Older Martha’s Vineyard resident dances with the pros

Carol Loud demonstrates that she can act as well as dance, and that the two disciplines complement each other. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

At 76, Carol Loud — all five feet, two inches, 145 pounds of her — has just completed the best summer of her life. The West Tisbury piano teacher and church organist realized her life-long dream. She danced.

This past weekend at The Yard, Ms. Loud was one of the principle dancers in “The Great World Spins,” by award-winning choreographer and filmmaker Marta Renzi. A graceful, lyrical dance, it was the first of four programs performed at The Yard’s Bessie Schönberg Choreographers’ Residency Concert featuring dance students along with professional dancers from noted resident companies around the country.

“So this to me represents…” Ms. Loud stops and reconsiders, “no, it is the dream I had as a child.” Her soft, little girl voice fairly chirps. “And I am involved in a dance that is exactly what I am in reality. There is no young child here; I am old. Accept me. And I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it.”

Developed with both intension and improvisation, “The Great World Spins” expresses a narrative between a dancer, Sabrina Reppert, 13, of Oak Bluffs, as the young girl, and Ms. Loud, the older woman. “I’m looking at the world I would like to be a part of,” she says, “and maybe she sees me as her grandmother.”

As the performance concludes, Ms. Loud, dressed in white and moving slowly and elegantly among the other dancers, is wrapped in a symbolic shroud and carried off. “There’s a point in the dance where the dancers lift me and carry me,” she explains. “We’re all wrapped around each other, and I kind of drop back in their arms… And this whole summer has been like that — an embrace.”

Ms. Loud’s smile is almost shy. “I do a lot of walking around,” she says. “I kept wanting to do more dancey-dance. But I look so different, and I can’t do all the things they can do — still there is something I can do that shows that I do have something going for me. Well, that never happened when I was younger. I tried not to knock anybody down, not fall and break anything, but I was always in people’s way.”

Ms. Loud, who went to Boston University for a year and worked for WGBH, wound up getting a job at New York University that afforded her the opportunity to enroll as a student majoring in dance (“I was the worst possible student in the class”), then taught dance classes in Berkley, California.

She recounts her connect-the-dots resume of Island jobs and experiences since moving here in 1994, or maybe it was ’95: working as a teaching assistant, an accompanist for the Minnesingers and part-time librarian at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Plumb Hill School, the organist for the Methodist Church in Chilmark, the Unitarian Universalist Society in Vineyard Haven, and the Christian Scientist Church in Oak Bluffs, and, in her own inimitable way, a piano teacher.

“As much as I can, I follow what the child is doing,” Ms. Loud says of her piano students. “If they want to walk around my apartment and look at things, I let them. I let them be curious. Sometimes I play the piano and let them draw pictures. It’s more for me to connect with them, to develop a relationship, and to try to find the common language.”

Living in a small, piano-dominated apartment in her sister’s home, Ms. Loud always found a way to take dance classes, even working with autokinesis to “become more fluid.”

Her receptiveness to new experiences is fueled by her curiosity. She has participated in the puppet festival and in Built On Stilts, and says, “I love all these things. They fall together for me. One thing just led to another.”

It is not that she is that uninhibited or overconfident. “I worry about it a lot,” she admits. “I think, okay, you’re going to look funny. You’re going to look silly. People will laugh. But the older I got, the more I found that people accepted it.”

Ms. Loud has been dancing at The Yard for several years, but this year was different: she became a featured dancer. “Ego,” she exclaims. “I come in and — oh my God, they say good morning to me. I love it. We give hugs. Hug, hug, hug. I get shoulder massages. Oh my God, they are accepting me as one of this place. And I don’t have to think I’m not a good dancer, because no one is in competition with each other— who can get their leg the highest, or who can get in the front row.”

Ms. Loud has an elfin quality, made sprightly by her enthusiasm. “I was a hyperactive kid who was always into everything,” she says. “I would put one thing down and pick up another,” adding that some people might think of her as someone who can’t quite settle down.

One of her interests was organizing a dance class on the Island for children with physical limitations. When The Yard’s director, Wendy Taucher, told her about The Dancing Wheels, a group in Cleveland that danced in their wheelchairs, she got on a bus for Cleveland — “just like that” — and signed up for classes. “It was a wonderful experience,” she remembers, “but it wasn’t like this summer.”

Ms. Loud can’t say enough about The Yard and Ms. Taucher, and her desire to see them get the community recognition she feels they deserve.

“Since I was a little girl, looking back on my life, I’ve always felt I was outside the main stream,” Ms. Loud recalls, “wanting always to be a dancer, but not having the body for it, not having anything for it. But always, always dancing. And now, coming here to this Island, it’s come to a point in time where dancers are recognized not just for their amazing strength and pirouettes and leaps but also for what they can do more creatively away from the rigidity of formal ballet. I always had the idea that anybody who wants to dance, even if they are a klutz, should be able to dance. They have to find a way to do it that will work for them.”

And she repeats, “This has been the greatest summer of my life. It is even greater because I’ve watched my little dog, Mr. Otis, getting decrepit, and I feel that this is what’s happening to me. It’s just the process of aging. But because I’m single and I don’t have children, I am free to make my own choices within the range of my financial abilities. And now I’ve done what I really wanted to do… You can do your art and accept the age that you’re in. And have fun doing it.”