Susan Helene Kramer
I was born just after Christmas, 1946, during
a blizzard in Baltimore, Maryland USA, the first of 3 children to my
individualistic parents, Jane Frances Kaspar and
Walter Roland Kramer. My childhood was happy and adventurous in a lush and
peaceful country setting near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Long before my
family lived at Fair Oaks, native American Indians
made their home on this fertile peninsula of land between the two rivers of the
larger Severn and our winding Magothy. I can still
hear the gong ringing several hundred yards across the river at Girl Scout Camp
Whippoorwill on summer evenings as my brother, sister, and I took our evening
baths, bar of soap in hand, at the gently lapping river's edge on the beach in
front of our home. In contrast, on frigid winter days we enjoyed ice skating in
the little cove to the west of our house where the river froze over more
securely than right out front facing the broad expanse.
My parents were great influences within this rich country setting. In her youth, my mother wrote poetry, was editor-in-chief of her high school yearbook, and loved singing, playing the piano, and after marriage, gardened and sewed creatively, (of which I was one of the happy recipients in the clothes she designed and made for my 'Tiny Tears' and 'Toni' dolls). She spent a lot of time teaching me to sew, and then gave me material to create as I wished. Today I carry on her tradition of creative sewing by making fabric dolls for my growing number of grandchildren, gardening and bird watching. Several times a day in my pre-school years she would read me the stories from my 'Little Golden Books'; I learned to read by memorizing those stories. In later years she enjoyed embroidery as a relaxation along with her career as an executive secretary (business manager) with Henry W. Jenkins Funeral Home, the oldest funeral home in the United States, which during my childhood was owned by my father's uncle, Major General David Henry Jenkins, who along with his wife, my Aunt May, (my paternal grandmother's sister), raised my father at 'Fair Oaks on the Magothy'. As an adult, when I would give her a water color painting, mother would write a poem to go with it. An example is a painting of flames coming up through a piano key board; mother wrote "Flames of soul make fingers toll."
After serving in WWII my father went to college and became an aerospace engineer and worked on the guidance system of the Explorer I; growing up he played the piano and violin, and at age 16 won the Maryland State Championship in long distance running. During WWII he served in the U.S. Navy as a radio engineer, and while stationed in the Panama Canal additionally served as ship-board lifeguard. He began taking me sailing when I was 2 years old, and I learned swimming, and over the years more advanced sailing and diving from him. My father designed and drew the blueprints, and with very little help, constructed our family home beginning when I was 6; I followed him with interest every step of the way, providing an invaluable resource for my own house design and construction work as an adult. But, especially, I'd like to mention a memory that fired my own imagination, and that is that before my brother, sister and I went to sleep at night my father told us a new story in the continuing adventures of 'Johnny Flitter-Footer', a character my father invented who always did something adventurous and fantastic.
And, I am grateful to both of my parents for driving me around to and from lessons and school activities over the years; waiting patiently while rehearsal went over many times; I'll bet they were glad when I finally was old enough to drive.
Beginning in my middle teens I pursued a
brief career in classical ballet, followed by teaching academics through
movement and rhythm; simultaneously drawing, painting, and becoming an abstract
color constructionist, house designer and writer.
(The photo above from August, 1952, shows my parents, sister, brother and me.)
My mother wrote about me in my baby book that
at 12 months of age "does lots of 'jabbering'
especially with music," and at 15 months she noted "sang Rock a bye
Baby." At four years of age my aunt, May Powell Jenkins, sent me to dance
lessons with Adelaide Molter in our community of
Severna Park, Maryland, because I was, more often than not, happily skipping
and singing on the lawns or around the house. Later that year, in July, 1952, I
was selected to play the part of an 'angel' leading first-communicants in a
procession into St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. (In this photo I
am the 2nd angel from the right.) Looking back, these two events were very
early beginnings of my dance and spiritual interests.
My aunt and uncle, May Powell and Major General David Henry Jenkins, owned the plantation 'Fair Oaks on the Magothy' where I grew up. After their deaths when I was about 12 years old, the main house was rented to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church as a temporary rectory. We had dinner with the 3 priests in residence occasionally, and one of the priests, Father Riepe, was instrumental in the ecumenical movement in the Catholic Church at that time. This exposure bore fruit in myself and my writings when at 30 I took an interest in the ecumenical movement and began studying world religions, and the philosophy and practice of yoga.
During elementary school years I took piano lessons and music theory from Patricia McKinsey, a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and in my later teens I learned to play the autoharp, castanets, ankle bells, and percussion instruments, and still later, in my early 30s learned to play the harmonium (while chanting in Sanskrit). I am the vocalist (Shuchi) leading the Sanskrit responses on the audio tape "Integral Yoga Kirtan" led by Sri Swami Satchidananda.
All through childhood I was devotional; my
mother sang in the church choir, and as a preschooler I enjoyed singing the
hymns while sitting, hidden at her feet, in the choir box at Sunday morning
mass. At age 7, I remember that the first lesson in my midnight blue
paper-covered 'Baltimore Catechism' was to know, love, and serve God in this
world. That message inspired my life; I took it to heart. One of my earliest
self-imposed spiritual practices was that daily, from the age of 9, after going
to bed at night, I said a rosary with the intention that it be for the soul in
purgatory who needed it the most. To me this devotion sprang naturally from my
family environment; two of my maternal grandmother's sisters were nuns with the
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a first cousin on my father's side is a nun
with Little Sisters of the Poor, and a 2nd cousin is a priest. Though my roots are
in the Catholic religion, as an adult my heart has blossomed in love and
respect for the many religions in which mankind participates; my philosophy
is that we are each one of the parts; part of the One.
Events After Age 30
On the eve of my 30th birthday which happened to be the 30th of December, 1976, I wrote in my diary that I felt a change was going to happen the next day. At the time I was taking my first spiritual retreat, which was being conducted at La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, California, sponsored by the Integral Yoga Institute. During a talk by Amma Kidd on my 30th birthday I was inspired to devote my life to karma yoga, which is self-giving service to God through service to humanity.
As the mother of several children my life was already filled with family service; the new dedication was more a change of attitude to see others beyond my children as family, too. I felt joy in my new attitude of feeling part of our world family; I felt that warm fuzzy feeling of comfort that until that time I had just felt when in the company of my family and close friends, and this cozy feeling has stayed with me since.
After several years studying and practicing the aspects of yoga presented by the Integral Yoga Institute including meditation, I began writing comments from my personal insight and inspiration in the format of letters to those asking me questions. The first collection of letters made into 30 essays was written during the 3 month period between September 9th and Christmas, 1982. On December 22, 1982, with the blessing of Sri Swami Satchidananda, I took a formal vow (I had already informally done so on my 30th birthday) to serve God through service to humanity. After several years of dedicated service to the Integral Yoga Institute Sri Swami Satchidananda blessed my independent spiritual work in our conversation of July 20, 1987, the one year anniversary of the dedication of LOTUS - the Light of Truth Universal Shrine in Buckingham, Virginia.
(photo at right above is of me in the cloister hallway of Onze Lieve Vrouw (our loving mother) Cathedral in Maastricht, The Netherlands, taken February 10, 2001, by Stan Schaap - the floor pavers are over tombs of past dignitaries.)
In 1988 Coleman Publishing, which published the first 16 editions of A Course in Miracles, published 130 of my essays and poems under the title Relating from Light and Love which is now out of print, though, I have uploaded the main body of the work to God Speaks through the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual woman I admire: Pema Chodron
On my 50th birthday in 1996, with joy, I
began putting my spiritual writings on the internet http://www.susankramer.com and have been
adding to them regularly. I also published a dance text to the web that I had
written in 1978 called Free to Move While Learning the 3Rs in an
expanded version under the new title Body-Mind Rhythmic Movement.
So far the Rhythmic Movement
Dance Series holds more than ten texts on dance for all ages and abilities,
and related articles on music and dance.
Now that my 5 children are adults, and I have retired from the work force, I continue, more than ever, to write essays from questions asked by my web site readers both on practical spirituality and dance. I especially love writing texts and stories that benefit our youngest members of society. When an idea comes to me, even if at the end of the day, I suddenly feel all the energy needed to express my ideas and thoughts on paper. My thoughts flow easily, as I have plenty of experiences to draw from in living deeply and fully for more than half a century. In both writing on dance and our spiritual nature, the articles come from a central idea, and then as peeling an onion, I mentally and visually go step by step within, which opens a new vista of ideas; viewing and digesting I continue this process. The format of essays often begins with an inspired verse on the topic and concludes with a verse which summarizes the body of thoughts; so, if short on time, just read the opening and closing verses.
When I'm 64
Well here I
am at that venerable age and see myself mainly as a meditation teacher. I feel
enthusiastic when writing meditations, I'm right in
the midst of each one at the time of writing. Here they are: http://meditation.bellaonline.com
My husband, Stan Schaap, and I are also spiritual partners and enjoy discussing our points of view. We live in a rich cultural atmosphere, surrounded by the beautiful and uplifting architecture of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, nestled along the many canals winding through and around this north-western European city. Life here is built upon centuries of tradition and is home to a diversity of people, both born here and an increasing population seeking political and religious freedom. Stan's English language web site is http://www.stanschaap.com
Dance; Teaching; Research
The summers of 1963 and 1964 I was a scholarship student and Jacob's Pillow dancer at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and University of Dance, Lee, Massachusetts. I had received a scholarship to study at the Pillow upon the recommendation of Carol Lynn, my ballet teacher at the Peabody in Baltimore. Carol Lynn's career spanned half a century. She was associate director along with Ted Shawn of Jacob's Pillow University of Dance and Dance Festival from 1943 to 1960. It was Carol Lynn who persuaded Ted Shawn in the mid-1930s to arrange a course for women at Jacob's Pillow, which he insisted she manage alone. Ted Shawn was busy with his troupe of men dancers that he had formed in 1932. During her tenure at the Pillow she had charge of school activities and filmed the many artists performing, as well as "Les Sylphides" as performed by Ballet Theater; "Giselle" and "Coppelia" by Ballet Rambert. (This background on Carol Lynn is from the article 'Carol Lynn...', "The Sun" newspaper, Baltimore, Maryland, by Weldon Wallace, Tuesday, October 8, 1976.)
At the Pillow for the 2 summers I studied 60
semester units: Cecchetti ballet with Margaret Craske;
modern ballet with Myra
Kinch; Spanish classical dance and Bharatanatyam classical Hindu dance with
Mateo and Carola Goya; classical Spanish dance with
Roberto Ximenez and Manolo Vargas; "The Elements
of Performing" with Pauline Koner; choreography
with Nel Roos; Dalcroze
Eurhythmics in "Principles of Movement and Rhythm," and theories
of Francois Delsarte in "Pantomime and Dramatic
Dance" with Ted Shawn; Labanotation
Hutchinson; "Stagecraft Workshop for Dance Production" with John
Christian; "Enrichment of Contemporary Creative Dance through use of
ethnic source materials" with La Meri. In
1963 I operated the stage-left spotlight for 75 performances, and operated the
sound equipment for another 75 performances in 1964. I performed as a Jacob's
Pillow Dancer in Ted Shawn's "The Mountain Whipporill,"
from the poem by Stephen Vincent Benet,
(see photo below from "The Mountain Whipporill"; I am standing 2nd right from center in photo below; photo credit John Van Lund)
and in picture below, ( I am kneeling, 2nd woman from right) in a ballet choreographed and staged by Nel Roos of The Netherlands, music by Jess Meeker.
Below is the Ted Shawn Theater with Ted Shawn standing 6th from left on back row. Susan Kramer standing at far right. The handwriting says: "To Susan with love from "Papa" Shawn, Sept. 2, 1964"
Photo credit: John Lindquist
From 1960 to 1966 I was a ballet student of Carol Lynn at the Peabody Preparatory Dance Department of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Baltimore, Maryland. Additionally, during the 1961-62 school year I was a ballet student of Helene Breazeale at The Peabody.
During the 1960s and 1970s I worked with choreographers, including Lucas Hoving, performing with the Peabody ballet companies, and in the ballet segments of operas at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore: Aida; Carmen, Les Sylphides, The Magic Flute, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Die Fledermaus amongst others, and in Pas de Quatre (see picture below; I am kneeling center front; photo credit: Annapolis Capitol Newspaper) and The Nutcracker with the Annapolis Civic Ballet Company. The ballets presented under Carol Lynn's direction by the Peabody ballet companies during these years were filmed, reel to reel, and are archived in the Peabody Institute Carol Lynn Archive of the Johns Hopkins University.
For my audition exam for the 1963 Jacob's
Pillow Dance Festival as a scholarship student, Carol Lynn taught and filmed me
in the Denishawn "Scarf Dance" (Ruth St.
Denis and Ted Shawn) with music to the 'Gold and Silver Waltz' by Franz Lehar.
I used a twenty foot long narrow yellow china silk scarf while dancing. The
film is archived in the Carol Lynn collection of the Peabody Dance Archives of
the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
My favorite composer remains Ludwig Beethoven; favorite artists are Van Gogh and Mondrian. My artwork exhibited on this web site was done while listening to Beethoven or Chopin.
Many of my specialized skills were learned from masters, one-to-one, in dance, fine art, design and drafting, world religions and yoga, to highlight a few. I am retired from the work force, but I continue to study what interests me. (I wrote a paper on DNA in 1963, age 16, when deoxyribonucleic acid was not a household word.) As a child in the performing arts, I was permitted a flexible academic school schedule. I took college level courses at Jacob's Pillow University of Dance as a scholarship student concurrently with my last two years of high school.
In the fall of 1965 I was referred by Carol Lynn of the Peabody to teach as a dance specialist in after school arts programs in Clarksville, Atholton, and later, Cape St. Claire, Maryland, for children, teens, adults, and challenged students. (Click here for a more in depth description of my dance work.) This part-time teaching of rhythmic movement and ballet continued in Maryland and then after 1975 in California, until 1986. Additionally, I developed my notes on the practical application of movement and rhythm in teaching academics into lesson plans through the progress I saw while volunteering my efforts with small groups in my children's elementary school classrooms, including one school year teaching movement and rhythm every school day for 45 minutes to a kindergarten class, carefully recording how the students' body-mind skills, confidence, self-discipline, and attention span improved over the 9-month period. All the kindergartners succeeded in learning to skip, and many learned the more advanced polka movement. In 1986 I taught as a 'Dance Artist in Resident' under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in Education, Project MARK—More Arts for Rural Kids, in Buckingham, Virginia.
I must thank Ted Shawn for inspiring me to incorporate rhythmic movement as a learning tool in academic education, as I was able to study with him during the summer of 1964. Ted Shawn is recognized as a founder of dance movement principles in academic education. He was also a Methodist minister, incorporating spiritual themes into his dances. Ted Shawn was awarded an honorary M.A. degree from Springfield College, Massachusetts.
So, beginning in 1964 I was exposed to dancing as an expression of Spirit, forging an early link to my spiritual writings beginning almost 20 years later.
And, I am grateful for the opportunity to study Labanotation with Ann Hutchinson the summer of 1963. Labanotation, the notation of dance movement on paper, requires analysis and deep reflection on exactly how the body moves in space and time in levels, tempos, dynamics, rhythms, directions, and more.
Since childhood I've written my thoughts and reflections in the form of verse; I've noticed that the rhythms of movement and dance find a similar rhythmic format in language. Harmonious rhythms seem to be another tie-in between my dance and spiritual writings. I also write on social issues from a spiritual point of view.
and Dance Books, and Video:
Rhythmic Dance Series: http://www.susankramer.com/dance.html
Classical Ballet Beginning to Advanced: http://www.susankramer.com/classicalballet.html
Updated March 4, 2006; July 2, 2007; February 15, 2011 "When I'm 64" paragraph; April 23, 2015 added link to dance at Peabody;