Walking with John

Walking with John: A walk, a talk, a dance, a book

By John deJong

Things that nourish the soul.

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s essential Cooked (2013: Penguin), while I take mass transit to and from work. Mass transit, as in I transit my mass/ass by walking, while I read. It’s just over a mile, but enough for me to read seven or eight pages each way. The pavement is generally smooth, so I only have to look up when I cross streets. I’m halfway through.

Pollan makes the case that the evolution of cooking has played a critical role in human evolution, freeing more of the nutrition in food to feed our hungry, oversized brains.

This morning I was reading about the role of salt in cooking meat. The addition of salt early in the cooking process opens up the cellular structure to allow the sauce to permeate the flesh and vice versa and to allow our small stomachs to absorb more nutrients.

I remind myself to slow down. Chew. Digest and absorb.

A week earlier I’d attended the Thomas Moore lecture, put on by the Jung Society of Utah, at the Salt Lake Public Library. Moore, author of Care of the Soul and Soul Mates, described himself as a psychological polytheist. At 76, he was certainly in a position to share his wisdom. His philosophy in a nutshell: “Light up. Things are never what they seem. When faced with a choice of three, say yes.”

He encouraged his audience to be involved in the arts. “We need the arts for the soul. Art exercises the poetic imagination. Imagination is the soul’s organ. Live by more magic, less logic. Trust.”

Because I am reading Cooked, it occurs to me that the arts play a role similar to salt in the development of our psyche, or soul.

For me, dance has always been one of the best tonics for the soul. I am not a student of dance, nor a critic. I just enjoy watching it . Once a show has gotten under way I find myself in a reverie—my mind opening up to the sauce, you could say.

I have been a longtime fan of the University of Utah modern dance department and our two major modern dance companies, Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. I like to dance, too, when no one is watching.

Joan Woodbury

Someone who has been nourishing souls via the arts for a long time called the office last week. Joan Woodbury, co-founder with Shirley Ririe of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, had some information about the making of Carnival of Souls, a 1962 film featured in the October CATALYST. I took the opportunity to make an appointment with Joan, whom I had helloed at any number of dance performances through the decades. We had never had a chance to sit down and get to know each other.

We met in her office at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Here’s what she told me: In 1962 when Carnival of Souls producer/director Herk Harvey started filming, he contacted Joan, a young dance professor in the University of Utah’s modern dance department, to choreograph the grande finale dance scene at Saltair. She gathered dancers from her department  and headed for the lake. (We didn’t want to spoil your film-watching pleasure so we consciously didn’t mention that scene in last month’s story.)

Joan remembers her troupe navigating the rotten spots on what was once the largest enclosed dance floor in the world as they whirled madly in their ghoulish getups (they had done each other’s makeup) to the pounding, eerie organ score. She wonders what happened to the film footage that ended up on the editing room floor; it would be interesting to see, 54 years later—the dancers now septuagenarians or greater, the fabulous dance hall long gone.

Back in town, the dancers headed for the elegant (and very proper) Hotel Utah where they roamed the lobby. 1960s flash mob, Utah style. I wish I could’ve been there.

Ririe Woodbury and all the other arts opportunities at hand, big and small, are about opening up and enriching the cellular structure of our souls. Like salt, the arts are critical to our wellbeing. Like books. Like walking.

John deJong has retired his long-running Don’t Get Me Started column. We look forward to hearing about his future books and walks.

This article was originally published on November 1, 2016.