The fairy tale I loved as a kid was about twelve sister princesses who after bidding goodnight to their father the king, slipped out of the castle to go dancing, returning at dawn, joyously exhausted, to toss their tattered shoes beneath their beds before dropping off to sleep.

Now, sixty years later, I wake up joyful when, in my dreams, I have again been dancing, or even better, teaching dance to teenagers.

I can’t find words to describe the joy of dancing for forty years, the joy of being a verb—of spending life bathing over and over in the river of life.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses (2007) by Su Blackwell (www.sublackwell.co.uk)

I taught high school for twenty-four years, and saw—sometimes too late, what a struggle it is for some kids to get up every day and walk through life; to make it to adulthood. The only thing I had to offer was the portal of art, but through art comes true experience, knowledge of self, awareness of others, community, courage, and acceptance. I hoped it was enough.

Is art meaningful to the average young person? Does it provide sustenance as they try to navigate their way from childhood to adulthood? I asked my students to write whether or not art—any art at all: music, drawing, singing, acting, dancing, poetry, was of benefit to them personally. It was a broad, open ended question, to be taken wherever they liked, but they were asked to please be honest; their papers would be anonymous.

These are their words:

I have always been an incredibly shy child. Improv forced me to put myself out there and trust my instincts. I became more confident in my ability to try new things and open up to the world.

I honestly don’t know what I would be like now if I didn’t have dance as an escape from my chaotic life at home.

Theater is the only thing that has made me into a socially functioning person.

Dancing brings me closer to my-self.

I can say art saved my life and honestly mean it. A few years ago I felt like my whole world was crumbling down around me. When things really got bad I found myself doing more and more creative things. That’s the almost mystical thing about art—the power to create.

Music is optimistic no matter what, because music can heal you and form you as who you want to be.

When it’s hard for me to comprehend what I’m feeling, moving is always the most obvious way for me to figure it out.

Art has been my escape through dark times. Art has been a great way to get out my emotions and create a safe way to place my anger and pain.

I needed a true source of happiness. I was tired of what seemed like superficial and impermanent joys. When I realized that I find the most full and lasting pleasure from making art, I made a vow to continue being involved in art. That revelation was a large step in dealing with depression because being closer to meaning means being farther from emptiness.

Essentially, art is what makes us human.

Left to right: Jackie Radis, Carol Bobrow, daughter Via Osgood, Poonie Dodson. Photo by Charles Osgood (1983)

I danced just about every day until I was sixty.

Now I paint, and walk to see the dawn.

What matters to me now are relationships, children especially, and the experience of being alive.

If I ever knew who I was, I have forgotten it by now.

I have found there is more meaning in being a verb.