Year of Service: Highlighting ElderStories

As this summer draws to a close, we recall with gratitude all the incredible opportunities our dancers got to share in these past few months. We collaborated with like-minded dancers at Cathy Roe’s Ultimate Dance Nationals, learned pieces for next season, performed at Anita’s Way with Trifecta Professional Company members, and took part in many other artistic opportunities across the nation. Each of these experiences have drawn us closer to our communities. This fall, we hope to continue to grow that connection through all our endeavors.

Our teachers and dancers have always been driven to create art that can be shared and celebrated in our communities. This season especially, we plan to emphasize community outreach as a studio-wide goal. We have filled this season’s dance repertoire with striking pieces, each promoting expressive stories we hope to share with all audiences. Ultimately, we want our art and actions to be infused into every aspect of our communities, banding together the unique and beautiful multitude of people from all beliefs that make up our society. Our DMA dancers and teachers plan to take this task on wholeheartedly through this year’s main project: The Dance and Music Academy’s Collaborative Community Celebration. This performance showcase on April 8, 2018 will feature the pieces inspired by the connections we created with community members in the past year.

Over the course of these next few months, our dancers will learn new dances and train with our Collaborative Community Celebrations in mind. This event will be fueled by the three separate community projects our Groundbreaker Leaders and DMA staff decided on over the summer: our Honor Project, celebrating veterans and their service, the Metamorphosis Seminar, an event to encourage and empower young dancers throughout the Chicagoland dance community, and ElderStories, a project of interviews connecting our dancers to the elderly community. Our various levels of performance company will take on these projects, in the hopes that they can form relationships with members of our community who may have different lifestyles, histories, and upbringings.

Members of our performance company have already began working on ElderStories, a project in which we have teamed up with local nonprofit ElderSmart. ElderSmart is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing professional advocacy and resources to families experiencing the difficulties of an elder transition. We decided that through this ElderStories project, we can create a collaborative piece that could lead our girls to expand their horizons both as dancers as young members of society. The girls were given the task of interviewing senior citizens from a variety of local nursing homes and elderly programs, and their interviews were driven one striking theme: being extraordinary. What does it mean to be extraordinary? Who can be extraordinary? How do we define an event as extraordinary? These questions motivated our ElderStories interviews, and made our dancers think about the extraordinary contributions they can make in their own generation.

After being assigned an elder to interview, our dancers met with them and asked questions about the extraordinary lives each elder has led. Our dancers listened with intention, and learned so much from the men and women they were partnered with. Some interviewees recalled times of war growing up, others described how they fought for their right to practice science as young women. Some spent adulthood as teachers, while others worked as nurses. Yet all offered wonderful advice to their interviewers. Rochelle, an 89-year-old resident of Lincolnwood told dancer Gabriella Lujan that though times change as the years pass, each generation can learn something from another. “Just try to be the best person you can be,” remarked Rochelle.

Dancers reflected on their conversations and wrote thoughtful summaries of the time they spent with their interviewees. One August 20th and 21st, our dancers will bring their stories and thoughts together to create a piece inspired by the stories, remarks, and advice they learned from their elderly partners. Through Krissie’s choreography and the dancers’ collaboration, we are excited to explore the girls’ new understanding of the word “extraordinary” and infuse the lessons learned in their interviews into a story we can share with our community all year. This dance will serve as just one of the three projects that will help us reach this year’s studio-wide goal of collaboration in the community. We hope to infuse our art into every aspect of our society, and we hope this partnership with the elder community will be mutually beneficial to all generations.