Summer 2022 In Dance

Published by Dancers' Group, In Dance is discourse and dialogue to unify, strengthen, and amplify.


P.36 Weaving Wisdom in the Andes

P.50 Cracked Open

P.46 Reconnecting with Your Body


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FOR YEARS DANCERS’ GROUP has invested in me. They’ve cared for my health artistically. They’ve championed my dance theater projects, published personal essays in these pages, even supported a video collaboration about weaving in Peru. Weaving feels like an apt meta- phor for guest-editing this issue. What a gift, tapping the intelli- gence and wisdom of old friends and new who have contributed writing to this issue. Thank you for trusting me, divulging vulnerabili-


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46/ Reconnecting With Your Body ‘Statue of Strength’ and other trauma-informed tools empower refugees by Marianna Fiotaki and Gabriella Brent 50/ Cracked Open by Paul Modjadji and Fearghus Ó Conchúir 58/ Access to the Full Range of Reproductive Choices Is… by Dana Walrath Sensitive Content: Visual and written references to reproductive rights, abortion, isolation and gun violence 62/ A Letter to Our Multi-

8 / From One to Many: Dance is the Bridge

Dancers’ Group gratefully acknowledges the support of Bernard Osher Foundation, California Arts Council, Fleishhacker Foundation, Grants for the Arts, JB Berland Foundation, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Koret Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission, Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation and generous individuals.

ties and sharing expertise. Thank you, Dancers’ Group! The theme of health and wellness has been a major focus of mine over the past decade, first as a cancer survivor and then as a fellow at the Global Brain Health Institute. The resulting collection is “Not Your Typical Dance Wellness Issue.” You’ll hear from folks from around the globe and from a variety of pro- fessional backgrounds, ages and identities. Threads emerge: healing trauma, bridging difference and the sheer joy of movement, and watching others move, is woven through. I think you’ll see the connection between dance, on the one hand, and wellness, on the other, is essential to supporting our fragile but resilient humanity. These pieces have touched me, transported me, given me hope and reaffirmed my commitment to making dance healthy.

By Brenda Butler and Christopher “Mad Dog” Thomas

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14 / Moving Across Cultures

Transmitting cultural knowledge through movement language by Shahrzad Khorsandi

DANCERS’ GROUP Artist Administrator Wayne Hazzard Artist Resource Manager Andréa Spearman Administrative Assistants Shellie Jew Anna Gichan

18 / Inside Out

by Jason Bowman 27/ Stories in the Moment

Creating shared spaces of belonging for and with people living with dementia by Magda Kaczmarska

34/ It’s–Still–Hard to Say Unwritten by Joyce Calvert 36/ Weaving Wisdom in the Andes Documentary explores the relationship between an ancient craft and brain health by Rowena Richie 40/ Gravitating Towards Elders Through Somatic Education by Diana Lara

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Marginalized Disabled Dancers by Vanessa Hernández Cruz

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66/ Walking Backwards by Chris Black 72/ In Community Highlights and resources,

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Dance is the Bridge

By Christopher “Mad Dog” Thomas and Brenda Butler



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[by Mad Dog] To me dance is how I get free. Growing up in Altgeld Gardens housing project, urban dance was something that was part of our culture. The death of disco at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1979 inspired the Chicago House scene, which grew into the Chicago Juke/Footwork community, which is centered around House/Juke music. In Juke/footwork there’s a constant syncing up of the movement and the music, a constant rapid-fire exchange. Juke music and movement is a direct reaction to violent and under-resourced living conditions. The Chicago footwork cypher allows dancers to express their traumas, and communicate their stories through movement. This dance movement allowed youth to build community and challenge the negative narrative about young black and brown youth in the city of Chicago. EDITOR’S NOTE: Brenda Butler and Christopher “Mad Dog” Thomas first met in 2020 through For You’s A Bridge, A Gift, a project that paired artists and elders with ties to Chicago’s Southside neighborhood and offered them creative prompts for their exchange. For this In Dance issue I invited them to reconnect. The following linked reflections were written in response to their recent conversation.

Chicago Public Allies where I had an opportunity to work and develop skills in the corporate not-for-profit field. My dance background and years of youth advocacy really helped me navigate the space. During my two year internship, I became a board member of the Chicago SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) History Proj- ect. Led by Dr. Fannie Rushing, the proj- ect really believed self education works best when you work in an intergener- ational setting. Here I learned so much about my history and the elders who were on the front lines of the civil rights movement, like Willie Ricks and Fannie Lou Hamer. This opened a new scope of work for me that is centered in liber- ation and reimagining a world without police and systems of oppression. Dance has always allowed me to bridge the gap between any form of adversity that I have ever faced. I’m dyslexic and struggled academically, but because of my ability to dance peo- ple were willing to invest in me and wanted to see me succeed academically and artistically. [by Brenda] I wish I could dance better. I wish I could dance well. But that is not/was not my profession. Nor my inclination. Though I was a disco queen. Growing up I never saw my parents, a schoolteacher and postal worker, dance. They worked a lot. In high school and college, the Twist, the Boogaloo, the Monkey, the Twine were easy to approximate. And my homies Archie Bell and the Drells of Houston, Texas (“we dance just as good as we walk”) were so smooth that the Tighten Up could be danced standing in place.

Footwork means the world to me! This art form has allowed me to be in places that I couldn’t believe I would be. In 2016, I took an internship with


Temptations, J-Lo. En Vogue. Give me Beyoncé. And Bruno Mars.

Disco era was a matter of doing your thing but you had to learn certain dances to choreograph with your dance partner. Hey, stepping, Chicago-style, bring it on.

Through memories of late-night old movies in elementary school and junior high: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Eleanor Powell. Bill “Bojangles” Robin- son. The Nicholas Brothers. Those splits. And most recently correcting history or embracing it, we are learning of the influencers and trendsetters like John “Bubbles” Sublett and Katherine Dunham.

The dance floor was the stage. It was electrifying. It was a ball far beyond that disco ball.

I despise the anti-disco movement that originated in Chicago. I wonder now what that was a precursor to? Slamming the music and clubs that brought all kinds of people together. Sound familiar? After the so-called death of disco, dancing as a release and a fun time migrated to the neighborhood clubs or

private dance sets. And slowly, the clubs fell away. Now, I feel the urge to dance again. To explore.

I watch other dancers: Like you, Mad Dog of Kuumba Lynx.

To move like all that.

And the Alvin Ailey dancers, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Janet Jackson, Broadway musical theater, The

Simply watching is cathartic, a release, pure enjoyment. This must be a kind of


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wellness because I feel so full and elated after the dancer takes a bow. I never thought that just seeing the movements of a dancer could provide a connection. But that is what dance is about. Movement. Expression. Performance.

A catharsis for the dancer. A revelation to the watcher. Even though you the seer are not physically dancing, you are indeed a partner.

So now. I am retired and I want to dance. Gotta dance. Oh, I’ll do my thing in the living room to my Pandora music or my retro CDs.

But I want to take a class. No ballroom for me. Maybe a few steps like Mad Dog but I’d prefer to slow it down, to channel Judith Jamison in one moment or Janet Jackson and Beyoncé in another. Just to start. To enroll and engage. For relaxation, for expression, for purpose, power and pleasure toward a commitment to explore something new.

To my health, to our health. Be well.

[by Mad Dog] My mother used to take me to house parties and have me dance for her friends. A lot of them were also dancers who would teach me moves. In Chicago, during the ‘90s, there were dance groups everywhere. We had “dance downs” every Saturday at different parks across the city. This is how youth from all over the city were able to build community and establish healthy relationships. Boogie Wonderland is my favorite song from the disco era, and the name of my current dance film project. The video will not only showcase my love for the era and highlight the moment when footwork/urban dance met disco. But also allow me to highlight some of Chicago’s black women and LGBTQ dance choreographers who are overlooked. The footwork dance battle scene is dominated by straight men. This leaves little room for women and LGBTQ folks. My hope is that Boogie Wonderland will lead to some healthy conver- sations within Chicago dance communities about the need for inclusive safe space for dance regardless race, sexual orientation, gender, and age. Today we have a new wave of simple dances that are similar to some of the dances Brenda spoke about. TikTok has created a space for everyone to partic- ipate in dance and urban culture. What’s funny is that I have a very hard time learning the simple TikTok dances, but my son Travon is killing it! And yet, the TikTok space isn’t enough. How do you get your spiritual heal- ing, your wellness–with your community and people who are outside of your community–when there’s no equitable space to be well? I feel the fight for equity has to come from us. My Juke For Liberation Proj- ect is centered around educating dance and DJ leaders to use movement and music to create social change. In Chicago we are going through a lot of rede- velopment that is having a major impact on black and brown dance commu- nities. We all need a safe space to dance and express ourselves. But are we as a community willing to fight to provide dance and wellness for those black and brown youth who don’t have a space to get free?

BRENDA BUTLER is a three-term president of NABJ (National Association of Black Journal- ists)-Chicago and an experienced journalist with 35+ years in newspapers and magazines. At the Chicago Tribune she was involved in the concep- tion and development of newspaper sections and magazines and co-managed a staff of over 100 reporters, editors and support staff. In the late 1990s, Butler also wrote, produced and moderat- ed a series for Chicago cable TV titled “Playback: Views from an African-American Perspective.” For 7 ½ years, she was executive director and a high school journalism educator for the Columbia Links program at Columbia College Chicago. For the past 17 years CHRISTOPHER “MAD DOG” THOMAS has been the program manager and creative director for Kuumba Lynx, a Hip Hop and performing arts organization. His artistic inquiry is deeply rooted in social liberation through artistic expression, and footwork is his primary dance form to convey that message. He is KL’s head dance choreographer, and he creates theater productions with youth from across Chicago covering social and economic issues in the city and around the world. Mad Dog received a 2020 Chicago Dancemak- er award and a 2022 Johnson Fellows for Artists Transforming Communities award from Americans For the Arts.


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Transmitting cultural knowledge through movement language MOVING ACROSS CULTURES

Anne Huang T

What is Persian/Iranian dance? The terms “Persian” and “Iranian” are often used synonymously and there is some confusion and much discourse around the appropriate term for this dance genre. In Iran the term “Ira- nian dance” is used. There are various genres within Iranian dance, includ- ing numerous dances belonging to tribes from around the country. These tribes speak their own dialect and fol- low their own customs. Much like the language, the dances of each region, in addition to the music and tradi- tional attire, are distinct and part of the tribes’ identity. However, there is a common movement language that all Iranians share. This movement style carries a natural flow that is a major part of the aesthetic identity of Iranian art and culture, and is practiced both as a social activity by Iranians with no formal dance training, and as an artis- tic expression by contemporary danc- ers and choreographers.

he effects of dance on the brain have been studied using Western dance forms like ballet, but not with less known forms like Persian/Iranian dance. Until now. When I was contacted by Dr. Julia F. Chris- tensen, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and former professional ballet dancer, I got very excited. Julia was interested in the work I was doing on codifying Persian/Ira- nian dance movement and wanted to collaborate on an experiment involving a Persian movement library. At first, I was intrigued by the idea of using

Iranian dance as the movement form to study the effects of dance on the brain. But in the process of our experiments, I also became enthralled with the idea that transmission of cultural knowledge through the movement lan- guage specific to that culture may also affect the brain. As dance practitioners and educators, we know intuitively that dance is ben- eficial for both physical and emotional health. It also makes sense to assume that emotional balance leads to better social behavior. There is a connection between our brain and our emotions 1 , as well as between our emotions and behavior. Since dancing directly influences our emotions, it becomes a fourth component in this dance between biology and psychology. 1 According to a study published by Behavioral Brain Research , “…emotion regulation relies on a cognitive control system involving inhibition-related prefrontal regions to dampen activation in emotion-associated structures, such as the amygdala, insula and anterior cingulate cortex.” (Restoring Emotional Stability: Cortisol Effects on the Neural Net- work of Cognitive Emotion Regulation- Jentsch, Merz, and Wolf Volume 374 , 18 November 2019, 111880).


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Persian dance and neuroscience As an artist I have always been inter- ested in creating new work, but cre- ating a pedagogy was a new way to use my imagination. It was shortly after my book was published that I was contacted by then London-based neuroscientist Dr. Julia F. Christensen, who was working on the effects of dance on the brain. She proposed to collaborate on a dance-neuroscience project involving a movement library. Julia had worked with ballet dancers on a similar project and was inter- ested in exploring other dance forms. I found the proposal very enticing and was excited to begin working with her and the team of researchers, some of whom were Iranian. My part of the project began with the choreography of 120 short move- ment sequences, danced with a vari- ety of emotions. These 120 sequences were later filmed with no sound/ music, and my image was made into a silhouette so no facial expres- sion could be seen. Put briefly, the experiment consisted of participants of various backgrounds watching the sequences and answering ques- tions such as: 1) Into what cate- gory of emotion would you place each sequence? 2) How strongly is the emotion being expressed by the dancer in each sequence? and 3) How would you rate the sequences in terms of beauty? The preparation and implementa- tion of the experiment took many months. The analysis and resulting paper illustrates the data in several charts and diagrams and discusses the results. The paper is still under review and not yet published. This collabo- ration was so intriguing for all of us that we decided to continue working together on other projects. Introducing Persian dance at the British Science Festival We also partook in fun, thought-pro- voking public engagement activities in a few popular science events that triggered scientific questions, but

Dance, music and food are a big part of Iranian culture. Families and friends gather often to enjoy each other’s company, prepare feasts, play both traditional and modern music, sing old and new songs, and dance in traditional and contemporary ways. These events are multigenerational, and therefore the dances are passed on from one generation to the next. Ira- nian dance artists often choreograph dances which are founded in and stem from these family and communtity dances. This dance language embod- ies the aesthetics of Iranian culture in such a detailed and intricate way that learning it as a dancer who has not been raised in the culture requires some analysis and introspection. The art of Persian dance Persian dance technique involves lay- ers of subtle movement coordinated in very specific ways to express emotions and mannerisms that are not com- mon in Western culture. Systematic learning of the technique is required to achieve the necessary coordination, and understanding of cultural nuances is essential for culturally contextual meaningful expression. I also believe that in order to expand one’s move- ment vocabulary and ways of expres- sion, even those fully fluent in the social movement language can benefit from pedagogy and formal training. There is no evidence of any recorded system of codified movements in Ira- nian dance. Nor is there any accessi- ble archive of ancient choreographed dances and pedagogy that would be treated as an established and formal method for teaching and performing Iranian dance. There are a handful of Iranian dance artists who have devel- oped their own formats for teaching, but most do not have a published cod- ified system. As intuitively based as it may be for Iranians, this dance form is composed of a movement vocabu- lary and has the potential for codifi- cation. Dance historian Anthony Shay suggests, “The performance of this dance tradition does not derive from

were not formal scientific studies. One such event was The British Science Festival held in Coventry, UK in September of 2019. There, Dr. Christensen gave a lecture based on her book, Dance Is The Best Med- icine , and I taught a Persian dance workshop titled, “Get Up and Dance.” An article was published based on this event, titled Seven Reasons Why You Should Dance 3 . We had multiple goals for this work- shop. One goal was to promote the idea that dancing – in any style – is a healthy activity physically, mentally, and emotionally. Another goal was to introduce the public to a dance form and a movement language they most likely had never seen, Persian dance, with music they had never heard. There was an initial sense of ner- vousness in the group, due to unfamil- iarity with the movement and music. It took a little while for the partici- pants to get over the awkwardness of feeling clumsy as they attempted to move in a whole new way. But before long we could see them let go and allow their bodies to move in this new way. I could sense that it was liberat- ing for them. The workshop was designed to fos- ter a sense of community – an inte- gral component of Iranian social and tribal dances – which helped the par- ticipants with their initial discomfort. One thing Dr. Christensen and I both noticed was that at the beginning of the class the students stood farther away from each other, but at the end, the personal space between them had shrunk, and almost all of them had smiles on their faces. I also noticed that their bodies looked more relaxed. Another goal of the workshop was to teach about a different culture through the embodiment of its movement lan- guage, much like we learn about a culture through its verbal language. I taught specific Iranian movement vocabulary that expresses distinct cul- tural nuances. And I described how 3 blogs/bsa-blog/7-ways-dancing-can-improve-your-life

certain body lines and angles allude to specific social mannerisms, so the par- ticipants could understand these sub- tleties in Iranian culture. Introducing Persian dance at the Max Planck Institute The most recent experiment Dr. Christensen and I collaborated on was an 8-week study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Empiri- cal Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany. This experiment consisted of 16 Ira- nian dance classes (two classes a week) taught to German female students with little or no dance train- ing and no familiarity with Iranian culture. The goal of the experiment was to see whether a dance class is an effective tool for transmitting cultural knowledge, as well as improving the student’s physical and emotional health. These classes were carefully designed to teach Iranian culture through Ira- nian dance technique, including show- ing some paintings and discussing com- mon aesthetics between Iranian visual art and dance. There is a theme of cur- vilinear lines with dynamic but graceful brush strokes in Iranian paintings and calligraphy. Compositions often con- sist of circular patterns, smooth tran- sitions between images, and distinct and dynamic juxtaposition of imag- ery. There are also geometric design elements in Persian architecture that carry similar visual motifs to the paint- ing and calligraphy. The same dynamic nuances translate into Iranian musical compositions and rhythmic structures. All of these aesthetics and dynamics are reflected in the dance form. The participants in this experiment were required to answer weekly ques- tionnaires throughout the experiment. The data from this study is in the pro- cess of being analyzed. The potential of dance to bridge cultural differences Let us assume that the transmission of cultural knowledge through the movement language specific to that

cutlture affects the brain. In other words, this process influences the brain’s neural pathways by introduc- ing new ways to think and move, and affects brain function by triggering certain hormones. As evidenced by the Behavioral Brain Research study I cited at the beginning of this article, we know that the brain can regulate emotions and thus social behavior. Can we therefore deduce that under- standing a different culture through the embodiment of its movement lan- guage ultimately affects our social behavior and thus our relationships? If this assumption is correct, an effec- tive tool for improving relations between people of different cultures is through their dances! It is exciting to have scientific evi- dence to corroborate our intuitive understanding of the effects of dance on our emotions and behavior. But as dance artists and educators, we expe- rience this phenomenon through our senses every day. Connections are made between people, cultural gaps are bridged, and relationships are for- tified through the language of dance. For us, these sensual experiences form our reality and our truths. Video links: Dance Your Emotion Project Presentation: MPIEA experiment- 2021: D39ILXvQcfxyVM80EDOYsuc/


a formless, meaningless collection of movements, but rather forms a coher- ent movement system…like Persian classical music, dance is capable of being systematized, a prerequisite for the creation of an aesthetic system.” 2 I agree with Shay and have spent the greater part of three decades exploring, analyzing, and processing this move- ment language. I published my format, Shahrzad Technique, in my book, The Art of Persian Dance in 2015. A num- ber of Iranian dance instructors inside and outside of Iran now use this book as a reference guide for teaching.

view?usp=sharing MPIEA website:

SHAHRZAD KHORSANDI is an Iranian-born dancer and choreographer residing in California. She has always been passionate about dance, studied Modern Dance and Performance Art at CalArts, and holds a BA in Dance, and an MA in Creative Arts from SFSU. Shahrzad has drawn upon her experience in Iranian culture, and her formal dance training, to create a dance vocab- ulary and pedagogy for Iranian dance. She is the artistic director of Shahrzad Dance Company, the author of the book, The Art of Persian Dance , and a member of an international research team, studying the effects of dance on the brain.

2 (Shay, Choreophobia , 1999, 177)


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JASMINE HEARN was born and raised on occupied lands now known as Houston, TX. They are an interdisciplinary artist, director, choreographer, organizer, teaching artist, and a 2017 and 2021 Bessie awarded performer. Jasmine’s commitment to dance is an expansive practice that includes performance, collaboration, and memory-keeping.


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I learned about the test in Barbara Tversky’s book, The Mind in Motion, a book, I admit, I haven’t finished because the first fifty pages offered so much to think about. Tver- sky begins with an exploration of motor resonance—it’s an uncanny thing: when you watch someone move, the brain’s motor neurons light up as if you were making the same movement, sometimes even triggering the associated muscles to come to life. So it’s not just in the eyes; we’re constantly The better we can feel inside ourselves, the clearer we can sense the state changes of the people around us, the better we relate to them. I TOOK A SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE TEST on the internet recently. The test to understand even the people closest to us, and at times language seems wholly inadequate to convey the depth of feeling in our own experience. But perhaps the greatest boon in understanding motor resonance is the way it orients us to a different quality of commu- nication. If it’s true that we perceive the states of oth- ers by feeling their gestures in our own bodies, then it stands to reason that the detail of our own personal embodiment correlates to our ability to empa- thize with other people. The better we can feel inside ourselves, the clearer we can sense the state changes of the people around us, the bet- ter we relate to them. I’ve thought about this often within the con- text of my job as a yoga teacher. Yoga is, of course, a series of refined gestures undertaken with the entire body, gestures that stack on each other to ostensibly clean a diversity of consisted of a few dozen pictures of eyes, and alongside each were four choices to describe the emotion portrayed in the picture— surprise, pensiveness, suspicion, anger, flirtation, alertness, joy, amusement. Everything but the eyes was cropped out, so I couldn’t rely on foreheads or mouths to differentiate between emotions. The eyes are the window to the soul, they say, which makes a cer- tain kind of sense, but nevertheless, I was surprised by what hap- pened. In trying to arrive at the correct answer, the first thing I did was mimic the pictures. It was a thoughtless instinct. Even before reading the multiple choice options, my eyes tried to take the shape of the ones I was witnessing on my screen. If I could mirror what I was seeing, I could identify the essence of the emotion, inside of myself, and that helped me to answer correctly. The implication of this is simple, but profound: I answered the questions not with my mind, but with my body.

This is why we get hangry—angry when we’re hungry. The physical state defines the mental state. The oppo- site is also true, and this is why we fidget around when thinking about something we don’t want to think about. The mental state defines the physical state. This is espe- cially fascinating during the few minutes at the begin- ning and ending of a yoga class, minutes in which, every day, I ask people to sit still. Sitting still is one of the hardest things you can do with a body. From my perch at the front of the room, I’ve found one thing to be true: there’s never only one person who itches their face, or reaches for their water bottle, and the ones that do so

react—there’s also a mysterious and emergent essence that depends only on the way we exist, collectively, in the physical space. Sometimes it simply feels like we’re all there together, sharing each other’s space rather than bumping into each other’s space. In part, this comes through proprioception, through an ability to hold awareness of the room as if it were a part of the body. I often instruct this in something like the triangle pose: imagine what it’s like to wave at your friend across the way, but now instead of the gesture of waving, under- take the gesture of the triangle pose, and instead of directing it at your friend, direct it at the whole room.

It’s certainly abstract, maybe even imaginary, but some- thing special happens when we succeed at expressing the poses in a gestural way. The boundary of self widens to include more; we add to and find support in each other’s awakeness. As a teacher I have a unique perspective on the unfolding of this phenom- enon. I’ve seen thousands

...I spontaneously said something I’d never said before—“If you lengthen and turn the neck, the waist will follow.” It was a simple statement, but it became like a lightning bolt that surged through the room, and everyone made the same adjustment at the same time.

are always in proximity to each other. Someone thinks about something uncomfortable, fidgets, and because of motor resonance, the people around them absorb and express the same state, and movement. Most often it’s not because they have an itch or are thirsty. While this highlights the precious fickleness of our humanity, it also opens a wholehearted opportunity to truly be there for others. As we move around phys- ical spaces, picking up on and mirroring each other’s internal state, the simplest gift we can offer each other is a sort of personal, gestural poise. With practice, we can observe agitation in others, and instead of being immediately swayed by it, hence perpetuating its spread across space, we can instead, on lucky days, maintain our own sovereign composure as a gesture to the peo- ple in our vicinity. We broadcast the peace we learn to create. This is what we mean when we talk about holding space. Gestures can be far more accurate than words, and when we learn to refine our own internal clarity, we can feel the people around us, within us— we communicate with them, without language, through our minds, through our eyes, through our bodies, and maybe that’s the true measure of social intelligence. JASON BOWMAN is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco. He’s currently finishing an MFA through Warren Wilson College and working on a debut novel. Find him online at

of people do the triangle pose in yoga rooms on sev- eral continents. Over the years my eyes have become highly sensitive to the way my words have millimeters of impact on other people’s bodies, and my percep- tion of those movements can sometimes help me speak to what’s actually happening in the moment, instead of just regurgitating memorized sentences, which, honestly, I also do a lot. But if I attune to motor res- onance, I can actually feel myself doing the triangle pose just by paying close attention to other people doing it, and in that way the act of teaching becomes surprisingly conversational, even though I’m just sit- ting there delivering a monologue. One night I looked at a woman’s pose and was able to see—feel—a vivid correlation between her neck and waist; both needed to lengthen and turn. My observa- tion of her experience combined with an understanding of the mechanics of the position, combined with a felt familiarity in my own body. And then the best possi- ble thing happened: I spontaneously said something I’d never said before—”if you lengthen and turn the neck, the waist will follow”. It was a simple statement, but it became like a lightning bolt that surged through the room, and everyone made the same adjustment at the same time. I’ve used the same instruction ever since. In classical yoga there’s a fundamental axiom: the mind and body only move in relationship to each other.

trying on other people’s gestures, with our whole body. And in turn, our bodies broadcast whatever happens within them. It’s a type of dance, really. Even—especially—in con- versation, we rely on a high-resolution perception of each other’s physicality. We subconsciously coordinate our move- ments with those of our interlocutor; we alter the speed and intonation of our speech, our eye contact and hand gestures, our posture and level of energy, all in order to better connect with the people with whom we interact. One of the hardest truths is that we don’t have access to the interiority of anyone but ourselves. We flail for decades

the body’s structures. And motor resonance is a vital part of practicing yoga in a room full of other bodies. When dozens of people synchronize, making the same shapes at the same time, it creates a shared attention that’s literally mind altering. It’s this that makes walk- ing into a yoga room so different than, say, walking into a grocery store. Focus is palpable, and contagious. I’ve found a natural motivation over the years to investigate what makes a yoga class good, and while a large portion of that has to do with me—my mood, my lucidity, my momentary ability to observe and


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44 Gough Street, Suite 201 San Francisco, CA 94103


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SUMMER 2022 in dance 25

In Dance | May 2014 |

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44 Gough Street, Suite 201 San Francisco, CA 94103



stories moment IN THE Creating shared spaces of belonging for and with people living with dementia


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In Dance | May 2014 |

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44 Gough Street, Suite 201 San Francisco, CA 94103

Creative community in response to COVID-19 The space we are gathering in today to join in Stories in the Moment , is an online space created through the Dementia Action Alliance’s Virtual Engagement program. The Dementia Action Alliance (DAA) is a non-profit organization that has been supporting and amplifying the voice of people living with dementia in the United States for 25 years. Among other actions, DAA offers peer mentorship for people newly diagnosed with dementia, support groups for people living with dementia led by people living with dementia, podcasts, resources, and an annual conference. During the COVID-19 pandemic, DAA mobilized to create a virtual engagement platform to offer access every weekday to social, creative, and spiritual engage- ment and connection for people living with dementia all across the US. Barb and Bob, who have been joining Sto- ries in the Moment regularly share, “We found you and wow, what a difference you have made. What a differ- ence each of the people in DAA have made for us. I just can’t say it enough, it has opened up our world again.” Participants in Stories in the Moment comment on how much has shifted for them during the pandemic and how its impact continues to influence how they engage and interact with the world around them. “I honestly don’t think I could have survived the pandemic without the online programming. Marv isn’t willing to travel any- more. It’s sad as it’s a big change for us but he is fearful, and, frankly, getting him places is not easy. I sincerely feel that continuing online programming is essential for both partners,” shares Sheila, wife and care partner to Marv, a participant in Stories in the Moment . For many people living with dementia, the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much active and impacting their lives. Barb comments on her husband, Bob, who is now nine years into his journey with Alzheimer’s: “He’s been very weak, compared to before. Before November, we did two mile walks every day. And now it’s hard for him to get from the living room to the kitchen. He has some days when he kind of just sits at the kitchen table and isn’t doing much of anything. And I’ll put on some music, but he’ll just kind of sit there. And then it’ll be time for our DAA Zoom. And he brightens up and he’ll smile. And when you’re doing Sto- ries in the Moment , he’s doing his arm things and every- thing is so amazing. And so yes, you have been a big help in

“That which cannot be spoken can be sung. That which cannot be sung can be danced.” — OLD FRENCH SAYING On a Thursday afternoon, a group of 17 people log into a Zoom room from across the United States. As the win- dows burst onto the screen, we begin to fill the space with hellos and welcomes. “Shalom aleichem.” “Shalom” – others repeat and wave back. (Shalom aleichem is a spoken greeting in Hebrew, meaning “peace be upon you”.) “Hello! Shalom Shalom, pretty soon you’ll be home.” Barb wiggles her fingers. Her husband, Bob, sitting next to her adds his wiggling breath. Together, our fingertips and breaths ripple through the crowd. “Bubble off” says Marv, waving his arms open and closed, making a bubble with his hands. “Bubble off” we all repeat. “Oh, it’s a double bubble!” “A double bubble!” Another day, Marv introduced the “hello-copter” – a swirl of air with one arm, whirring over our heads, beckoning in a “come hither” action as we say hello – at once a hello and a welcome.

that.” She goes on to say, “DAA … through the Zooms and through the community and getting to know other people, have helped me keep [Bob] here at home where he does have the love and the affection and the freedom to do some activ- ities when he wants to do them.” Over two years later, DAA’s online engagements are still going strong. Stories in the Moment is one of those programs. Stories in the Moment is grounded on the understanding that dance is a universal language. We all have stories to tell, and we all have the means to tell our stories. Stories in the Moment taps into the library of stories we have in our bod- ies that we have accumulated over a lifetime and invites us to share this movement choreography with one another. We discover, expand upon, connect and build these dance stories together, in the moment, inspired by who is in the room. “In the moment” is a key factor. Dance is an ephemeral art form. Dementia also navigates the ephemeral. When we focus on one another in the moment and create opportuni- ties to connect and create together, we amplify and celebrate the voices, bodies, and minds of each person who is there. And although the stories we create are not being recorded in a material way, they continue to exist in the energy and feeling of community that persists from class to class, from week to week, month to month. These individuals are a community. “I consider them our dear friends. I mean, you’re a part of our lives, and so are so many people from DAA. You’re family almost to us now.” – Barb and Bob

“This is supposed to be for love. You should love your bluv. Love your bluv. That’s it!” – Marv

Jan Bays, DAA Board Chair and Director of Program Development and Education at Jill’s House Assisted Liv- ing & Memory Care in Bloomington, Indiana reflects on this ritual which grounds the group together in our shared community and opens the space for co-creation. “This is something that is very important. People feel that it is something they expect and look forward to. It makes them feel safe.” Participants from Jill’s House have been joining Stories in the Moment from its inception. Whereas many other participants join from their individual homes, Jill’s House participants join from their community room as a group. Jan reflects on how despite the difficulty of joining a pro- gram on Zoom, where I, as the facilitator, am on a large screen along with half a dozen other participants joining from their individual homes, “you notice how well every- one is participating.” The key behind Stories in the Moment is the commu- nity and the relationality. Rather than being delivered at or to participants, every session of Stories in the Moment exists because of the participants. We do every- thing with one another. Jan reflects on this: “I love the way you can get people to move. However, I think it is the personalization that makes the experience extra special. I see them light up when you speak to them individually.” “You relate to each single person in the group, even the people at Jill’s house, you relate to each of those individ- uals. I can barely even see them. But you find a way to let them know that you are connecting with them”, reflects Barb. “It’s not like we’re just a whole group of people and you’re just staring at a whole group. You talk to us indi- vidually. And we’re able to comment back and do things in relationship to what you’re saying and doing. And it’s just been heavenly.” Each individual deserves to be seen, heard and sup- ported in joining a shared space. Living with a chronic disease like dementia, one that is fraught with stigma and misunderstanding, results in people feeling as if they are becoming invisible. People begin to speak on their behalf and their contributions are written off. But people living with dementia have a desire to contribute, to have purpose, and deserve to recognize that their contributions are meaningful. Environments are invigorated by the people and actions that take place within them. We have to work together to reinforce and support the diverse ways we communicate and expand our tools of listening and speaking. Stories in the Moment seeks to expand and amplify these tools.

We are gathering for a program called Stories in the Moment .

Stories in the Moment is a co-creative dance, movement, and storytelling program for and with people living with dementia. Almost everyone in the room, except for myself and 1 or 2 care partners, are living with dementia. I cre- ated Stories in the Moment out of a desire to extend the resource of dance as a tool for expression to communities of people living with dementia and to ally with them to support their creative voice. I identify as a dance artist with a background in sci- ence. Due to my science background and interests, I acknowledge and am very aware of the potential thera- peutic effects of the programs I facilitate for communities. But therapy is not the main point of my work. It’s about amplifying other ways of knowing, listening, and speak- ing. Through Stories in the Moment , we speak not just with our words, but with our sounds, with our body posi- tions, and with our movements. Stories in the Moment is inherently shaped by the people in the space – same as we co-create each of our stories together, the program has been co-created as a community.

Shared rituals facilitate grounding and belonging We begin each Stories in the Moment class with our rit- ual Hello Body Dance, by saying hello and welcoming one another into this shared virtual space. By engaging in this way, we are setting the container for our practice. Each time we repeat this practice, we anchor ourselves into a shared space of belonging and we build, moment by moment, movement by movement, the foundation of our community. Grounded in the individuals, in stories, in movement and in voice, all modes of communication and connection are welcome and celebrated. They inspire, give permission to and invoke the voices and expression of others. Together we weave a tapestry of connection, appreciation, and love.


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In Dance | May 2014 |

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44 Gough Street, Suite 201 San Francisco, CA 94103

Dance belongs to everyone, but it begins with you I have been allying with diverse communities to facili- tate experiences of dance and movement for 18 years, with over 10 years specifically with communities of older adults and people living with chronic conditions like Par- kinson’s Disease and dementia. My practice is grounded in the concept of creative aging, the idea that “the golden age” of life is a time of rich experience and celebration of life, rather than a time of restriction and retreat. Creative aging in itself is a radical act which counters ageism and ableism. It invites us to recognize the beauty in all types of bodies and amplify our experiences and voices over our life course through creative expression. Dance and storytelling helps us develop those tools and encourage spaces where the voices they empower, thrive. I see dance as a practice that doesn’t just take place on stages by “trained professionals” but in our homes and our communities. A practice that is accessible – to all bod- ies, all ages, all abilities. A practice everybody contributes to, participates in, and receives something from. Thanks to persistent leaders, many of whom have been my mentors either in person or by inspiration, this view of dance is becoming more widely embraced. More of us recognize that dance is something that is inherent in all of us. And it is something that belongs to us, that we have agency in. Famous American choreographer, Alvin Ailey, stated that, “I believe dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.” I believe dance and movement expression is our human right. It belongs to everyone. We deserve opportunities to explore and discover our own movement voices in places where we are seen, valued, where we feel we belong. After we greet each other, in Stories in the Moment , we take some time to turn our attention to our individual bodies through a gradual tuning in and progressive warm up. Self-agency and trust are key underlying principles of a co-creative practice, but it takes time to listen to our bodies, especially as most of us don’t often get enough time to do so. As a result, hearing and feeling our bodies takes more time. So, we begin by slowing down, medita- tively, taking time to check into how our bodies are today before we extend our focus to one another and the group. If we wish to extend a kinesthetic awareness to others, we must first receive space to find that connection within our- selves. This allows for kinesthetic awareness, the sentient and tacit forms of our knowledge and expression, our movement awareness, to take hold and take space. After taking time to tune in and warm up, we begin to extend our focus from individual kinesthetic approaches to a sense of a group body through a dance called Signa- ture Moves. This approach is founded on the idea that if we trust our bodies, they naturally respond to music with movement.

access to this basic human right is characterized by a profound paucity. Relationality is key to meaningful cit- izenship and people living with dementia are not exempt from the right to it nor are they immune to its benefits. For the 50 million people living with dementia globally, this lack of meaningful connection is compounded by the detrimental effects of a progressive disease which can impact affective states, mobility and spatial relationships, and ability to communicate or follow conversations. As a result, people living with dementia inevitably experi- ence shifts in their modes of and capacities for expression, which influence their ability to express and feel connected to the communities around them. Reportedly, persons liv- ing with dementia and their care partners often experi- ence a reduction in size of their social networks and loss of connection with others as the disease progresses. A core practice behind Stories in the Moment is the idea of interdependence. We all have a responsibility to care for one another. And that care, support, and expres- sion can look different in various spaces. This is the power of co-creative practice. It amplifies our human- ity and opens up opportunities for each of us to enter in and see how our contribution has meaning. As public health and ethics researcher Pia Kontos writes: “In the context of cognitive impairment, dance takes on even greater significance given that corporeality becomes the primary means of engaging with the world and with others. Dance provides a unique medium for non-verbal communication, affect and reciprocal engagement which profoundly enables the relational cit- izenship of persons living with dementia.” 1 This underlines the demand for programs that engage with people living with dementia as opposed to only delivering programs at or to them. As highlighted by Dr. Gill Livingston in the pivotal 2017 Lancet Commis- sion article, “Engaging in meaningful and pleasurable activities is hypothesized to improve health and wellbe- ing”. The benefits of these social engagements include “reconnecting individuals to their physical and social environment, supporting self-esteem, building neural connections through complex interactions and promot- ing a sense of role continuity, purpose, or personhood, self-identity, and meaning.” 2 This perspective has powerful ramifications for the challenges we face as a society around how we view peo- ple living with dementia and aging in the United States. We are in desperate need of rewriting social narratives to person-centered systems, which view people not through the metric of what they can produce, but who they are, uniquely and holistically. If we shift the way we attri- bute value to actions and to individuals, we can go a long way to extending the collective feelings of belong- ing and community. Through Stories in the Moment , I

am inviting us to see value in the voices of these individuals and communities who are experts in their lived experience. A care partner and wife of one of the Stories in the Moment participants reflects on this, “What you do and your attitude and acceptance is invaluable. Most of the participants are extremely well educated and many held important positions. Sadly, they feel their losses every bit as much as their partners do. Since they can still think they can still appreciate the arts, music, dance, paintings and sculpture....the arts enrich their days, dementia or not.” In our conversations, she shares how joining in Sto- ries in the Moment , her husband, Marv, feels engaged and that his unique voice matters. “He adores you. He loves to make jokes, even though some of them miss the mark. And he feels valued, which is super important to him.” In fact, Marv’s participation and jokes, often in the forms of brilliant puns or poems, contribute to the atmosphere of each class, mirroring and amplifying the themes we explore. They highlight how one individual’s words join with another’s movements or sounds to collectively create a multi-sensory dance story, which would be merely two dimensional with one voice. A theme and variation – group improvisation and co-creation of a dance story Each class of Stories in the Moment is centered around a theme that guides our creative explorations and drives our collective storytelling. Recently, one of our themes was Sports. “ We can be par-ticular ” (Marv on the theme of sports.) We begin this exploration by seeding ideas inspired by some form of multimedia. Sometimes these are videos compiled around movements and ideas that can guide our exploration. Other times, these seeds are inspired by images that invite deeper conversation in movement, sound and words. Inspired by these media, we explore these ideas in more depth. During our exploration of Sports, I began by guid- ing us in a discussion of three sports that use a ball: base- ball, bowling and basketball.

We all have our “signature move” when music that we enjoy comes on. Some of us bob, some of us snap, some of us clap, some of us push back or lean away but still join in the dance and tap our toes, and some of us jump straight into the disco. Signature Moves invites us to just get moving and take turns to share our movement with one another. This is pivotal for all of us, but especially for people living with dementia. This simple act of Sig- nature Moves begins to create a space where they are the experts, and their voices are the center of attention.

“[Bob] has lost so much control over his life. And I hate that for him. And so when we do dancing in the kitchen, we’ll do movements like you do with us. And he’ll start a movement and I will follow his movement. And so he’s in charge. And then he’ll have this big smile on his face. Because, you know, he came up with the movement, and I’m doing the movement with him.” Creating our own movement and sharing it with one another adds a safe challenge which also sets the stage for the approach we use in our co-creative storytelling, where each individual’s voice is seen, heard, and felt in movement. Together, we assemble them to make our own dance stories. Dance supports an egalitarian space nourishing dignity and value Meaningful connection is paramount for maintaining dignity. But too often for people living with dementia,

Together we explored the movements we make when we play baseball – setting up to bat, hitting the ball, winding up and releasing the ball during a pitch, diving to catch


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In Dance | May 2014 |

unify strengthen amplify unify strengthen amplify

44 Gough Street, Suite 201 San Francisco, CA 94103

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