Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”1

I find starting things challenging but dreaming and anticipating the start of something is invigorating. In the dreaming resides a wealth of possible ways one might accomplish a task, and all these possibilities aren’t encumbered by the realities of time, skill, money, access, etc. They are just there, ships at a distance, providing me hope and delight. The decisiveness of officially starting something, means that I have chosen a pathway or first step forward, at the expense of another.

The truth is, writing a blog for the next 20 weeks is daunting to me. Where should I start? What do I want to share?  I am an artist whose artistic currency is movement, not the written word. In fact, I spend an exorbitant amount of time figuring out how to turn the written words of others into movement. It is a rarity for me to write for any reason other than an administrative task or an academic assignment. Sure, I brainstorm and journal around my choreographic ideas but once the movement starts taking shape I abandon all journaling and surrender to physicalizing my thoughts.

I have a collection of half-filled journals from every creation I have ever made. They all start the same, with research and lists of ideas and inspirations, and then onto diagrams and drawings of how I envision the dance covering space, and then there is an abrupt stop. Blank page after blank page marking the time I am physically making movements. Then the writing returns and there are a few pages of notes, corrections, and details about the work, lighting ideas ,and maybe a costume sketch or two. Unceremoniously the journal ends, the work has been fully birthed into movement, and there is no need for my written word as a support system.

Helen French on the shore of Lake Erie during the making of the dance film “Les Falaises”.

Although writing is not one of my passions, I am a voracious reader.  When I was a child I was never without a book. If I wasn’t dancing I was reading.  I was constantly being reminded that it was not polite to read at the dinner table, or in church, or in a restaurant, or on a date. So, it makes sense that when I started thinking about how to begin my professional artist blog opening lines from beloved works of literature, poetry, and songs began rattling around in my head; calling to me like old friends.

“Let’s start at the very beginning,  A very good place to start.”2

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”3

“somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond.4

“But, you may say, we asked you to speak…”5

“Call me Ishmael.”6


Call me Helen. Join me in the coming weeks as I share a little more about myself.




[1] Zora Hurston Neale, Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937.

[2]Rodgers, Richard, Do-Re-Mi, 1959.

[3]  Genesis 1:1

[4 ]somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond”, cummings, e.e.,1931.

[5 ]Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, 1929.

[6] Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1951.

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