Old Lyme's Dawn King is living in the moment
The oh-so-elegant Gatsby Gala lit up Harkness Memorial State Park on a sumptuously warm night last weekend. Women sparkled in flapper dresses. Men strutted in smart suits - a few looking as though they could be Prohibition-Era bootleggers.
As couples strolled into the Harkness Mansion, they might have noticed a statue at the bottom of the house's grand staircase. It was a woman looking every inch a flapper herself - short, kicky dress; headband holding a sassy bob in place. She was all in white, including her powdered skin and her white-blonde wig.
She stood atop a two-foot-tall pedestal, whose base was draped in black and white chiffon, dotted with glowing candles.
She held a pose with one hand on her hip and another extended in the air, and with her feet in a more relaxed version of a ballerina's third position. When a party-goer approached, she began to move, slowly and gracefully. She looked at the visitor and placed her hand into a white satchel she had slung over her shoulder. Out she plucked a tiny scroll with an adage on it and handed to the visitor.
She then melted back into a statue - this time, in a different pose, looking as though she was about to break into the Charleston.
This "statue" is Dawn King, who has, over the last year and a half, been developing her ability as a living statue in motion. That, in fact, is the name of her business: Living Statues in Motion.
It's a new passion for the Old Lyme resident, who is an admistrative associate at Eastern Connecticut Ballet in East Lyme.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think at this stage in my life that I'd actually be doing this," says King, who is in her 50s.
She was moved to try it when she and her husband, Mike King, saw a living statue at Quincy Market when they were visiting Boston.
"I was just so mesmerized by her - her costume, how she presented herself," King says. "She had a huge crowd gathered around her, just watching her. So I just stood there and thought, 'This is utterly amazing.'"
Each person would make a donation of $1 and then approach her. She would move and give them a tiny scroll featuring messages of good wishes or fortunes. Then she would return to a frozen state until the next person came up.
The scroll she gave King said this: "Now is the time for you to take a different path."
Not that she even needed that push.
"I said to my husband, 'I've got to do this!'" she says. "I was so taken with it."
King has done ballet most of her life - she danced with Eastern Connecticut Ballet and ECB Founder and Executive Director Lise Reardon for years - and taught in the past.
"The living statue is very appealing to me because it's so artistic. It feeds my artistic soul," she says. "But it's become even more than that because, when I had that experience with the statue myself, I just felt really good. It's kind of a happy moment. I said, 'I want to share that. I want to be able to give that.'"
So she began researching living statues online and started dabbling in it to make sure there was a market for it in southeastern Connecticut. (Most are in big cities.)
She suggested she use the living statue to promote ECB's production of "The Nutcracker," and ECB agreed. She performed at events like the Celebration of Lights and Song in New London to raise money to help military families see "The Nutcracker" for free.
King went on to do a fundraiser for the Lymes' Youth Service Bureau held at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, and she was at the Mystic and Essex strolls, among other events.
She says that, a lot of the time, she's donated her work and is just paid for her expenses. Her full fee could range anywhere from $200 to $300 an hour, but she's willing to negiotiate with people, depending on what the event is for.
King says her ultimate goal is to get into the wedding market, performing for guests during the cocktail hour while the wedding party is having their photos snapped.
Ballet training helps her in this work - not just in the ballet movements that she incorporates into her performances but also in terms of physical control.
"I've learned how to breathe and make my muscles relax," she says. "I think that's part of dance training that helped me. You have to figure out how to make your muscles relax a little bit so they're not as tense so you can have the strength to stand there."
And she'll vary her three poses. (She has different poses for different characters - Cupid or the Enchanted Fairy - that she portrays.) She might have, say, one pose with her arms up but then follow that with a pose with her arms down to give them a rest.
"There is a little method to the madness," she says.
But one part of her body tends to feel the pain the most: her feet. They tend to stay more stationary, so she tries to ever-so-slightly shift her weight to get the blood flowing.
The more people approach her, the less time she has to hold a given pose.
People are respectful - but she has, of course, experienced a heckler or two.
"I'm pretty good about it. I can hold my own," she says.
She might break out of her pose and slowly wag her finger at the offender.
King always has someone with her as well to explain to people what they are supposed to do, so that person can also help with a heckler if need be.
It's really, though, a feel-good experience for King and, she hopes, for everyone else.
"I try to have that personal, one-on-one moment with each person who approaches me. I try to do something a little different for each one," she says. "I want to make them walk away feeling something, whether it's a little laughter or that 'Aw' kind of moment or to make a litle kid smile."
Speaking of the latter, King portrayed a fairy for Riverglow in Pawcatuck/Westerly and decided to whip up some fairy dust for the occasion. So, when children came up to her, she took a scroll out of her pouch and then sprinkled a little glitter - fairy dust, to the younguns - over them.
"They were like so thrilled by that, to get a little glitter sprinkled on their head," King says. "Oh, my gosh, it was so much fun."
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