the Art of Storytelling
When we dance,
our primary purpose is to Glorify God,
for He made us, and all creation
is “His story.”
Our second objective
is to honor each other;
together we share our story.
Our third objective
is to move as one, stirring hearts,
encouraging others to tell their story.
This story is dedicated to Bronius and Laimute Bizokas and Harry and Emily Harper. These are the people who raised them, helping to shape their character, personalities and life objectives. Daily they sacrificed so much for their children’s passion, but they did so with open hearts and no hesitation or expectation of gratitude. Mr. and Mrs. Bizokas and Mr. and Mrs. Harper provided resources, opportunity and training for the dancing that brought Arunas and Martha to this point in their lives.
Arunas and Martha are grateful for the mental and emotional efforts of Ari Jolly in compiling their story. Many thanks to the dance studios that provided space allowing Martha and Arunas to dance and to grow.
A note of sincere gratitude to the dance professionals and friends who have shared in their laughter and support for each experience. And they appreciate all the people who offered comments, cautions and questions that prompted and challenged them to clarify and commit to their dancing and their relationship.
“Connection in Time” does not open “Once upon a time …” but does take the reader to lands far away, among them, of all places, Lithuania. “Connection in Time” is no fairy tale. Were it a fable, the moral of this story would be “Nothing ventured; nothing gained.” That aphorism is meant to spur us on to adventure and achievement, but too often, it just excuses impulse and recklessness.
Though also no fable, “Connection in Time” may still be about “Nothing ventured; nothing gained,” but more as an extension of a biblical perspective of walking by faith and not by sight. The challenge of a faith walking without seeing is that the destination may be an abrupt surprise. The journey then becomes the challenge.
Although the people, places, and events are all historical, the story line of this book functions effectively as a parable. Here is Martha Harper, an amateur, if ambitious, ballroom dancer. And there is Arunas Bizokas, a credentialed, professional, champion ballroom dancer and instructor. The surface story line is about travel, geography, lessons, and competition. But the destination is about relationship – learning the dignity and worth of an individual who bears the image of God. It is a journey of forbearance, commitment, patience, the benefit of the doubt and perseverance. It is a worthwhile trip.
There are narratives in the Bible which have a stopping place but don’t really have an ending: Jonah in the Hebrew Bible – we wait in vain for a resolution. And The Book of Acts in the New Testament leaves a church leader named Paul waiting for his trial, again without result. “Connection in Time” similarly stops but does not end. The final punctuation is appropriately an ellipsis. Those final three periods communicate on the surface that Martha and Arunas will continue the discovery of their relationship, but more substantially, the ellipsis punctuation challenges the readers to enter the story line and to make venture and gain in their own relationships. Arunas and Martha are suggesting that risk and vulnerable transparency pay off.
I have known Martha Harper for several years now, formally as her pastor, and familiarly as a dear friend and fellow disciple. Encouragement is intuitive to her, dancing a passion, understanding God’s presence a vocation. Arunas has been somewhat a mysterious personage to me. I had only heard his name and reputation, but “Connection in Time” shines some light in the shadows, and we discover an artist who violates the stereotype of insulated, isolated, aloof and unreasonably temperamental. If Martha risks rejection in seeking him out, Arunas risks distraction from his artistic purpose.
But in the acceptance of the risk, both are discovering the unseen world that is not about the flow of the dance and its near flawless performance. Rather, they are uncovering an invisible reality that is foundational to the excellence of performance which is the artists’ goal. The authors’ narration is not rife with explicit theology, but from time to time they appear to be dusting for God’s fingerprints, and they find them. I have said before that God enjoys a game of hide-and-seek, but he is not very good at it, on purpose. Martha and Arunas have helped me get better at the game! Enjoy with me their story telling and see if you find God between the lines of your own story.
Kenneth Mick, B. A. in Biblical Languages from Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tennessee; New Testament master’s level studies, Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas.
The idea of writing a book about Arunas was a suggestion by Martha to Arunas in 2013, six months after they started lessons. He thought about it, but at that time Arunas and his professional partner were considering a large media project. He asked Martha to wait; they agreed to revisit the idea later. She was glad to have mentioned it and was just as happy to be continuing to focus on their lessons. After all, dancing was the primary objective for their time together.
More than two years passed with no mention of the media project, so Martha asked Arunas about it. She had been looking for something to hit the internet in the form of an announcement, video or movie. He indicated there had been some difficulties which prevented them from moving forward. When four years had passed, Arunas and Martha’s dancing and friendship evolved to a lovely and honest partnership. Naturally the idea of a book about Arunas then grew into the idea of a story about “them” as partners and friends.
February of 2017, they discussed it again, and Martha provided some introductory material to Arunas for review. He said “yes”. It took her awhile to digest the enormity of the project. They were so different, and yet the connection was there. Somehow it would all come together for compiling by Ari Jolly, a friend of Martha’s who was born and grew to her teens in Europe, then transplanted to the United States.
With her husband and children, Ari travels to Europe every summer with extended family living in various international locations. This gives her commonality and insight into Arunas’ world and thought processes. She also has experience competing as an amateur dancer in a professional atmosphere. She knows Martha’s passion for ballroom dancing and the pure joy it brings her. Ari knows the challenges Martha has overcome to experience the satisfaction of gliding across the dance floor. She has not personally met Arunas but through Martha has the good fortune of a front-row seat to the initial encounter and journey so far. Come travel with Ari as she walks with them through their “Connection in Time.”
Arunas Bizokas is a world champion International Standard ballroom dancer from Lithuania. He is accomplished as a professional competitor, performer, instructor, coach, adjudicator, choreographer and speaker. Additionally, he is an astute businessman in studio management and various other areas. Martha Harper is an amateur dancer from the United States of America, a student of Arunas’ competing with him Pro-Am (professional-amateur), a former legal secretary and now a published author. Different cultures, varied dance backgrounds and levels of training, yet some similarity in that they both hold masters’ degrees in education.
Respecting Arunas’ professional schedule and Martha’s budget considerations, they found a compatible arrangement of lessons every three to four months. Depending on Arunas’ competition and teaching demands, they meet in various parts of the world for their lessons. They have danced in New York, New Jersey, Toronto, California, Lithuania and Latvia. It is a difficult situation but having the same objectives in their dancing and a respect for each other as friends, they have found a way to manage their schedules to compete or perform annually.
In their story you will find entertainment, surprise, laughter, disappointment, forgiveness, challenge and growth. Amongst many other elements in their relationship, you will find a deep sense of harmony which they continuously nurture. We hope by walking through this story with them, you will experience the elegance of an honest and dedicated partnership and the pleasure and treasure these two have found in knowing each other.
Time to Reflect
This is for you. Every book that Arunas and Martha have been involved with has been interactive. They really want this one to also be a “mirror experience” for the reader. Before you start, take time to reflect on where you are in your relationships. If you have a friend that you wish to grow with, what is the best possible scenario to make this happen?
More than likely you will not find any secret formulas. At first glance, you may think there was instant success; keep reading. Whatever your background, family history, cultural environment, career, hobbies or heart’s desire, hopefully you will find something in their story that “brings it home” to you.
There may be moments which you would like to skim over. In a perfect world, Arunas and Martha wished some things had never happened. Please read all of it and take time to embrace it. They have and found their friendship is stronger, their respect and trust for one another deeper, and their understanding and sensitivity to each other wiser.
Watching, listening, creating, laughing, and somewhere in the mix, they include dancing. Let’s see how this all comes together …
An Interesting Encounter
December 2012 marked the initial connection between Arunas Bizokas and Martha Harper. Martha sent an email to a Manhattan studio in New York requesting a chance to have her ballroom dancing evaluated by Arunas Bizokas. She was an amateur dancer from a north Florida city in the United States. He was a professional international title holder from Lithuania. The studio manager kindly suggested another professional be selected since Arunas traveled constantly throughout the world while competing with his professional partner. Martha thought about it (for less than a minute) then suggested that the manager at least share her interest with Arunas. For some strange reason (she believes God had something to do with it), Arunas agreed to her request, responding to her by email 24 hours later and setting a date for February 2013.
The purpose for Martha was to get a high-level evaluation of her dancing abilities and from there decide how to move forward. She had been in ballroom dancing for 14 years. There had been some pleasant highlights and at the same time some very difficult experiences. From childhood, dancing had been her heart’s desire. She had recently faced some serious discouragement, but she wasn’t ready to give up yet. Ballroom dancing is an expensive leisure hobby and finances were tight, but somehow it always worked out with regular employment and an odd job here and there. She also learned to budget more closely in day-to-day areas. She would take this evaluation, and then make some decisions about future dancing pursuits.
For Arunas it was another normal opportunity for extra money in-between competitions and events. He was always thinking ahead from one studio to another, across town, across the United States and Canada, or across the ocean to Europe and Asia to compete, perform, teach, train or judge. A quick evaluation would just fit his schedule before running off to a local embassy or government office to handle international work visas and passports. He was curious to meet this lady.
While he flew in from out of the country, Martha flew in from out of state. For him the travel was an everyday occurrence, but she had planned and sacrificed to be there. For her this was serious and unusual travel. They met at the Manhattan studio. She arrived early to change and to warm up. She saw him walking to her from across the studio; they shook hands and introduced themselves.
Trying to get acquainted with Arunas’ dance style in preparation for lessons and evaluation, Martha watched multiple videos of his show dances on the internet. She listened to commentators frequently applaud Arunas’ ability and style in the spin turn. She composed a poem about him “spinning in his own galaxy” and not only delivered it to Arunas in writing but promptly provided her personal, visual interpretation as he read it. All this was within ten minutes of their initial encounter in the studio. He still has the card with the poem.
Arunas was caught a little off guard. He was accustomed to dealing with various personalities as well as cultural and age differences. That was part of his job. To be successful and make his livelihood, he had to know how to adapt to students and partners with nuanced levels of talent, passion and resources. It was less stressful to meet people, make whatever adjustments were necessary and concentrate on the dancing. He just wasn’t quite ready for this lady standing in front of him who had conveyed such a serious background and purposed objective for their meeting. Then here she was doing creative theater and all about him!
They were both finding the other to be pleasant and actually fun (or maybe “funny” would be a better description). Arunas was laughing so hard at one point that he was shaking, and Martha thought he looked like Santa Claus where the story references “like a bowl full of jelly.” Considering he is so tall and trim, that was really an interesting visual for her.
Martha was exhilarated and eager to dance! The introductions were done, and she looked for Arunas to walk her out, invite her into frame and start dancing. He was still talking. She waited and was trying to be patient. So much was running through her mind. He was standing there calm and addressing issues of communication and harmony. These would come up often in their relationship. She wiggled a little bit and asked when they would start dancing. He let her know that before dancing they needed to communicate, especially since this was the first time they had met. He made a few more comments and finally they stepped onto the dance floor. It was time to get down to business.
She was nervous and couldn’t quite get her feet working the way she wanted. Here she was with the World Champion International Standard title holder. How did that happen? He thought she was pleasant and her movement was good. He was sure if they would just keep dancing, she would settle down. And she did, but just for a little while. In their first few moments, there was a lot of listening and laughing. Watching them in practice or competition, you will find they still share a lot of this. Their first time encounter was done, and Martha could tell he was comfortable with her as a dance partner and happy with her level of dancing. She ventured to ask about continued lessons and to compete with him internationally Pro-Am. He had never competed with an amateur before, but he decided to try this out with her. Looking back they both were a little startled but certainly enjoyed the moment! Now five years later, they are still competing and performing.
Quite a bit of conversation and ideas were exchanged during this first lesson series. Martha shared with Arunas that she was a writer getting ready to publish her first book. Would he consider letting her write a book about him? He would have to think about this. She was quite assertive, and they had just met. Yes, they hit it off really well and quickly, but a book? Arunas shared with her that someone was in the process of making a movie about him and his professional partner. The book was something he had never considered but didn’t want to rule it out. They agreed to discuss the book option later after the outcome of the movie.
Some ladies at her church wanted her to teach them ballroom. She felt it would be better if she could video tape a session of her and Arunas and then share that with the “church ladies.” Ideas with Martha seem to mushroom, and she wanted to combine a tape of their dancing with an outline of partnering principles from the Bible. So she came back to the last lesson of their initial series and presented the idea to Arunas. He would consider this along with the book idea and get back to her. She was willing to wait. Read on and watch what happens!