The great ballerina and Penn Alum Julie Diana Hench turns the tables on me

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Readers of this blog and of the Philadelphia Inquirer know that last year I had the exquisite privilege of meeting the Pennsylvania Ballet's principal ballerina, Julie Diana Hench, and her charismatic husband, Zak. Of watching the two of them rehearse for a performance of "Jewels." Of photographing and writing that story for the Inquirer (here).

I'd met Julie a few weeks earlier, at a Penn event, for Julie, among so many other things, presides over the University of Pennsylvania's Association of Alumnae. She'd invited me to speak with her and others on an evening I'll not forget. She'd introduced herself not as a dancer, but as a fellow writer (and, oh, a writer she most certainly is). I'd stumbled toward understanding, that first night, just who this Julie was.

This May 11th, Mother's Day, Julie, following an immaculate career, will be dancing her final dance with Zak on the Academy stage, her two young children no doubt somewhere near. I will be there, with my father, tears streaming. I have long been looking forward to treating my father to this event, and that feeling of anticipation deepened even more today, as I learned of the publication of a story that Julie had once written about me.

Her story begins like this:
In the back room of the Sweeten Alumni House, Beth Kephart nestled into the couch, holding a copy of her most recent book and pages from an unfinished manuscript. She smiled warmly at the 30 or so women sitting around her and graciously thanked us for inviting her to speak. A few words on why she wrote the book, some humble comments about its success, and she began to read selections from Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir
It’s not unusual for the Association of Alumnae to host esteemed guest speakers who are Penn alumnae and/or faculty. But this first meeting of 2013-14 was different due to the soft-spoken and intimate language of Kephart’s presentation – and the nature of her expertise. We sat on the edge of our seats, listening to the rhythmic sounds of her prose. We visualized the colorful passages depicting Kephart in class with students and we felt her emotion as she described her honest, sometimes emotional, reasons for writing the book. She graciously answered our questions: “What is the difference between memoir and autobiography?” and “As a perfectionist, do you ever feel satisfied with a final draft or what you see in print?” Her answers were candid yet thoughtful.
It continues here.

Julie Diana Hench, I will always treasure this. Look for me, in May. I will be there, every inch of me, for you, the song, and Zach.

All of you, give yourself these 55 seconds. Watch Julie and her Zach dance.


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