Art Affects when Communities Share (or Breathing in, breathing out)

This is a repost of a blog written by John Schratwieser, Executive Director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, who came to the master class with Kathleen Hermesdorf held at Dance Exchange recently to observe. Here he reflects on some of what he walked away with after the class, and the importance of art in our everyday lives. To read the full article, and other writings by John, go here:

originally posted on November 6, 2013.


It has been a really long time since I last posted… in fact, the last post was before I took my current job almost 3 and a half years ago.

It’s Time!

Culture Happens! was supposed to be my opportunity to translate my experiences of the arts in our culture into interesting and hopefully helpful stories. Never have I been more motivated to come back to writing this than I was on Saturday, November 2, 2013. Why? Because I was HERE:

Dance Exchange

Outside Dance Exchange. Photo by John Schratwieser.

Yep. DANCE EXCHANGE, in Takoma Park, MD, Founded by the visionary choreographer Liz Lerman. I came to DE to experience a “Master Class” given by Kathleen Hermesdorf. The two hour class was transformational (even for this observer who is sick over the fact that he did not participate in the class – oh vanity!) Kathleen’s philosophy seems to come from a focus on the whole human. She began simply by awakening the body and engaging the breath. DE prides itself on GATHERING / MOVING / MAKING. What else is there I ask you? This community of people; regular, everyday people… no Prima’s in the room that I could tell (yes some had real dance training but not all) came together to share an experience that would make their days better, richer, easier, harder, happier, more interesting, more complete. In my notes, which I frantically typed on my iPhone, without my glasses…, I wrote Kathleen’s words, which she repeated during the first exercise: “The Breath, The Body, The Mind, The Movement. Give and Take. A Community Shares. The Breath, The Body, The Mind, The Movement.” I will not presume to give a common explanation for this statement because I believe it hit me, and everyone else in the room in ways as unique as each of us. Ninety minutes of intense movement and focus followed the first exercise… which was exercise… which, Kathleen pointed out, is only two letters different than exorcism. The next 90 minutes were about Feeling, Form & Function, the Floor, and Force & Flow. It was beautiful.

Kathleen's Class

Movers gather at Dance Exchange. Photo by John Schratwieser.

In the spirit of Theatre Bay Area’s fantastic book Counting New Beans, I wanted to ask each participant how these two hours would change their day, week, life! Because I know it did/will… like all great art does. But for me, as an Arts Advocate, the message of the intrinsic value of the arts on our daily lives, and for the long term, is a message I and all advocates must translate into terms a lawmaker can understand… a lawmaker who’s primary objective is much more likely to be short term solutions to crisis rather than longterm policy changes, the benefits of which, may not be seen during that particular lawmakers term in office. DE and Kathleen gave me a swift kick in the right direction… but even this process of translating this message is a long term one…. and may not be realized until long after me.
Special Thanks to my friend Matthew Cumbie (Resident Artist/Education Coordinator at DE) for inviting me, and more, for inviting Kathleen!

It is worth noting that later that Saturday, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, I experienced another magical arts moment, this time at the capable hands of the musicians and music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, and more specifically, the hands of this man:

Peter Serkin

Peter Serkin plays. Photo by John Schratwieser.

Yep – That’s Peter Serkin at the Steinway in the transformed high school auditorium which was packed to the rafters on this particular evening. My friends and I acknowledged we were in the presence of greatness. Wow.

In the interest of keeping this short, I will not go on to include the parlor event I attended on Sunday… but think living room, folding chairs, Britten, a piano and an amazing Soprano. Point being, art comes in all shapes and all forms, when we buy a ticket or when we least expect it. Be open to it, and allow yourself to measure the value in your life, and then… work on translating that value in to a story, and tell your story. This is the great American tradition (created only because it was the one thing that every future American who came her had in common… a story. When we tell our stories, we engage ourselves and our communities. When we are engaged in community, we are not alone.

More Soon. Until Then… Live Creatively and Color Outside the Lines

About Guest Blogger

Dance Exchange intern and/or guest blogger.