I am first and foremost, a visual artist with a bit of talent for writing, a penchant for studying classical ballet and a strong desire to bring all together in this blog—Dancing Forward—a personal journal I share with you.

Each of my preceding blogs: Called by Name, Drawing Sacred Circles and Genesis Continuum, were forums serving times past. The aftermath of the 2016 election is creating a somewhat volatile and highly uncertain era in which to live out my seventh and eighth decades. Dancing Forward will allow me a voice to not only publish commentary, but with candor, wit and beauty, share the things in life that are meaningful to me.

Authoritarianism, Political Appointees, Politics, United States of America

Who is Rex Tillerson

Silent and nearly invisible for months; now in March 2017, he is flying off to Asia, leaving behind the American press core. This is a huge departure from procedural norm. He says he isn’t “a big media press access person.” No kidding!

In the January 2017 issue of In These Times, Antonia Juhasz writes: “Rex Tillerson Could be America’s Most Dangerous Secretary of State—The former Exxon Mobil CEO spent his entire adult life working for a company that has left a trail of carnage—from human rights abuses to the destruction of the environment—in its ruthless pursuit of oil.

This highly readable article gives us background information revealing a character profile beginning with this quote:

My philosophy is to make money.”—Rex Tillerson

At the time this article was published we knew very little about Tillerson other than that he had no governing experience; ran Exxon like the king of the private nation of oil+gas; professed no particular views concerning his duties as Secretary of State; made no appointments to his department; was a close friend of Vladimir Putin; kept a low public profile; and chose to ignore questions put to him by the press. Now, two months later, we are learning more and what we learn is deeply troubling on both the domestic and international levels.

This man aptly known as T-Rex to his colleagues for the past 45 years, inspires an immediate fear and abhorrence that goes beyond the disgust and revulsion I feel toward Stephen Bannon and several others. I look at the photos of Tillerson and see eyes glaring back at me, somewhat menacingly. I study his facial expressions, take note of his body language and I sense two personas residing in that body. I trust neither one and decide T-Rex—a name his colleagues have used in his regard for the past 45 years—is an appropriate pseudonym.

The Secretary of State is the chief foreign affairs advisor. The position requires tact, diplomacy and a commitment to protecting and promoting our interests in common with those of the world’s nations. Rex Tillerson hasn’t said or done anything yet that indicates his understanding, possession and acceptance of these skills. If he is unable or unwilling to adopt these skills, he may very well be America’s most dangerous Secretary of State. Deregulation and deconstruction of the State Department has already begun, just as it has in several government departments. At present he, Rex Tillerson—T-Rex, is the State Department. To my knowledge, he has yet to add supporting staff members.

We appear to be reliving the days of the Wild West. Was this the time America was great? Watch Rex and everyone in the administration, not what is said, but what is done.

The art in this posting is my composite of images from the following:

China expert: Tillerson’s plan for the South China Sea would ‘certainly end up in a shooting war with China’, Alex Lockie, Business Insider, January 13  //  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson snubs UN request for climate change meeting, Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent, @Montaukian, March 2  //  Journalists outraged by Tillerson’s plan to travel without press, Brian Stelter, @brianstelter , March 10  //  Rex Tillerson Could Be America’s Most Dangerous Secretary of State, Antonis Juhasz, In These Times, Jan 9  //  https://pixabay.com/en/t-rex-dinosaur-park-roaring-1114628/


Constitution, Democracy, Foreign Interference, Grief, Politics, Resistance, Stronger Together, United States of America

Holding the Light

Discouraged • Horrified • Worried • Anxious • Grieving • Hopeless • Depressed • Exhausted • Wounded • Devastated • Betrayed • Angry

All of these words fit me some of the time, all of the time, most of the time. The world has been turned around in the last 50 years while we were asleep on the other side of the planet. Despite the fact that America is a government by the people and for the people, I had very little interest in politics. I voted in the primaries and the presidential elections but what I’d learned in my high school civics class was forgotten—set aside—irrelevant to my personal, creative life. Like many Americans I had a ‘they’ mentality. But since the Preamble of the Constitution clearly states…we, not they and that sets the the stage…it goes like this:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It was the Trade Center attack, coinciding with some personal experiences, when I began taking notice. Truthfully, I didn’t really begin to understand all that much until the devastating failure of the 2016 presidential election forced me to search for answers.

Recently, Democratic Congressman, Eric Salwell of the House Intelligence Committee compiled and made public a reference guide laying out open-source, non-classified information that we, as Americans, currently know about the Russia Connection to the Trump campaign. With so much confusion happening every day, this qualifies as a public service. It is hard not to see collusion between this administration and the Russian government. The graphic included in this report is hard to ignore in that regard. I hope you will take the time to download, and read it. In addition, an interview with Rep Salwell can be seen on YouTube.

Now, in the winter of my life, I say the words: We the People, and I am all at once deeply
commissioned to fulfill my obligation to uphold and protect, and at the same time deeply terrified. I am all of those words at the beginning of this essay. Now that more and more is known of the ties between Russia and the Trump administration, it is hard for me to sit still. I want my country and my culture back and I want it right now. I want everyone to have whatever part of the American Dream rightfully belongs to him or her.

Russia has one basic goal: to destabilize all the western democracies and to have uncensored access to all oil and gas wealth that the world has to offer. We the people, standing together make holding the light possible.

The art at the top of this blog post is my own, original work. If you wish to use it in your own personal application, please credit: Naomi M. Pridjian, visual artist.

Democracy, new not normal, Politics, Resistance, United States of America

Longing for Light

Today, the first lines of a hymn, popular in the Mennonite Church, poked its way through my memory chamber:

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.

Waiting in darkness, memories of things past flood my brain as personal checks and balances against staying on political alert too long. My brain knows I need a break better than my body does. As the melody seeps through my head, I feel a longing for the light of things past—the true and normal—before my country and the world around it became captive to narcissistic insanity and the lawless amassing of wealth and power at ever-increasing cost to the welfare of the remaining 99% of us.

It was a time not long ago, when America, the country of my immigrant parents, was strong and reliable despite it’s imperfections…the country where I was so lucky to have been born…the country that elected its first black president—but for the cunning collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin now coming to light—would also be celebrating its first woman president as well. That was my America.

Today everything is changed in an instant. Gone are the checks and balances that kept America and the world from spinning out of control. What we have now is a three-ring circus. Under the big top is the Russian/Trump/Oligarchy connection; in rings two and three, are the nefarious leaders of the imploding GOP and it’s Alt-Right soldiers of fortune. As pitchman, ringmaster and shill is Donald J. Trump, without whose desperate, single-minded antics, the show behind the show and beneath the floorboards, could not go on.

The 45th president, inexperienced and emotionally unfit to be the most powerful leader of the world, is exhibiting more and more pathology every day. He is surrounded by ideologues dedicated in varying degrees, to the deconstruction of American culture and the administrative state. This is not Watergate burglary, version 2. It is far, far beyond Watergate. Although a difficult charge to prove without the full consensus and participation of the Republican Party, treason may well be the bottom line.

Longing for light, we wait in darkness. Longing for truth, we turn to you.

In this new-not-normal darkness I see the March sun shining outside my window with promise and hope. I drift off into recounting the normal yesterdays we spent enjoying beautiful Cape Cod…the long walks on the beach…the landscape stretching out to the arced horizon, the sound of vastness, the capricious weather, the sun as it fell into the sea each night, leaving only the moon and stars to brighten that brave peninsula of land…the friends and family that once filled my life and now, in the end, residing within me.

Standing on the beach twenty five years ago, looking out across the thousands of watery miles to the European/Asian landmasses, I thought about time in those days and decided it was a mystery…one I could not know until I stepped beyond the now and into the timeless, fathomless future. That hasn’t changed. It’s still a mystery, but I am much closer to the stepping off point now. I am stardust, the same as you. We are all connected at the core of life. That is why it is so painful to live through this era of deep divisiveness and why at times, it feels like betrayal. In the end, when we each step off into our own fathomless sea of timelessness, wealth will have no place at all. We are stardust…all of us…elements that may have begun billions of years ago. That energy is our unfathomable ancestry. It’s the same with every living thing on our planet. We, and all there is, are all connected.

Spirituality, Uncategorized

We Are Stardust


When I was a child, beginnings and endings were recurring questions that had no answers. This story is not about answers…it’s about possibilities.

A decade ago I was at my peak with visual memoir. I had just completed a collection online as well as a gallery exhibition and was looking forward to additional gallery venues, when stage 4, B-Cell Lymphoma took over my body, and my life, as I’d known it for sixty-seven years.

During the six months of treatment—existing as a repository for toxic chemical warfare on the offending cells—I spent a lot of time in a big recliner in the living room. One night I had an exceptional experience. The room was dark and I was alone, feeling helpless with despair and loneliness, when suddenly I was no longer sitting in or on anything at all, but surrounded by a velvety, airless, vast darkness that had no physical dimension. I was suspended in timelessness and surrounded by an atmosphere that held me as part of itself. It was brief—not more than a few minutes—maybe five. I did not then, nor do I now, feel that I was hallucinating. It was a somatic sense of knowing that lay outside my normal parameters of experience. What I experienced that night was personal, intimate and life changing. It was the beginning of a personal journey that would be singularly ongoing without definitive answers. I would travel along many theological highways, seeking understanding that would help me participate in a belief system that increasingly contradicted the experience I’d had.

I have no answers. Only this: all the bodies of earth and of the universe contain the same elements…we are all made of stardust and we are all connected, from the smallest life form on earth to the largest configurations of the cosmos. The Big Bang and its aftermath are answer enough for many, yet I still wonder as I did in childhood, where is the beginning and where is the end…where does the road go…will I know when I die or will I simply slip back into the darkness of stardust as I experienced it that long ago night? When I tried to put words to that experience, I could only say that I’d seen the face of God, but now I think what I saw was what I felt: the continuous loop of creativity…the grounding, life-giving god energy that is the home from which I’ve come and to which I will return.



Sunday Afternoon at the Ballet: Game Changers

Chicago is rich in arts and culture, from the performing arts to Millennium Park, to its 16 miles of lakeside expressway running alongside the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This is where I grew up, attended art school and heard my first Friday afternoon concert in program-coverthe bird’s nest at Symphony Hall in the 1950s. A lot has changed, expanded and improved since I left the city and migrated to the wide, tree lined streets of suburbia 40 years ago. The two changes that excite me the most are the restoration and renovation of The Auditorium Theater (a landmark built in 1837), and the permanent residence of the Joffrey Ballet (formerly of New York City).

As soon as the individual tickets go on sale for the coming season, I call the box office and get the best seats I can afford. Last August I got two center seats—first row, dress circle—to see Game Changers, a trio of contemporary, classically performed ballets: Fool’s Paradise, INFRA, and Year of the Rabbit.

Game changers program.jpgProgram cover and notes for February 19th matinee.

Fool’s Paradise • Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon • Music: Joby Talbot

Fool’s Paradise was my favorite piece in this trilogy. It blends classical technique with modern choreographic sensibility. Bathed in warm light and minimally costumed, the dancers bring flawless classical technique to exquisite solos, duets, trios and sculptural tableaux in this work of intense beauty from choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, who says of this piece:

game-changers Game Changers Preview: YouTube video frame

“I wanted to capture the innate drama of the music without telling a literal story. It’s as if the couples, trios, and groupings are passing through a fantasy realm reminiscent of the fairyland of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”


fools-paradise-2Photos: Cheryl Mann

INFRA • Choreographer: Wayne McGregor • Music: Max Richter
An exploration of looking beneath the surface in bold, stylized movement.

The narrow strip of LED screen running the full width of the stage featured an endless stream of electronic figures monotonously moving through daily life, while below, dancers perform movements describing internal conflicts and agonies of decision, doubt and hope lying under the skin. Of this piece, choreographer Wayne McGregor says:

“…I have attempted to create a series of human intimacies, bared from under the skin—prosaic, imperfect, and fragile.’  ‘…to expose the very signs of life, physical empathies and emotional inferences ….’  ‘INFRA has become simply about people.”

Had I seen it last year, pre-November election or the year before, I would have enjoyed its beauty, while adding it to the ‘meaning vs. monotony’ themes popular in many art galleries in the 1980s and 90s. Maybe it was because I wasn’t feeling quite well yet…or maybe I’ve seen too much of it. In any case, in this current time of unprecedented political upheaval in America, I found INFRA unsettling and disturbing. Nevertheless, the dancing, the lighting and staging, were superb except for the LED crawl, whose lighting intensity I found distractingly out of balance with the dancing “story” below.


infra-compositeTwo photos above, Infra Trailer—Royal Ballet: YouTube video frames


infra-1-yoshi-and-jeraldene-mendoza Two photos above: Cheryl Mann

Year of the RabbitChicago Premiere
Choreographer: Justin Peck • Music: Sufjan Stevens

Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit—a collaboration with singer-song writer Sufjan Stevens—is set to Steven’s, Enjoy Your Rabbit, an electronica album and song cycle based on the Chinese zodiac, where the rabbit is seen as a tame creature representing hope for a long time. (The rabbit is the fourth in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac sign: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023…)

year-of-rabbit-1Photo: Pacific Northwest Ballet, YouTube frame

Year of the Rabbit weaves its corps de ballet ensemble of dancers into intricate and architectural forms with grace, precision and whimsy, leaving me with a much-needed uplift after the somber quality of INFRA.



year-of-the-rabbit_yoshihisa-araiThree photos above: Cheryl Mann

Let’s not wait until 2023. Enjoy your rabbit where ever you find it in these difficult times. Enjoy it and dance with your feet, your hands, your head, your heart…as well as you can…as often as you can. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


Personal note: Yoshihisa Arai (above) was a guest artist last year in the role of the Harlequin in Salt Creek Ballet’s Harlequinade. Because I am an adult student at this school, I had the pleasure of watching him dance in the company rehearsal room. Quite thrilling. It was one of those experiences that erases time and all externals for a few minutes and leaves an indelible memory.

Democracy, Resistance, Stronger Together

Thoughts and Prayers


May the road rise up to meet us…may the flowers of life bloom in our hearts. I am profoundly grateful to the defenders of our democracy…the press, the politicos, the strong, the fragile…the private sector and the public…the young, the old. May we live through this profoundly frightening time to see the restoration and the improvement of all we hold dear.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Aging, Constitution, Democracy, new not normal, Political Appointees, Presidential Election, Resistance, United States of America

It’s Not the Flu, It’s Trumpitis

November 9, 2016, news of Donald J. Trump’s nth hour presidential win over Hillary Clinton sent shock waves throughout America and much of the world. It was inconceivable that a person with no governing experience, no understanding of foreign affairs, a penchant for exhibitionism, a deep need to be admired at any cost…a man braggadocious and deceitful, vulgar, vengeful…a man with a distinctive authoritarian style…could garner enough votes to win the presidency. But, by the narrowest of margins, he won the Electoral College while Clinton remained astonishingly ahead in the popular vote. Stunning!

November stumbled into December and then January. Public response swung back and forth between shock, horror, dismay and dread as each new day brought more and more outrageous statements and threats, along with the continued refusal to expose his business associations and tax returns; as well as a refusal to divest his holdings in a blind trust, as is a customary at for the most powerful office in the world.

Then came the cabinet picks—family members put in strategic positions and a stable of hard right billionaires completely devoid of experience and expertise—some of them egregiously connected to self-interest. But the most alarming appointment was Steven K. Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor to the president. Among other questionable characteristics, Bannon was a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and executive chairman of the nefarious, far-right Breitbart News Network. This statement made by Bannon to The Daily Beast in 2014 sends chills down the spines of all citizens familiar with the Leninist era: “I’m a Leninist…Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too…I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

I became an activist by necessity along with millions of American citizens determined to protect the civil rights afforded by our constitution, and prevent the destruction of American Democracy. The Preamble to the Constitution begins:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

We the people. I had never been particularly political, but I, along with everyone else, learned as we went along. The road was rocky—the learning painful. Ballet class with its structure and discipline was my time out, when I could reassemble and fortify myself for another round of resistance. But moderation has never been my strong suit.

By late January this year’s viral nemesis hit me—cut me down like a tree in the forest. It is especially virulent for older people like me, coming on slowly like a thief in the night, and then grabbing hold for many weeks. It was not the flu…it was not the return of my lymphoma…it was bronchitis, caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). It is spread through tiny droplets of liquid from the coughs or sneezes of someone who’s infected. The infection (which I have dubbed Trumpitis), causes the smallest airways in the lungs (the bronchioles) to become infected and inflamed. Healthy people usually experience mild, cold-like symptoms and recover in a week or two. But RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. I give credit for narrowly avoiding hospitalization to my high fitness level through daily ballet class and good nutrition.

Since I am first and foremost a visual artist, I created this image to show you how it felt to be drowning in mucosal fluid for two of the three weeks (and counting) that I have been down with Trumpitis.


It is said that learning comes from making mistakes. I made the mistake of going full steam ahead, overriding fear, not listening to the warning signs my body was giving me, and not even paying attention when I first saw the quote somewhere on Facebook: Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. Our democracy is fragile, requiring that We the People protect and defend. I have much to learn in managing the years ahead as a marathon, when I am still so unnerved at the prospect of losing much that will be needed as my seventh decade folds into the eighth. I am not good at standing firm on shifting ground. I am not as fearless as some of my friends may think.

At the end of one’s seventh decade, it is normal to think a bit about endings. The vast majority of the voting public wanted reliable, equitable and credible change in our government, not upheaval, anarchy, kleptocracy, revolution. This is not how growing old should look in America.

Be careful out there. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.