Bringing life to John Henry

May 1st is International Workers Day. At Ridges Adult Day in Burnsville we celebrated! We brought to life the legend of the tall tale character John Henry. As we retold the story Bob, a participant of the program, jumped up to play John Henry. With immediacy and great energy he created a movement illustrated John Henry ‘s breaking through the mountain with steel hammers. The group cheered. Together, the rest of us joined in a theatrical “soundscape” using rhythmic percussion to create sounds of the machine John Henry fought against.

The group came alive! Bob eloquently collapsed into a chair demonstrating the demise of “John Henry”. As one, we all took one last breath together as John Henry took his last breath. Then Bob stood and took a bow.

Kairos Dance Theatre © 2011/ In photo: Andrea and Participants

This story set up the context to share the participants work history. Mary shared how she had worked at Montgomery Ward for 35 years she was a cook and a cashier. Mary, who is usually non-participative, sat up and in detail shared her job experience. We all affirmed her history by clapping.

Kairos Dance Theatre © 2011/ In photo: Carla and Participant

John shared working at the Ford Auto plant for 35 years and Terry, who is 90, talked about packing explosives for the Iron Range. Richard talked about being an engineer on the Iron Range. It was an honor to hear each of their stories, their legacies.

Mel, who works at Ridges Adult Day, said she has seen the participants more engaged since The Dancing Heart™ program started in January. “They are more willing to take risks and are more trusting of the creative process.”



The mission of Kairos Dance Theatre is to transform and revitalize individuals and communities. We work with older adults in intergenerational settings to liberate the healing power of interactive dance and story. We achieve our mission by engaging the skills of professional teaching artists.

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