Single Efforts and Butterfly Wings: Why It Matters

It is hard to deny that part of the reason we write is that we believe we have a story to tell. We believe that, against all odds, our voice matters. We write so that our ideas can be recognized. And we write because we believe it's possible for a small voice to have big impact.

Tonight, I saw it in action. I attended the 100th anniversary celebration of Roxbury's Hibernian Hall, one of the Irish dance halls featured in my See You at the Hall: Boston's Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance. I was invited to make some short remarks, and I also performed with in a small Irish traditional band that played a couple of numbers from the dance hall era. Other performers included a James Brown interpreter/impersonator and a drum group from Trinidad. Community Catalyst awards were presented to four artists in Roxbury whose work has contributed in critical ways to the cultural landscape of this inner city community, where generation after generation of immigrants have come and gone since the first three-deckers were built there in the 1800s, back when it was still considered the "outskirts" of town.

What I didn't expect tonight was that the Heavey-Quinn Academy of Irish Dance would perform their piece "See You at the Hall."  The piece had been choreographed by a well known Irish choreographer over a year ago, inspired by my book. Unbeknownst to me, the piece won seventh place in the 2013 World Irish Dancing Championships, held in Boston last fall. Never heard of the piece.

Before the dancers performed, a woman read a poem based on my book, and then read some passages I had written. Such a joy to hear my words read back to me by someone I've never met. Then, the girls danced an approximately three-minute piece that interpreted the story my book told, including danced interpretations of small but colorful details of a cultural environment that I myself had recreated after having listened closely to the voices of those who were there.

I cried.

The Heavey-Quinn School of Dance performing "See You at the Hall"
at the World Irish Dancing Championships last fall in Boston.
After they performed, I went backstage to meet them and all I could do was blubber. What a gift, to see this work interpreted by a younger generation—teens whose grandparents had met on that very dance floor, some sixty years earlier.  We posed for a photo together, then we had a chance to chat. They were all sunshine, bubbles, and frankly, just a little bit of wonder. (Oh, DO go on...) Their spirits were airborne. Palpable. They had read my book, and they had danced it. And now we finally all met in person. Such a thrill for me. And I got to model for them what it means to have an idea, follow through on it, and be happy. An author. Imagine.

The thing is, no one would ever have known the story of the Irish dance halls in Roxbury, if someone hadn't written it down. It would have just lived in the memories of a whole bunch of grandparents and it would have been forgotten within a generation. The book didn't sell a million copies, and I certainly didn't make a million dollars. But I contributed to a collective history of Boston and legitimized the experiences of a whole generation, who can now look on those good old days of dancing at Hibernian Hall as an important piece of Boston history and an important contribution to the cultural life of the city. They can say that what they did in their lives mattered.

And so can I.


Andrea said…
Susan, you made me cry! What a wonderful expression of art -- it transcends writing, music, dance, and the visual arts -- and touches the very soul. I am so happy you have had that wonderful experience, and thank you for sharing it with us.

Andrea Delaney
Unknown said…
Susan, It was an honor to have met you last evening. My daughter was one of the dancers from last night and she is blessed to be able to dance your story through the figure choreography with Heavey Quinn Academy. Your story has really impacted not just us but all of Boston Irish Community! keep writing and inspiring! :)
Soul Mama said…
Consider me re-inspired. I think I may have started the next book last night.