie Grits. 

Instead of writing over the past four days, I’ve spent as much time as my butt could take sitting in a dark theatre with a bunch of other local film junkies and dealers.  It’s been heaven.

There are a lot of things that we do stupidly in Columbia, SC — governors, quarterbacks, full parking lots at fast food chains, to name a few.  But the fact that Columbia is the home of the Indie Grits Film Festival is one of the things that we do so right, it almost makes up for the things that we do so dumb.

Today marks the closing day of the 2009 Indie Grits Film Festival.  This was the third, and by far the best year of the festival and, based on its upward arc in terms of film quality and diversity, attendance, variation in venue and events, I’m already psyched for next year.  This year, festival director Andy Smith took us to four different venues and, in addition to live music, amazing food (including Mac’s peach cobbler), a guerilla filmmaking workshop and pretty decent party booze, he gave us a good three dozen films that proved to be either provocative/heartbreaking/gripping/depressing/weird/farcical/beautiful/creepy or fill-in-the-blank-with-what-you-look-for-in-a-film. 

All this, and Bubba Cromer, too. (I’ll be blogging about Bubba soon.)

There were films I hated and films I loved, but there were no truly bad films — basically, a working example of a successful film festival.

So, congratulations to Andy Smith and Tori Katherman, Larry Hembree, and all the participants and prize winners at the 2009 Indie Grits Film Festival.  And congrats to Columbia — Indie Grits is something to be proud of.

Check out the Indie Grits website at and winners of this year’s festival at

To visit the sites of two my three favorite films this year go to

To give Andy Smith the pat on the back that he deserves, write to him at

April 15, 2009

Welcome to new readers

Hey — welcome to my blog and thanks for stopping by. 

If this is your first visit, then scroll down to the  About Cynthia Boiter link in bold on the right side of this page and click on it to find out a bit about me.  It’s just below a bold Subscribe to the Reluctant Writer link that I hope you’ll click as well.

I call my blog The Reluctant Writer:  Things to Do When I Should Be Writing because I have found it serves as a stop-gap for me when I am avoiding my work (the beer book and various freelance assignments).  When procrastination takes hold, I can blog rather than goofing off by surfing through cyberland or playing inane word games in the hopes of one day fending off Alzheimer’s.  This way, at least I’m still writing.

 I blog quite a bit on the things I’m researching and writing about — primarily arts, travel and booze of one kind or another.  I also teach in the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at the University of South Carolina, so you’re likely to find a healthy dose of feminism located within as well, with a sprinkling of politics.  Yes, the bleeding heart liberal kind.

So, again, thanks for visiting — feel free to leave a comment — and I hope to see you again soon.



April 7, 2009

Hootie patootie?

Well, if nothing else the Columbia City Ballet’s presentation of the Hootie Ballet has gotten people talking.  Interestingly enough though, many of the people talking don’t know what they are talking about.  And I don’t mean that in a snide way — I mean it literally.  So many of the people with opinions on the subject either did not attend the ballet or never had any intention of attending it.  Which raises the question — how did they arrive at such incredibly authoritative positions on an arts adventure that they had absolutely no authoritative information about?  Fascinating.

I mean, I’ll be the first person to admit that if one really doesn’t care for the repertoire or the style of a musical group then ones chances of enjoying seeing them perform drop dramatically.   The thoughts of seeing someone dance out an interpretive piece on the work of Toby Keith or Kenny Chesney, for example, makes me a little nauseous.   So in other words, if you don’t like Hootie, then you don’t like Hootie and you’re dismissed from the discussion.  You didn’t do anything wrong — you’re dismissed because you don’t have an open mind about Hootie, having already arrived at a stance on the music, very much the way that my closed mind would disqualify me from the discussion if we were talking about a Toby Keith hoe down.  And again, let me just say ugh.

Music having been dealt with, then let’s move on to dance.

It is quite fashionable to criticize one ballet company or another in this city, dependent primarily upon who you know who dances or what you’ve heard about the artistic director.  There are really only a handful of folks who regularly attend the majority of dance events in our city.  I know this because I am one of them and I see who else is there.  Given this rather unscientific conclusion that I have made, I posit the obvious — that having seen only one or two performances by only one or two companies does not make one an expert on Columbia ballet, and certainly does not make one capable of predicting the quality of dance that will be showcased on any given night. 

In other words, for every principal dancer in a company, there is the dancer who just barely made the cut – hence there is a wide variety of talent on display no matter what company you’re talking about.  Factor in the good nights and bad nights that every dancer experiences with the dancers who may be dancing corps roles now but are on the cusp of breaking through to soloist positions (and these really always are the ones to watch — the ones who are still fighting their way up), and all predictions are off. 

Therefore, if you are a person who, a priori, arrived at the position that the Hootie ballet arts adventure was going to be sub-par based on the assumption that the dancing and or choreography was going to be poor, then you have shot yourself in the foot and therefore don’t have a leg to dance on.  Not because Columbia City Ballet is always good, but because Columbia City Ballet, like almost all arts organizations, is sometimes good.  It is absolutely illogical to summarily dismiss an arts event because you think you are certain an event is going to suck. 

Now, I’m not talking chances here as that would require mathematical abilities I do not care to engage.  What were the chances the show would be good or the chances it would be bad — yeah, I’m not going there.  It should also be said that if you have seen a specific artist or arts organization many, many times, as have some of our local ballet aficionados and, through your exposure, you have learned that you do not care for the particular dance or choreography coming out of a specific camp, then I am not talking to you.  You have made an informed decision, rather than floating along on the breeze that is popular discourse.  That is the prerogative of someone who really follows the arts.

I bring the whole argument up primarily in response to comments made on the Free Times blog about the Hootie ballet, prior to the ballet event.  Most people who commented were either definitively certain the performance would suck or definitively certain the performance would be stellar.  Neither stance made much sense prior to the show.

But what I’m really talking about here is not logic or premature and ill-informed judgement.  What I’m really talking about is the vast number of luke warm arts patrons out there who, let’s face it, want to look cool.  And that, my friends, is just sad.  With barely enough artistic energy to combat the nay-sayers who argue that there is little to no room for the arts in our economically threatened environment at all, how silly is it for patrons and artists themselves to expend an ounce of that valuable resource on becoming nay-sayers as well?

When it was all said and done, the show wasn’t bad; it wasn’t bad at all. 

But interestingly, having seen the show both Friday and Saturday nights due to ticket issues, the Friday night show was quite different from the show on Saturday night, which I preferred by far.  And this proves my point again.

I’m not an expert on ballet, but I am quite good at being a ballet patron, having seen upwards of a hundred performances by companies like the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, the Cullberg Ballet, the Kirov, the Bolshoi and more, not to mention quite a few by the student company at the NC School of the Arts and almost everything any of our local companies have done for the past twenty years.  That said, there were some fine moments in the Hootie Ballet.  Regina Willoughby and Maurice Johnson are beautiful dancers even when they are just taking class, and Katie Smoak and Jose Serano have enough energy and stage presence for the entire company.  Of course, as an armchair artistic director there were certainly things I would have done differently, (most notably doing away with the finger spin at the temple crazy mime in I Only Want to Be With You), but who knows how it wouldhave turned out.

But one thing I can safely say is that the crowds for the most part were happy.  And if just a few of those first-time ballet go-ers come back to see this company or another company dance — or if they learn that the arts aren’t quite so stuffy as they thought and they come out for Artista Vista, or to see a play at Trustus, or they hit a gallery opening and check out some visuals and munch on some free nuts — then good.  Good for William Starret, good for all of Columbia ballet, good for Hootie, and good for Columbia.

Good for the world of art.  Good for the world.

(Disclaimer — I am a Hootie junkie.)

February 10, 2009

Community arts as as family?

I shouldn’t be writing now, and I certainly shouldn’t be blogging — I should be grading papers.  That will come, of course, because it has to.   The students are waiting and they are expecting.  Just like stories I’m writing on deadline or contests I plan to enter.  Those things get done because of external parameters.  Such is the life of the soldier with little self discipline.  It doesn’t torture me anymore.  It just is.  Self disciplined people have their own demons with which to do battle and those of us with less strident crickets precariously perched on our shoulders have ours.  We know our demons — we may not love them or appreciate them, but they’re ours, and we accept them.

Which brings me tenuously to a look at the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC.  Having lived in the SC midlands for over 20 years now and always been a patron of the arts, I’ve been watching the culture for a while.  Though I am a student of the literary arts, dance is the point of departure for much of the art culture that I know intimately.  Our daughters started out as students and one of them became a serious dancer, who danced principal parts as a student at NCSA, then was lured back to USC by a juicy scholarship and the opportunity to learn under Stacey Calvert.  One or both of our girls have danced at some time or another in almost every studio in the city, as serious dancers are likely to do.  Their studies have given me some insight into what happens beyond the studio door.

Which brings me back to the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC and the concept of family.

Columbia has recently enjoyed a dance-happy period of arts opportunities with performances coming steadily for four weeks in a row — Life Chance, then USC Dance Company’s American Treasures, William Starrett’s Off the Wall, and this week, for the rambunctious amongst us, Riverdance is performing  on the same stage as all of the above in the weeks before.  In about a month, we’ll also have the chance to see Simone Cuttino’s staging of the Wizard of Oz for Radenko Pavlovich, followed by William’s full length Don Quixote, then USC’s presentation of the Ballet Stars of the NYC Ballet, dancing along with USC’s company.  I’m probably leaving something out — Carolina Ballet usually brings their group of talented and enthusiatic young dancers to the stage in the spring as well.

Clearly, despite being something less than a southern arts Mecca, Columbia is rich with chances to observe one of humanity’s purist exhibitions of angst and joy — dance.  And to the casual observer, this would be something to celebrate.  But for those of us who are saddened by the lack of comraderie among some of our local dance powers that be, there is often a little less spark to the spectacle due to the dulling nature of the politics that go on behind the scenes.  Grudges, old wounds, misrepresentations, rumours, insecurities and fears abound — less with the dancers themselves and moreso with the big guys, old timers and occasional patrons who must think that one day their loyalty will be rewarded — or maybe that negative energy is good for the soul?

Not me. I often have curious folks from one camp question why I continue to support the other camp despite all the flaws, real and imagined, the curious folks so easily see.

The reason is simple.  Like it or not, the Columbia arts community — particularly those who are, know or love dancers — is a family.  And not just a run of the mill family, but a Southern Family, at that.  All of our members are right out there on display, including extra helpings of crazy aunts who in any other part of the country might be hidden in the attic.

And just like a family, there is no getting away from those to whom you are related.  Everything that is done is done in the reflection of one another.   Sure, you can try to hide.  You can move to another state or studio; you can marry or change your name.  But every single person who has danced, will dance or watched dance in Columbia, SC is connected to one another through training, technique, history and experience.  We’ll all come together at the funerals in the end.

But why wait?  Why not adopt the policy of those competitive California wineries back in 1976 when Chateau Montelena slapped the French wine snobs in the face with the proverbial white glove and went on to win the Judgment of Paris?  Or similarly that of the Pacific Northwest craft beer breweries who, though actively competing for the price of the pint, are positively stoked by one another’s successes?  For those big fish, a win for any ONE in their small sea is worth a win for all.  How nice it would be to hear one Columbia dance artistic director compliment another, or cheer from the audience, or better, encourage his dancers and students to be both patrons and artists.

Because that is what we do when we’re family.  We know one another — we may not love or appreciate one another, but we belong, we accept — we’re family.

Now, I really have to get back to writing — grading.

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