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Paul Hillman

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"Knowing Place", ASU Dance Tempe reaches out to Community, May 15, 2010, for a Presentation & Discussion concerning "Dance in Community Context"

The day’s program began with the showing of the hour and a half movie on Anna Halprin, "Breath Made Visible"

Pegge Vissicaro, ASU Dance Professor, and Ashley Ramsey, graduate dance student, were our guides on this afternoon’s interactive/multilayered journey. Before the film started, the audience was asked to articulate what do we as individuals need to sustain our own practices (answers included time, money, knowledge of others, loyalty, good feet, intention, breath, integrating of all people in a dance community, and having a core group that believes in the company's mission). Then people randomly expressed their responses accompanied by a gesture that embodied their ideas. The rest of the participants mimicked these animations.

We were introduced to Frances Smith Cohen, guest presenter, through an activity to have us create a movement that brought awareness to our purposefulness of focus for attending this program.

Persons came from not only the dance community but the community of advocacy for all the arts in community settings.

Before the video began Pegge had turned the lights down low. We were to close our eyes for a guided meditation seeking a space of comfort and joy where we might integrate our total being in this safe place: to feel, see and smell all of the sensory elements that surround us.

BREATH MADE VISIBLE is the first feature length film about the life and career of Anna Halprin, the American dance pioneer who has helped redefine our notion of modern art with her belief in dance's power to teach, heal, and transform at all ages of life. This cinematic portrait blends recent interviews with counterparts such as the late Merce Cunningham, archival footage, including her establishment of the first multiracial dance company in the U.S., and excerpts of current performances such as "Parades and Changes" at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, to weave a stunning, inspiring account of one of the most important cultural icons in modern dance.

After the film the audience was asked to write down words, ideas, and images as a sensory response to Breath Made Visible. After we explained that we wanted individuals to travel to one of the four directions with which they felt most closely affiliated, they created one gesture that epitomized their response to the film, collectively built a phrase that sequenced the various gestures, and then shared the phrase with the larger group.

This group seemed to grasp the concept of reaching out and embracing the community enveloping ALL in the sacred center of the community’s being.

From the movie the audience learned that Anna moved from a space of performance in her early dance career to engage ritual as a means to not only address social conscious issues but to provide a space for Healing oneself and others.

Frances Smith Cohen was then officially introduced to the group with a resume that could go on for many hours. This honoring and respect of her work of 50 years is important to note because it resonates through out Arizona with many piloted projects that blossomed into to large programs, many still sustained in the state today.

Frances Smith Cohen (Artistic Director) is a teacher, choreographer, administrator and dance graduate from Bennington College in Vermont. She was dance director of the Jewish Community Center in Tucson for 18 years, and directed the first touring dance company in Arizona, the Kadimah Dancers.

In 1963 Frances helped create Arizona Dance Arts Alliance in Tucson and in 1972 she co-founded the dance program at the University of Arizona. She was the recipient of a National Opera Institute grant to tour regional opera companies as choreographer and assistant director. Plus, she was director of opera at George Washington University from 1981 to 1986. Frances began Wolf Trap in Arizona, the placing of performing artists in Head Start classrooms. She has been the regional director for this program since 1986. Frances was honored with the Outstanding Artist Fellowship Award for Choreography from the Maryland State Arts Council. She also created Dance Theater West with partner Susan Silverman, and directs CDE, housed at the Herberger Theater Center. Cohen is the proud recipient of the 1994 Arizona Governor’s Outstanding Artist Award, and the 2004 Women Who Care lifetime Achievement Award. She is co-author of "Dance Essential Skills" and "Performing Dance Standards" for the Arizona Department of Education.

When asked, "What is the essence of your ability to sustain these dance programs over time?" Answers: "PASSION, PERSEVERANCE, Setting of PRIORITIES, PATIENCE, POLITICAL Savvy; Grant Writing...

You have to be VERY BOLD and you NEED TO REACH OUT FOR HELP!"

The financial aspect of an artist (dancer) being paid was discussed and it was left that there is a balance to doing this work that demands respect and value for the job (payment) and at the same time a commitment to volunteer to get your dream started and the strong belief the money will come. The reality of this occurring in our current economic crisis is questionable so further discussions needs to be facilitated for possible answers. Also it was vocalized that like other public arts spaces (museums) we need to open our doors and just bring in the community without charge. Or more importantly we need to go to those sites where dance will benefit many. Beginning small is a good idea. Addressing the issue of dance/movement as an important aspect of wellness is also very meaningful for the community at this time of obesity and lack of physical educational programs in the schools.

It was pointed out that meetings from the university once a year with no follow through do not effectively address this very complex issue. What is the responsibility of the academic world and how are they to be more integrated in community if they wish to affect change?

Before the ending movement activity occurred, the day’s program and discussion was summarized by Pegge?

1. How do we sustain dance with community development?

2. Examine and Explore ways in which our students can look at broadening dance practice that meets community needs?

3. Dancers are to open their doors so dance is not a foreign experience (one to only be observed from the audience), but one that is relevant to and individual’s everyday life...How to do this?

A gathering around Fran in act of movement to embrace and continue to honor her and her gifts to our community was spontaneously created...

There were the final Good Bye’s...

and the thoughtful/reflective verbal exchanges about combined dance making in the future.