Dear Professor K,
Not so long ago, I had reached a point in which I would sit in class frozen in a state of anxiety and just sweat the entire time. Being in this state made it impossible for me to learn and I started to dread even going to campus…
I entered your class worried that the anxiety from my past would follow me into the present. I was also insecure about my body and worried about my lack of experience with dance. You drew us in with your charisma, joy, and love for dance. Some of us were very self-conscious about the fact that we were not dancers, but we took a leap of faith and gave dance a chance.
Thank you for believing in us. For learning our names and teaching us moves through joy and playful games. You were so down to earth, such an amazing dancer and taught us in such a way that helped us believe that we were dancers too. You reminded us that no matter what we were doing –moving, walking, and dreaming– that we were always dancing.
You believed in us and had high standards for us. Phones were not allowed in the studio and when we were not dancing we were expected to practice and create muscle memory. You were a seasoned professional and were the first African American to dance with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Being able to study under you was truly an honor and a transformative experience for me. In our dance lectures you showed us documentaries with many famous dancers and choreographers and you had worked with and rubbed elbows with every individual throughout your illustrious dance career. It was amazing to hear your stories and your first hand experiences with these individuals.
You helped me check off a goal that I had created years ago when you assigned us the project of creating life-maps / vision boards. In our final project you made it a point to give us the opportunity to share our stories. Your assignments and dances urged each of us to look deep within ourselves and find the strength to be comfortable and confident in our bodies.
You were always so observant and noticed the details that mattered. One morning when I was signed in, you noticed my sparkly engagement ring on my left ring finger. You asked me about the love of my life and asked if we had set a date. You also said that we were lucky to have found each other. About a month later you got to meet him at our final Winter Quarter Performance. At that point, none of us would have ever dreamed that that might be your last.
In spring quarter I was in your seminar group. We were discussing Romeo and Juliet and you asked us if any of us had ever had an experience where we didn’t feel like going out or attending a party, but did and as a result met someone special. No one else in our group had that kind of experience… Except me and so the class urged me to tell the story of how I met the love of my life. I told the story and everyone listened. It is hard to believe that that was the very last time that I saw you.
Throughout our time together, you often brought up the concepts of life, death, and the journey. You shared the fact that you had cancer a couple years ago with the class. The fact that it had changed you and your perspective on life. You often said that you were not afraid of death.
At the same time, my dad’s health was depreciating and you were so kind, concerned, and understanding. It was encouraging to have the support of my professors. You often asked throughout the quarter how my family was doing and said that you understood because you had suffered through the passing of your mother.
None of us ever realized just how much you were suffering. We heard you coughing every now and then and noticed that you walked very slowly, but we always had faith that you would get better and come back to teach us. Last monday, Amy told us that you had to go on medical leave. We sent our love and blessings for a steady recovery. It was truly a shock when we found out 2 days ago that you were in a coma and the doctors were going to take you off of your respirator. My heart sunk… We drew you pictures, danced, and sent our love and blessings your way. Then last night we found out that you passed away…
I have no words…
It doesn’t even feel like you are gone. All I can say is thank you for all you have done. You have changed my life and helped me discover a part of myself that I didn’t even know existed.
These were your words in my evaluation:
“Alana is an exceptional mover, who continued to show her love of dance in every choreographed piece offered; it was as if her whole body smiled. Alana worked hard and the results were evident in her final performance. Over the course of this program Alana has brought together concepts from dance and anatomy and physiology to create a strong interdisciplinary understanding of both.” -Professor Kabby Mitchell
I thank God that you are in heaven now and no longer have to suffer. Words cannot describe how much I will miss you, Professor K.
❤ Alana Gabo