It was a final rehearsal for the group Danza Española de Princeton, lead by Alma Concepción. After a lifetime of dancing Alma was leaving the American Repertory Ballet of Princeton, where she taught for 29 years. But, from one of the four corners of the classroom I alternately positioned myself, I could see that Alma was not rehearsing. Just like she never rehearsed at six-years-old when she started taking dance lessons in her hometown of Santurce in Puerto Rico or, when she was a soloist performing in places as far away as Spain; much less, during the 10 years when she ran her own Escuela de Baile Alma Concepción – the name behind it wouldn’t allow it; And less, when she founded a volunteer community dance organization for Hispanic children, Taller de Danza. Performing is all she knows.
Alma had done it her entire life. I could see it when she moved in the center of the room filling the space with hand gestures and playing her castanets with closed eyes. The dancer was in the room. I could hear behind each word of encouragement she would give to a struggling dancer oblivious to his or her abilities. Her voice charged with anticipation for something no one in the room could foresee but she – what they, as dancers were capable of. The mentor was in the room. Perfection was mandatory. She demanded it non-bashfully. In a perfect marriage of intuition and technique, the group’s military precision of steps and castanets merged with a flow of improvised movements. Alma was anxious. She clapped in compass with the rhythm. Stop. Do it again. Stop. Start all over. And then, a contempt smile escaped from the corner of her eyes. Stop. Let’s take a break. She had achieved her goal.
The reflection in the mirror revealed her multifaceted life. She played all parts: The wife; The mother; The artist; The host I witnessed one January 6th. Her house was a combination of Art and Academia like its counterparts. No wonder her offspring are both artists. Welcoming laughs and warm introductions came from a worldly crowd. Spanish weaved every conversation. Music started playing and a little girl danced in the small living room. I recognized the stampede. It was as intense as her grandmother’s. From that evening, as if a Dia de Reys gift, I carried away a treasured realization: That life is a final act. And it never ends.