DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Take it slow toward a new groove

AMID THE COUNTY-STATE-NATIONAL recovery, what about a personal reopening?

Jessie Young and Chandra Johnson, women who spent their girlhoods with the Olympic Mountains as their backyard, spoke to me about their lives as artists and travelers — and how to go forward with care.

During the past year, the women were riding crests of creativity.

Johnson, violinist and vocalist with bands including The Sam Chase and the Untraditional, was poised to travel to music festivals across the United Kingdom this summer.

Young, a New York City choreographer, performer and teacher, had a plane ticket toward her hometown of Port Angeles to dance at May’s Juan de Fuca Festival.

“For me, that was one of the measures of a successful career, coming back to perform,” with her family in the audience.

Young’s parents are Cheryl and Philip Young, while her mentors are Ballet Workshop founder Sylvia Wanner, Port Angeles Dance Center founder Mary Marcial and educator Jolene Gailey. She graduated from Port Angeles High School in 2003 and took flight, moving to Chicago and then, four years ago, to New York.

Back in mid-March, Young felt her energy plummet to near zero. Her senses of smell and taste vanished. She sheltered inside her Brooklyn place; friends dropped off groceries. Weeks later, she emerged to a world where all summer shows, festivals and tours had been canceled.

Johnson, too, has had her performing calendar washed away as if by a downpour. She’s home on the Peninsula, volunteering with the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group.

Off the road long enough to have food in the fridge, she’s exploring the art of cooking.

Young, meanwhile, is about to don her mask, board a westbound plane and spend the season in Port Angeles. She’ll join her parents, living in a separate part of their house — after a strict 14-day quarantine.

Although she’s recovered from her bout with COVID-19, Young is taking no chances. Her rooms will become a studio for the online dance and Pilates classes she teaches for people all over the world.

Not that everything is peachy.

Losing work as a touring musician “has been devastating,” Johnson said, adding she can’t know whether live performance will ever be her life again.

Yet she describes herself as “really fortunate.”

Johnson, 29, holds a degree in environmental science, her other abiding passion alongside her music. She plans a return, online, to Western Washington University for a certificate in geographic information system mapping.

“I’ve had a lot of difficulties in my life,” including major injuries in two car wrecks, and the past year has been brutal, with surgeries, a breakup and a cancer scare, Johnson said.

She told me all of this in a clear, steady voice.

Then: “The only way you can keep moving forward is to stay positive, and find joy in the small things,” she said.

Lilacs in bloom in Port Angeles. People walking the Olympic Discovery Trail with their families.

For Young, this is a time to take it slow, and to let go of what she thought she’d be doing.

Which made me think: Personal reopening is a practice, like dance, like music. Settle into it, and on some later day, you’ll feel, as Young put it, a new groove.

Yet, “the sadness comes over me,” she admitted. “I really miss my work,” and the community of New York artists.

In some ways, the coming season reminds Young of childhood summers on the Olympic Peninsula. This is a place of perspective and mystery, she said, where “you can stand on a hill and look across the water,” and imagine the land on the other side.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be June 17.

Reach her at [email protected]

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