Star Spangled Banner

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My experience of singing the “Star Spangled Banner” has undergone a dramatic transformation from the time I sang it with fellow 8th graders in Ray School in Chicago. I danced as a young girl on the weekend with the young men who were freshly shorn recruits from the Great Lakes Naval Base because my Mom, Noma Genné was the Director of the Chicago YWCA – USO. Not much later my introduction to war came through the lens of Vietnam. I never could put together my experience of dancing with those friendly young men and the horrors of the war that I saw on television.

For the last year and a half I have had the privilege of sharing our KAIROS dancing heart™ program – dancing, singing telling stories and collaborating – with a group of retired soldiers from the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force (Army Air Force) each week at the VA Adult Day Program in Richfield. With a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board – with funding from the Cultural Legacy Fund – and generous individual contributors to KAIROS ALIVE!, we were welcomed into this program that daily serves a number of veterans and their families.

In the beginning I was determined to get the veterans dancing: in their chairs, tapping their fingers, or even moving across the floor with a swing step or waltz because I knew it would have positive health outcomes, and most importantly, invite them back into the community circle again. Many of the men have far surpassed my expectations: we tap dance, waltz, twist and dance the Schottische; we have had our own “barn dances” and we have developed our own improvisational theater/music/dance work that is inventive and imaginative. “Don” dances with me smoothly and elegantly across the dance floor. “Bill” uses a chair for support. We share stories from our lives, we tell jokes and remember fun stuff and hard stuff. We create community through artistic expression together. We are making new memories together.

I am moved by what our friends have shared with us about their experience as soldiers: of being dropped, as a very young man, over German territory during World War II, losing friends, bringing home souvenirs from fighting in Korea and another quietly told story of returning from Korea on a stretcher, minus any mementos.

Sometimes we sing and walk/march together. Last week our artist friend from DC, Anthony Hyatt, was visiting and played fiddle for us. We “stepped” to “The Caissons Go Rolling Along”, “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” and others. Then we stood arm and arm and sang the “Star Spangled Banner” together. We all hit the high notes, we knew the words: we sounded good; better than I have ever heard it sung. Then we sang “This Land is Your Land”. We sang the words with feeling: we all love our country, we love this world and we are grateful that, in our own way, we have helped create a more welcoming place to be.

Thank you to these dear men and their families who have been willing to show, in their own way, how much they care about us – and this beautiful world that we live in.

– Maria, 11/11/12


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.

2 Responses to Star Spangled Banner

  1. inda Allgower Gall says:

    Hi Maria! I enjoyed your blog very much. Your Mom would be so pleased. I was one of her hostesses! I married a Vietnam vet and now we are visiting the VA from time to time for medical reasons. Your blog brought back many happy memories. L

    • Maria says:

      I still grin when I remember all the dancing I got to do with those young sailors, who were much better dancers than my high school peers. So glad to know that it also brings back happy memories. My Mom, Noma, was very proud of the young women who were the junior hostesses. You made a big difference to those soldiers and sailors. Thank you.

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