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

By Helen French

“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.
. . .

Helen French is part of photographer Tom Kramer’s upcoming project, “The Other Side of Dance”

. . .
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, then 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 for Creative Pinellas, 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.

Explore Helen Hansen French’s work here


Helen French performs at the
Creative Pinellas 2021 Arts Annual
on November 14 from 6:45-7 pm
in the collaborative work, Sparks in the Rain.
Outdoor performances of music, dance, poetry,
musical theatre, literary readings and live painting
take place November 13-14 from 1-8 pm
Find the schedule and ticket information here
. . .
Helen Hansen French and Fernando Chonqui rehearsing “Sparks in the Rain”


[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”, e.e. cummings,1931.

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

[6] Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1951.



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