An Interview with Lauri Fitz-Pegado
- By Vailes Shepperd
- January 18, 2022
The debut memoirist talks dancing, diplomacy, and the universality of art.
Dancing in the Dash: My Story of Empowerment, Diplomacy, and Resilience welcomes the reader to Lauri Fitz-Pegado’s marvelous adventure. Through her work in cultural and commercial diplomacy and her love and skill in the art of ballet, she was fortunate enough to live, work, and dance in many countries. Her story is a unique one.
Did you have to adjust your memory emotionally or otherwise in order to write any of the events in the book?
My recall of details was surprising — smells, tastes, emotions. I confirmed recollections and dates by combing through journals and diaries I’ve had since childhood, delighting in the innocence of my early entries. The journals from my adult years stimulated introspection. I engaged in unprecedented family conversations about the intentionally avoided stories, subjects never fully explored or considered off-limits. With groups of friends, I spoke more candidly about topics, some we had rarely pursued: difficult talks about history, race, world events.
Was there a driving force behind this book, something that said to you, “You must write this all down”?
I lived an intense, demanding, fast-paced, challenging, and often stressful professional life for over 40 years, not to mention my tri-continental personal life. Most of my jobs required 24/7 availability, living in another country, and/or international travel 30 to 50 percent of the time. As one ages, balancing these demands can have mental and physical repercussions. In the summer of 2018, I retired from that life and transitioned to my next chapter, focusing on my passions in the creative sector. During this time, I experienced an unprecedented freedom to prioritize the space and time to write my memoir. Originally intended just for family and friends, I was convinced by several people whose opinions I value that my journey was inspiring, uncommon for an African American woman of my era, and beneficial to others.
The story is told without regrets, almost as if you didn't have time for any. Is this true?
I don’t believe in coincidences but in God’s intentionality. Faith is central to my life. My journey has been full of too many close calls, shifts in direction, serendipitous events, and relationships to consider accidental. I later recognized the value and reason for the experience, decision, action, [and] people who enter and sometimes exit my life. I believe in the adage that all things have a season. I remind myself and advise my mentees to embrace each season, power through adversity, to remember self-care, and to convert regret into lessons learned.
I love the chapter titles. They are the perfect marriage of title and text — dancing and living. Was it as effortless as it reads, or did the text require a little pushing and shoving?
The title, Dancing in the Dash, came easily. I wanted to write a creative memoir, one that illustrated the relatability of art to life. The chapter titles were one way of ensuring the connection, as was the interspersing of photographs, sculpture, poetry, quotes, sheet music, and lyrics. Movement is incorporated into the narrative. Experiencing the struggle to balance profession and passion, right and left brain, intellect and art, I recognized the essential role ballet training and performance played in my successful career. Integrating the creative elements of the book with the life story was a jigsaw puzzle, often requiring rearranging the pieces, studying the shapes, turning the pieces around, and finally getting the puzzle to come together.
My challenge — with the help of early readers and editors — was to ensure that the puzzle pieces created a seamless picture. I wanted this story of a Black woman’s journey to be relatable and have resonance for a broad audience. Dance metaphors are intertwined throughout the pages, as are introspections about race, politics, history, and current events. The universality and influence of art and culture across societal, economic, political, and geographic constructs are undervalued in our society. Critical to addressing the many challenges confronting our world, the inclusion of the creative sector in problem-solving and idea-generation in non-traditional spaces could result in alternative and valuable outcomes.
What is the one essential element of character that has accompanied you from ballet to diplomacy and beyond?
Discipline. In ballet, it enables developing reliable technique. Through consistent practice, repetition, and good instruction, discipline is at the core of [the] freedom to perform with confidence. In diplomacy, government service, and consulting, discipline facilitates success. It contributes to [the] application of negotiation skills, research, analysis, message development and communication, understanding issues and the audience, crisis resolution, [and] devising and implementing viable strategies and performance.
Does one fact-check a memoir? Any disagreements with your earlier self?
My earlier self was living in the moment, responding and reacting with the information and the interpretation consistent with the times, my age, and emotional maturity. I wrote about those moments and lasting impressions, what I saw and felt then, but also analyzed and articulated my more informed and matured views. I attempted to revisit the past — events, people, actions, with a lens other than my own vantage point — as a dispassionate and objective voyeur. With the experience and growth, I found context, perspective, and in many cases, understanding and empathy.
Is there a part of your story that you would consider detailing in a book all its own? There are moments when the reader would love to know more, such as your interactions with the artist Elizabeth Catlett and the opera singer Margaret Tynes von Klier.
If I write another book, there are many characters, events, and themes that I would enjoy the creative freedom to explore in a work of fiction. The people in my memoir are complex and fascinating. I wrote about them with care and respect. There are many stories within mine that were unexplored, character traits, events that I only touched upon or that required reading between the lines. My memoir was not a tell-all. I sense that writing a novel is only as limited as the author’s imagination.
Vailes Shepperd is the author of A Good Ending for Bad Memories.