The student’s job was to walk as fast as possible in whatever direction Gary aimed them. Until they felt the gentle hands of a classmate touch and turn them in a safe direction, then to proceed again as fast as they could walk until they were once again touched and turned.
A form of “trust.” Trust that everything would be all right. Take the chance. Be fully committed. A form of YES. AND, keep going as you are touched and turned by your trusted classmate.
Gary Austin would not start a class without doing this exercise. Sometimes he would step into the center. I found that to do this exercise successfully I had to clear my mind, commit to the task, listen for the touch and respond with the gentle turning to a safe direction.
I met Gary about 15 maybe 17 years ago and have worked with him in class, in groups and in private lessons over these years. He was a tough teacher and always honest. “Sam why the hell are you just standing there posing, do something.” “Why did you do that – you basically stomped on the scene until it was dead!”
And yet I kept coming back. I had the opportunity to do the “48th Street” exercise with him on two different occasions, once in New York and once in Washington. The exercise is to keep moving and talking without stopping for about 20 to 30 minutes. Try it sometime. During that exercise in Washington I discovered “Dr. Happy” – who is a major character in The Actual Dance.
Gary loved to teach and was an extraordinary talent himself. This though isn’t intended to be an obituary – you can see one here or here or here.
Gary became a loving friend over time. He kept encouraging my work. Pushing me and challenging me. Inspiring me.
He was part of a group of amazing people that have guided me on a journey that has radically changed who I am and what I do in the deepest sort of way. In the picture are some of those people, including Gary, Jeff Sweet, Larry Rosen, Michael Gelman, Wenndy MacKenzie (Gary's wife), Kenny Raskin, Hillary Chaplain, Carol Fox Prescott.
The last time I saw Gary and his wife was at my performance of The Actual Dance in Los Angeles in November 2015. Gary and Wenndy were both in tears at the end of the show and Gary came up and gave me a hug. He could not talk, just hugged and choked out, “I love you.”
“There is a dance, a dance that one day each and every one of us will dance.” This is the opening line in the play, The Actual Dance. On Saturday, April 1st, Gary stepped into the center of the dance floor, took a gracious bow and walked off the dance floor.
I love you Gary.