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Photo: Pari Naderi 
In the dance called Stroke Odysseys, projections reveal stroke victims’ inner thoughts.

What is your experience of stroke? Both my brothers recovered from theirs, but our father was incapacitated by a stroke in his late 40s and lived as an invalid for the next 23 years. Medicine has improved a lot since then, as have programs that get people moving again.

At the Guardian, Lyndsey Winship has an interesting story about life after stroke.

“It was around four in the morning when Pauline Boye woke up and realised she couldn’t move. ‘I was unable to get up,’ she remembers. ‘I called to my partner, “Can you help me? I can’t get up!” ‘

“Boye, who was 47, had suffered a stroke. She spent four months in hospital, and was left with physical impairment down her right side and difficulty with her speech. The former nurse suddenly went from caring for others to being the one in need of care. Once she was home, she didn’t want to leave the house. …

“Boye was shy even to speak, worried that people wouldn’t understand her. But eight years later, on stage in front of me, she is acting out a scene based on her time in hospital, her voice carrying across the stage. Clearly she is not ashamed any more.

“The transformation is thanks to the [UK] organisation Rosetta Life and its director, Lucinda Jarrett, who works with artists and health professionals to devise arts projects that have a meaningful impact on the lives of people with brain injuries. For Boye, this now means touring the country as a performer in Stroke Odysseys, a production by choreographer and director Ben Duke and the composer Orlando Gough, featuring a cast of musicians, dancers and five stroke survivors. …

“The physicality of each person is different and shows vulnerability but also determined strength. Through a series of scenes and songs, the performers’ experiences – of struggling to express themselves, mixing up words – come to life, with projections cleverly revealing inner thoughts and subtext. …

“The discipline of rehearsals, the camaraderie and the drive towards performance can offer very real motivations and therapeutic benefits. ‘The key outcomes are increased mobility, increased cognition, increased verbal articulacy,’ says Jarrett. One in three people experience depression after a stroke, but evaluations of Rosetta Life’s work shows that it has ‘enabled people to change the perception of their disability and look forward to a new life’, says Jarrett. Reducing depression means people stay more active and are less isolated, and hopefully therefore less prone to accidents, second strokes and hospital readmissions.

“In that light, it is surprising when Duke says: ‘I’m interested in the idea of dance as a useless activity.’ But he goes on to explain the benefits of physical activity that have no practical function. When you lose the use of one hand, for example, you tend to use your other hand instead, and the impaired hand becomes weaker as a result. Whereas with dance, the performers are asked to make gestures simply because it’s the choreography, and they’re forced to do things they might not otherwise. …

“ ‘For Pauline, dancing was a big part of her life,’ Duke says, remembering the day she brought in some videos of her dancing at a wedding. ‘But the first time she talked about it, she stood up and she [danced], and even now with her limited movement, it’s all there. Physically it is a fraction of how she used to be, and yet, it’s there. The body lights up.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: James Glossop
Scottish Ballet expands Dance for Parkinson’s classes to cities across the country.

The class that comes right before my Essentrics stretch class on Thursdays is for people with Parkinson’s. The participants seem to enjoy it. One man, who is said to be over 100, routinely leaves the class with a smile on his face.

Exercise classes for people with Parkinson’s are not new, but there are always new locations offering them and new techniques to help people keep moving. Consider, for example, this report from Scotland, where the Scottish Ballet has a program.

Jeremy Watson writes at the Times, “Research has shown that dance can help people with the degenerative disease physically, mentally and socially. [At the Scottish Ballet,] staff and volunteers help participants develop movement skills with particular emphasis on fluidity, balance, co-ordination and posture. The sessions include activities focused on problem solving, improvisation, vocal skills, memory and multi-tasking.”

The Scottish Ballet website adds background. “Established in 2016, the Dance for Parkinson’s Scotland programme supports those with Parkinson’s to experience the benefits of dance and creativity — improving balance, spatial awareness, confidence and fluidity in movement. Every week, around 75 participants take part in sessions delivered by Scottish Ballet in Glasgow and Dance Base in Edinburgh. …

“The warm and informal Dance for Parkinson’s Scotland classes feature elements of ballet and contemporary dance with a focus on Scottish Ballet’s repertoire. Using the themes and movement from current productions, specially trained Scottish Ballet and Dance Base Dance Artists lead participants to develop movement skills with particular focus on fluidity of movement, balance, coordination, expression, posture and rhythm.”

The Edinburgh Parkinson’s site says that the aims of the classes “are to

* wake up stiff muscles and improve flexibility,
* encourage mind-body connection,
* improve co-ordination and balance, and
* increase self-awareness and self-esteem
* in a supportive and joyful environment

“The social time at the end of each session is a chance to make connections and feel part of the dance community. … The teachers have a wonderful sense of light-heartedness and fun which they bring to the classes. Live music is an essential ingredient, and we have a talented pianist, Robert Briggs, providing the accompaniment, so the music is used flexibly to encourage movement and development of sequences. …

“The original concept, arising from collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group in New York, is now increasingly practised worldwide among the Parkinson’s community.”

Patients’ partners and caregivers attend the class that I’ve looked in on, and they are welcome to participate and get some exercise, too. The musical selections are great, but unlike in Scotland, there is not a live accompaniment.

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Photo: Fred Hatt
Mana Hashimoto is a New York City–based contemporary dancer and choreographer who, despite losing her eyesight, is determined to keep dancing and making dance.

We all have obstacles that rise up in our lives, but for some of us, the obstacles are exceptionally daunting. That was true for the dancer in this story, who made up her mind that her career would not be lost when her eyesight was lost.

Victoria Dombroski interviewed her for Backstage.

“Mana Hashimoto is a New York City-based contemporary dancer and choreographer whose career has spanned from her native Tokyo to many stages worldwide. She also happens to be blind. After losing her eyesight due to optic nerve atrophy, she was determined to keep dancing despite the unexpected obstacle. Since then, she has dedicated her life to merging blindness and dance, and to create artistic works through the use of her remaining senses.

How did losing your eyesight change your trajectory as a dancer?
I trained as a classic ballet dancer and it’s very common that when you take class, you have to check in the mirror to see how you look. It becomes a sort of obsession and trap, consciously or unconsciously. I think it was a relief that I no longer had to see myself in the mirror, but instead be in the moment and be with myself and accept who I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Were there certain things you learned about yourself as a dancer after losing your sight?
“I learned how to accept who I am, [to] be free, and to observe myself internally. It changed my perspective of what beauty is. Visual information can be overwhelming and we are shown what beauty should be instead of who you should be. …

What advice do you have for blind dancers and dancers with disabilities?
“I’m still a work-in-progress as a human being, but if I could advise something: keep enjoying dance. If there are some challenges, you can take them as opportunities to make your dance original. Any challenge is a door we didn’t expect we could open. …

What would you like to see more of in the New York dance community?
“I think more accessibility and openness to have visually impaired participants for workshops and classes. Once we have the right access, dance is open to anybody’s needs. I would also like to see more verbal description for dance performances. Before my performances, I invite visually impaired audiences to feel the space; they can touch and feel the props and costumes. …

What advice do you have for dancers encountering major setbacks in their dance career?
Hold onto your hope. I think it’s very important to share your difficulties along with your dreams.”

More here.

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Photo: Jose F. Moreno / Inquirer Staff Photographer
In South Philadelphia, young Khmer women are earning to perform traditional Cambodian dance.

When one marginalized community taps into its roots and strengthens its identity, other ethnic groups may benefit, too. Consider this story about young Cambodian women in South Philadelphia and their how traditional dances are often performed for neighboring communities of color.

Bethany Ao reports at the Inquirer, “When Lanica Angpak started the organization Cambodian American Girls Empowering three years ago as a personal project, she visualized it as a safe space where young Cambodian women could talk about ‘taboo’ topics they didn’t feel comfortable discussing with their families.

“But when Angpak broached that idea with the women she was mentoring at the time, the group had an addendum: They wanted Angpak to teach them traditional Cambodian dance.

” ‘I was already teaching some of them,’ said Angpak, who learned how to dance from her mother. ‘But bringing it into this organization allowed us to build bridges through dance.’

“On a recent Sunday, the organization gathered at Bok Bar, a popular rooftop bar in South Philly with gorgeous views of the Philadelphia skyline, for a sunny afternoon workshop performance.

“The women slipped off their shoes and completed stretches that were harder than your average yoga pose. Eventually, they shifted into formation and performed a dance about a Cambodian celebration for young children. The dancers moved slowly, but their movements required just as much precision as ballet. Their mastery of balance was impressive, as was their flexibility. …

“Cambodian dance is a crucial part of storytelling in the country’s culture. It has existed for thousands of years and draws its roots from Indian mythology and religion. Every component of the dancer’s body is engaged during a performance, from their fingertips to their facial expressions. …

“The Philly area has the fourth largest Cambodian population in the United States — about 13,000, according to the most recent census — centered in South Philly. Angpak works closely with the Cambodian Association to help support the community here. Besides the performances, CAGE also holds dance workshops for females as young as 6 and as old as 72.

” ‘On average, we do about 14 performances a year, and we’ve already surpassed that number this year,’ Angpak said. ‘We prioritize public events.’ … The group particularly enjoys performing for organizations representing other communities of color.

“Angpak said dance is an alternative way of sharing between communities, an exchange of culture and art, of sorts. The organization charges on a sliding scale for performances. Workshops, including the one at Bok Bar next month, are free and open to the public.”

More at the Inquirer, here. And click here for my 2017 post about how Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, half-sister of Cambodia’s King, is working to reenergize the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. Perhaps some of these Philadelphia women and girls will get a chance to audition for that.

Photo: Jose F. Moreno / Inquirer Staff Photographer
A mother and daughter learn traditional Cambodian dance at the Bok Bar in South Philadelphia. Cambodian American Girls Empowering (CASE) helps women and girls preserve their heritage through traditional Cambodian dance.

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Photo: Amitava Sarkar/Forklift
The cast of
Served performs a dance phrase based on the five key movements of mopping. Forklift Danceworks makes choreography from everyday life, revealing the beauty and majesty of what you thought was mundane.

From childhood, I was always one for fantasy and found it easy to relate to imaginary worlds in the arts. Lately, though, I find myself more interested in art that feels relevant, art that uncovers wonder in everyday life. So it’s not surprising that this Dance Magazine article about discovering the dancelike moves of ordinary occupations appealed to me.

Nancy Wozny writes, “Austin renegade Allison Orr doesn’t use traditional performers. With her Forklift Danceworks, she has created dances featuring everyone from sanitation workers (The Trash Project) to power linemen (PowerUP), urban forestry department members (The Trees of Govalle) and food service employees (Served).

“Orr has a BA in anthropology and calls her process ‘ethnographic choreography.’ Using the movements of everyday workers, she crafts large-scale extravaganzas that have included more than 75 performers (and sometimes trucks), audiences of 2,000, and a deep research process that may involve her learning how to scale a power-line distribution pole or riding with a sanitation worker at 4 am.

“She recently spoke to Dance Magazine about her unique creative process.

” ‘When I start a new piece, I listen for the story the workers want told. What do they want people to know about what they do? I usually do about 50 to 100 interviews. Then I watch people doing their expert movement, looking for that seed. ,,, Usually there’s an all-staff meeting where I am introduced. Then I start job shadowing, working alongside them when I can. …

” ‘We don’t actually get people to agree to perform until very late in the process. I usually don’t ask for what we want until that person is likely to say yes. We put out a question, like “How do you cook an omelet in three minutes or less?” and they start choreographing it. Then they want to be in it, because they are the ones who can do it.

” ‘For the actual piece we organize sequences based on their movements, expanding it in space and time. For Served I watched one gentleman mop the floor and observed five different movements he does, including this beautiful turn. …

” ‘Because participants are asked to collaborate across different work groups to make the dance together, they build trust with people they might have worked with for years but never had the chance to really get to know.

” ‘The act of performing changes how collaborators see themselves. Being witnessed in one’s everyday work, particularly doing what might be thought of as mundane or ordinary, is transformational.’ ”

More at Dance Magazine, here.

Photo: Jonica Moore/Forklift Danceworks
A worker from Austin’s Urban Forestry Division performs in the dance
The Trees of Govanelle.

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Photo: J. Urban/Smithsonian
Arev Armenian Dance Ensemble

Because I live in the Greater Boston area, where there is a large Armenian population, I was interested to read how how Armenian dance is helping to preserve the culture in the diaspora.

Roger Catlin writes at Smithsonian that Armenian dance has adapted in intriguing ways over time and place.

“Can dancing preserve culture?” he asks. “Those who circle up, link pinkies and swirl to the traditional village dances of Armenia believe they can.

“And as part of the 52nd annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival this summer, scores of dancers from Armenia and across North America will perform, present master classes and share technique. [Note: This took pace in July.] …

“One of the oldest centers of civilization, Armenia once stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea and between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Urmia in present-day Iran. Its key location in the South Caucaus region of Eurasia made it a central place for commerce with other cultures, but also a site for constant invasion from neighboring empires, the Ottomans to the west and Iran to the south and Russia to the east.

“Already the dance traditions of individual villages, separated by mountainous topography had been unique to each town. But with the Armenian diaspora, the dancing, which continued as a way to keep connected to the old country, became even more individualistic, [says Carolyn Rapkievian, who is serving as an Armenian dance advisor for this year’s Folklife Festival], noting that the dances were further influenced by the host countries. …

“Gary and Susan Lind-Sinanian, dance historians at the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts, say traditional western Armenian music and dance remained an important cultural touchstone for the immigrating community.

“ ‘As the Armenian language fell into disuse among many American-born Armenians, the music and dance gained even more importance, as one of the remaining avenues of cultural identity maintenance,’ they have written. ‘Today, this music and dance have developed into a characteristic form unique to the United States, and one of the principal means that today’s Armenian-American youth assert their Armenian identity.’

“ ‘The two means of expression, outside of being a member of the church, to mark you as an Armenian are dance and food,’ Gary Lind-Sinanian says. ‘Those are the two every Armenian family practices to some degree.’ Still, every village seemed to have its own style, he said. ‘When people make their pilgrimages to some monastery for a festival, they could see, when various groups danced to a melody, by the way they danced, you could tell where they came from.’

More at the Smithsonian, here. If you are ever in Watertown, try to get some Armenian food. It’s delicious — a little bit like Middle Eastern cuisines you already know, a little bit not. And you can get an interesting angle on the Ottoman Empire’s relationship with the Armenians from this wonderful book, Destiny Disrupted, by Tamin Ansary.

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Photo: Jorge de la Quintana
A ballerina admired impoverished acrobats performing at Lima, Peru, traffic lights and decided to offer them a better opportunity. In the photo, members of her D1 Dance Company rehearse.

Once upon a time, a privileged young lady, a ballerina with an international reputation, saw the face of aspirational poverty on acrobats performing in traffic and decided to offer them an opportunity.

Dan Collyns writes at the Guardian, “Vania Masías vividly remembers the first time she saw acrobats somersaulting at a traffic light on a visit to her home city in 2004. She was at the peak of an illustrious career as a ballet dancer in Europe – but before long, she would leave it all behind it to nurture the raw talent she found in the streets of the Peruvian capital. …

“She was so inspired by the abilities of the teenage acrobats she encountered in Lima she set up a pilot project to teach them to dance – not ballet, but hip-hop. …

“It began on the self-taught gymnasts’ home turf in Ventanilla, a tough neighbourhood near the city’s port. Masías arranged to meet them on the shanty’s sand dunes where they practised their flips. The response was overwhelming.

“ ‘I thought I was going to meet with three kids,’ she said. ‘When I arrived, there were more than a hundred kids.’ …

“In 2005 Masías formed the D1 Cultural Association: part dance school, part non-profit organisation seeking to create young leaders and promote positive social change through the arts.

“D1’s social arm, which is 85% self-sufficient thanks to the school’s private classes, works with 7,000 children and young people in the capital and has schools in the Peruvian cities of Ica and Trujillo. More than 100,000 children have passed through the programme over the years, says Masías.

“Among them is Eddy Revilla, who at 13 became his family’s breadwinner somersaulting at traffics lights in downtown Lima.

“ ‘I was earning 300 soles a week [£66/$92] and here in Peru – that’s money! I could help my family and they started to thank me,’ says Revilla, now 25.

“But after blacking out in mid-air doing a somersault, Revilla auditioned for D1, and is now a member of the group’s professional dance company.

“ ‘When we started nobody thought that you could make a living from dance. Now it’s an amazing opportunity for young people,’ says Revilla, who also teaches hip-hop to paying students at D1’s dance studio. …

“Masías acknowledges that only a few of the young students will eventually follow a career in dance, but she says that the act of dancing itself gives them the confidence to transform their circumstances. …

“Masías has encouraged her dancers to embrace their provincial roots through fusing traditional Peruvian and urban styles.

“ ‘It’s in their blood, in their veins,’ she says. Dancers who had been ashamed of their origins ‘now fight to say where they come from,’ she says.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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