Depending on Each Other, Remembering Those Who Helped Us Get Here

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This week the Dancing Heart sessions at the V.A. Day Program sites focused on our interdependance and those we depended on to get where we are today. We worked with the imagery of trees and how they shelter us and gift us in so many ways. Their fruit, their sap, their branches, and even eventually a stump to sit on. How they give us oxygen which is like the gift of freedom some people gave us. We stood together as a forest, keeping in mind the great gifting trees that fell before us. We said some of their names aloud. We thank each veteran.

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Master Drummer Lights Up V.A. Dancing Heart Circle

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Kevin Washington, a true dancer’s drummer, joined us at the VA Adult Day program on Thursday.

He set up his drums while we cleared a space to dance. We were inspired to DANCE our hearts out to Kevin’s lively and inventive playing.

Later, when we took a breather, he wove a multi-cultural history of percussion into story and rhythm, leading our 30+ band of drummers, tambourines, clavés and shakers into a wonderful and playful jam with everyone taking part, including staff and volunteers.

Kevin kept us playing together until some of us just had to get up and dance some more.

We really did create something together that could not have happened without each person be willing to play and contribute their own gift to the whole group!

Maria

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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

Spirit Canoe

These days around Halloween they say, is the time when the veil that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead is at its thinnest.

Using the Papua New Guinean story of the spirit canoe (a boat without a bottom that can travel into the spirit world), we invited our Veterans to name those people who had died who might be rowing that boat.

Everyone shared a memory of a parent, grandparent or fallen comrade.

With the rhythmic beat of a drum, we imagined them rowing and made space in our hearts for all of them.

~Nicholas

Active Week for Kairos Dancing Heart

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Recently KAIROS ALIVE!’s dancing heart™ teaching artists had a very active week.

Maria, Carla, Parker, Peter, Nicholas & Cris provided interactive programs for 270 people at 16 different sites while maintaining the in-the-moment flow.

This had been the pace we aimed at over a year ago during strategic planning sessions.  Now we’ve touched that pace a year ahead of schedule and it seems sustainable in a way that maintains quality.

Over the course of the coming year we plan to establish that as the norm. . . and what a lovely norm that will be. ~

Peter

Good-bye to our Musical Muse

Today was our last day with our Dancing Heart VA Adult Day friend, Stan.

He is heading to a facility that can give him good 24 hour care. Today all of us at our Dancing Heart session at the VA honored him with an award from our “hearts.” We thanked him for bringing to us his love of music – from Ray Charles to Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley to Hank Ballard. He reminded us “that there is nothing more beautiful in the world then music.” We reminded him that he will always remain in our hearts – and that his love of music will continue to inspire us. We danced a “dance” that we had choreographed to a Hank Ballard tune – inspired by his musical musings. Our last song, “Thank you, Thank you for this Great Big Love” by Barbara McAfee was dedicated to him.  We will miss him and we know that his legacy of loving music will continue to nourish our dancing circles.

Maria

Edward Starts to Dance

Edward is a gentleman I’ve come to know over the past couple of months in the Dancing Heart™ program.  Edward is in a wheelchair and is quite advanced in years, yet, he still carries a great amount of wit and sass.  However, I had noticed that when we would dig into our weekly dancing and storytelling, Edward would hold back.  There was generally a wall there, that kept him from moving with us, and opening up his stories – as if he were somewhere else.  I couldn’t see how to bridge the gap that would enable him to be present with us.  Yesterday, we found the bridge.

The group was slowly trickling into the space, as they always do, and Edward was early – sitting there more alert than I remember him being before.  He seemed to be waiting for this moment.  As I approached him, kneeling down by his side to try and make a connection, he started out with his usual line of, “I don’t dance.”  Instead of trying to talk him into it, I simply asked, “why not?”  “Injured in the war,” he replied, motioning to his stone-like feet.  Edward continued on, “He got me, and here, too. (pointing to his eye) But then I got him – for good.  He didn’t go home, no, he never went back to Germany.  I was a crack shot – that’s why they put me on the front line.”

Edward continued to tell of his time in France during World War II, recounting the horror of ending another man’s life.  An event that happened so long ago, yet clearly one that he carried with him daily.  I could feel my heart resonate with Edward’s emerging heart, and I sat just breathing deep, as he shared with me this heavy event.  I felt honored that he trusted it to me, and we sat in silence for a moment.  I touched his hand and left him to put on the big band swing music, that was to begin our session.  As we dove into our Dancing Heart session, Edward was present, he moved to the rhythm, his hands gently rocking back and forth.   He participated in storytelling, sharing his own piece of knowledge and experience with the group.  The bridge had been built and Edward had crossed it making it home to a community of peers who can hold and support his journey.  As we ended our session, I thanked Edward and he replied, “what’s with this Edward business?  You’ll call me Eddie!”

Eddie it is.

– Nancy