Dancing up a storm, or, dancing after the storm

Sunday, August 28th found me leaving my house with no power post-hurricane and leaving my dear dog Bashie with fellow Dance Exchange-r Ben Wegman. I drove north to teach a week-long senior institute at the Encore Institutes in Chautauqua, NY.

Chautauqua itself is like nowhere else I’ve ever seen.  By the end of the week, many of us had chosen “my  house”- our favorite  house among the largest collection of Victorian homes anywhere.  I found myself unable to choose.

Houses in Chautauqua

The Athenaeum Hotel, where we stayed, was a beautiful old Victorian hotel. On Tuesday evening they allowed me to move their furniture around to perform “Darwin’s Wife”, a solo made for me by Liz Lerman,  in the lobby. The grandfather clock behind me chimed the hour at the just the right moment.

Encore: Creativity for Older Adults is an amazing organization founded and led by Jeanne Kelly. It began as a senior chorale. Now there are eleven chorales in the DC area and this is their fourth summer at Chautauqua. Classes all day and an evening program of music each evening really makes retirement look good.

Each day began with a warm-up class for all participants.  Then I worked with participants in the dance institute for the morning. After lunch there was a cross-over class where I worked with 30 people who were either in theatre or chorale programs. The week finished with a Friday showing and a beautiful improvisation.

Participants in Encore's dance institute


My dancers–four intrepid souls! Jaimie, Dawn, Joette and Michelle decided to take a chance on this “dance thing” and created some beautiful work by the end of the week. We worked from personal story, from movement detail, from text, from image. We danced beloved dogs, ancestors on donkeys, peeling wallpaper, and much more.  Most sessions had a mix of laughter and tears, but no one was crying harder than I was when they shared their dances with the rest of the participants on Friday afternoon.

Close to 100 people over the age of 50! All vibrant, interesting, and creative, sharing a week of exploring, making art, learning something new, taking a chance…changing the definition of “old”.

About Shula Strassfeld

Shula Strassfeld began dancing “too late” and has been dancing ever since. She joined Dance Exchange in 2007.