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The Arts of the Fathers?

You’ve probably noticed the colorful abstract drawings illustrating these posts and my class offerings (you can see more of them here and here). I started them for the recent 90 Day Dance Party. I wanted to make a drawing every day for the Love Notes, but I didn’t have the energy to make cartoons–which require meaning. So I set the low bar of just enjoying combining lines and color. I pick a color I like and draw a squiggle. Then I pick a few colors that vibrate with the squiggle and decorate it, adding little doodads and coloring things in. It is incredibly soothing.

And then a package arrived.

It was from my cousins. It contained a scrap of lace from my grandfather’s business (which failed in the Depression), and a framed piece of my father, Walter Thabit’s art. My cousin Ruthie had given it as a gift to her mother (Walter’s sister, Ethel). After Ethel’s death, the piece had been collecting dust. My cousins had planned to come visit and bring it to me, but Covid happened. So they mailed it.

Dad was a doodler. I have quite a bit of his art, since his ladyfriend Fran gave me her entire stash after his death and before hers (he made this sign for her, which she carried in every Pride parade for close to 50 years). But I hadn’t looked at that stash in years. And this picture….

My Dad is/was city planner Walter Thabit, primary designer of the Cooper Square plan, hence the long meeting.

How did I end up channeling my father’s art?

The squiggles, the decorations, the coloring in. Just a few colors. Highly abstract.

But Walter used colored pens and paper.

I do mine on my phone (I recently upgraded from a used Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to a used Note 8). I use Sketchbook, which is a free app. Sketchbook has layers, so each color is on its own layer, making it to revise and edit drawings.

His art was lots and lots of lines. Way more than I used.

So I started to experiment with lines.

Here is one of the drawings I did to explore and honor Walter’s art (it’s part of Dadage series–like hommage, only for my Dad). Just red and black on white. All the eyes make it look a little NorthWest Coast native art to me (I didn’t plan the eyes, just circles–but they turned into eyes ; ). And yeah, I used a broader nib. I did not have a three-hour meeting to fill–though it took at least 3 hours to do this. But now I have a new thing to do in meetings or long phone calls besides playing solitaire!

As I played with his style, I noticed a few things.

Walter was bored at meetings. I mean, look at what he did in the picture above. That must have been a long-ass meeting. Like me, he must have needed something to focus his attention.

He had one hell of a steady hand. As I have experimented with his style, I have had to erase and redraw a LOT. Walter never erased. He couldn’t. He used a pen.

And finally, as I carefully drew in my own lines, I realized that his art is remarkably Arabic. Look at all those lines and outlines and geometric shapes! All that Arabic geometric art! Walter could care less about being Arab, yet there it is in his art. How the heck did that happen?

Nature or Nurture?

Walter’s family was not particularly artistic (they were very Christian, another thing he didn’t care about). I’ve wondered about these things before, as Oriental dance came so easily to me and felt like home from the very beginning–but neither his family nor my family danced (Walter did dance, latin and ballroom, with Fran, but we never saw them do that). My fam was artistic, as my mother made damn sure of our cultural education. Ironically, she introduced us to Eastern music. Though she did not make art or dance herself, she inspired our family.

So art wasn’t nurture for my father, just as dance wasn’t nurture for me.


Epigenetics are heritable traits or characteristics that do not affect the DNA. The damage from Adverse Childhood Experiences, for example, can be passed down through epigenetics. The horrors of the holocaust, slavery, starvation, these things can mark and scar us through the generations. What traumas do we carry from our forbears? For Black folks in the USA, the inner scars from slavery still sear. For White folks, especially those who lived in slave states, the effects of the horror of observing (or engaging in), vicious brutality also persists. Hence some of the highly charged reactions around race in our country.

All of these are bad things. Why not good things, too? Art. Dance. A taste for certain flavors or foods. What links to culture do we carry inside us, waiting to be discovered?

Art takes us funny places.

And it can take us back to times before we were alive. What is your ethnic background? What did you not get through your fam that called to you anyway?

One of the things from my culture that took a while to appreciate was classic Arabic songs–tarab songs and such, originally intended as listening music made by great composers for great singers. But now we dance to this music, especially the overtures. Songs like Alf Leila wa Leila, Wahashtini, and so forth. These complex compositions feature surprising shifts in rhythm, maqam, tempo, and mood.

Most of the dance we see to these songs is choreographed and highly articulated–but our dance is one of improvisation and fluid feeling. So let’s enjoy them the way they are meant to be enjoyed.

Our next Fun Class Deep Dive is Improvisation to Classic Songs.
Each week for five weeks we will look closely at one song, it’s structure and moods, and also dance though at least one other song –for fun. So we will look closely at five songs and dance with joy to several more. Learn to relax and express your own feeling from the music in the moment!

Improvisation to Classic Songs

Tuesdays, 4PM EDT. Five Weeks, Sept 8 – Oct 6. Tuesdays at 4PM ET.
Registation is now open.

And if old or new stress is making life hard, come Tune In with us!

Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times

Five Weeks, September 11-Oct 16 (no class Oct 9).  Fridays, 4-4:30 PM EDT

Registation is now open.

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