My passion for movement began near a stream. This stream ran beneath an old wooden bridge, on a dirt road a quarter-mile from my farm home, three miles north of Vail, Iowa. My improvised movement left patterns and pathways along the smooth, dry, dirt floor of this outdoor studio for many summer moons. The birds, bees, and plowing tractors became my composers, while the wind accented my breath, and the seldom passing cars on the nearby gravel road initiated moments of surprised momentum. Jumping into the ditch to hide among the tall grasses allowed my confidence to build before a familiar and most forgiving audience of systems and creatures within this natural theatre.
Growing older I became interested in dance and went to visit Sherry and Julie’s Dance and Gymnastic Studio in Denison. Viewing the classes through a window, I felt odd watching people younger than I stand in rows to follow the leader. Often times there were words being shouted or the numbers one through eight being counted. The music was far more driving and boisterous than my own familiar landscape of natural sounds. I wondered how the dancers could hear themselves move and why a long row of mirrors appeared to be their audience.
I continued to grow into a young woman next to my mother’s physical challenge with rheumatoid arthritis. Helping her dress, bathe, clean, and cook became a way to support and witness her relationship to her body. I noticed how her body’s architectural alignment shifted with the disease and adapted to remain functional. From these experiences, my mother’s positive spirit, organic eating practices, and faith in resurrection resonate most deeply. During this time I also witnessed the range and efficiency of my father’s body—sowing seeds, raising lots of cattle, growing grains, and riding with horses. I witnessed his struggle through the farm crises when he gave up all that he had gathered. From these experiences, my father’s creed resonates most deeply—family is everything and “a little ole’ Iowa black dirt can make anything grow.”
At 18, I wanted to go to Boulder, Colorado, to study dance. Instead, I attended Luther with intentions of becoming a physical therapist—hoping to heal my mom. Meeting Vicki Blake, Luther’s dance instructor at summer registration immediately swept me into the possibility of dancing while at college. Auditioning for the student ensemble in a swimming suit and white tights (because I didn’t own a leotard) bought me a ticket into every introduc-tory dance course (ballet, jazz, modern, and musical theatre). I practiced dancing from 8:00–10:00 every night, but majored in theatre. Under the direction of Bob Larson, I discovered that the discipline of theatre resonated with my desire to develop authenticity and a deeper connection to the human story.
My passion for dance led me to study with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre certificate program in New York City. Longing to return to the Midwest led me to dancing in Chicago, and after five years of entrepreneurship in choreography, directing, performance, and teaching, I desired a deeper understanding of the body as a tool for dance-making and performance. I was accepted into the M.F.A. track for performance and choreography at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. This three-year program spawned my interest in combining virtuosic training, body-therapy techniques, and artistic vision. A turning point in my dance training was the result of my becoming very sick with Hepatitis A (food-borne) for three months. For recovery, I worked with theatre practitioner Robin McFarquar and his practice of integrated respiratory technique. This technique supported an amazing recovery of my body and enhanced my skills with technical performance. Surprising my dance professors and department chair with my recovery, I was allowed to keep my leading roles and solos for the department’s main stage concert that season.
Another turning point in my dance training reflected the foundation of my undergraduate theatre degree. I received Dance Magazine’s Outstanding Performer Award at the American College National Dance Festival held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. This award was for my performance where I told a story while dancing in the duet The Peaceable Kingdom choreographed by Renée Wadleigh. This recognition catapulted me to my selection as one of 23 artists receiving an NEA grant for an Arts Corps Pilot Project program across the United States. I traveled to Norfolk, Nebraska, to conduct a seven-week residency for dance and community. With this turning point in my career, I realized how interdependent my theatre and dance training had become.
In 1996 with an M.F.A., $400, and the former music director for the Department of Dance at Illinois, Tom Bourcier and I started a life and cofounded a nonprofit arts company in Traverse City, Michigan. Working collaboratively, Black Earth (good ole’ Iowa dirt) employs art as a living record of human response to prevailing customs and beliefs. The company’s goal is to create new perspectives, questioning the familiar and probing the unfamiliar as a means to inspire artistic potential and discover life applications for art within the community. Through my collaborations with other artists (painters, poets, photographers, architects, etc.) I began to scrutinize dance-training methods and question how to train artists through the medium of movement. I became deeply curious about fundamental movement patterns and renovating dance-training technique to encompass all body types and all abilities while cultivating the capacity for individual artistic distinction. A three-tiered series of awareness practices based in movement fundamentals became my core research: alignment and function (inspired by the curiosity to help my Mom); range and efficiency (inspired by witnessing my Dad on the farm), and vocabulary and intention (inspired by my own dirt-road dance journey). These training concepts, along with contact improvisation (an art form and another vocation story), are crucial to my own continued practice with performance and dance-making.
Today, after birthing four boys, and returning to teach in the Theatre/Dance Department at Luther, I behold what is passionate to me with deepest respect and reverence. Following my passion has given my life form. Recently, I looked out the window of our upstairs bedroom and was suspended in time. I saw seven goats, 18 chickens, a dog, a cat, a horse, and four little boys dancing in the grass by a fence that has nails and copper wire arranged to say “Life Is Beautiful!” I never would have guessed this snapshot would be a glimpse into my future when I was 18 or eight. Now at 41, I continue to follow my desire for authenticity and a deeper connection to the human story. This practice of following my passion has revealed a moving life—full of patterns and pathways, which sustain and strengthen what I find deeply divine.