Aging Gracefully

In honor of Danceworks’ 20th Anniversary, we are sharing 20 stories of individuals who have made an impact on—or who have been impacted by—Danceworks and our programs. This is the seventh in our series, “20 Years, 20 Stories.”

If you want to know the secret to aging gracefully, you don’t have to look too much further than Danceworks 50+ classes. There are shining examples everywhere you look. Along with healthy attitudes about life in general, you’ll discover contagious laughter and bold enthusiasm for life.

I noticed one of our regular 50+ students wasn’t around last week and found out she was dealing with some nagging pain that was keeping her from the four classes she takes each week. I gave her a call to check in and see if maybe since she wasn’t able to dance right now, she might like to talk about it.

I dialed her number, and Natalie Lloyd-Jones took my call.

“I really miss it!” she said right away. “I don’t like exercise! I dance and it’s so much fun. That, to me, is not exercise.”

Natalie, far left in the red shirt, during a 50+ Ballet class at Danceworks
Natalie, far left in the red shirt, during a 50+ Ballet class at Danceworks

Natalie was a kindergarten teacher at MPS Washington Irving on N. 35th Street for many, many years. She had always wanted to take Ballet but never had the chance.

“I just love Ballet for its beauty! I tried Jazz and other things but it wasn’t for me. The Ballet class I took years ago had mostly 20- and 30-year-olds in it. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I got into Tap by a fluke. You offered a 50+ Tap class and I signed up!”

Before I started at Danceworks, Polly Morris had received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to start a 50+ Initiative at Danceworks. This support made it possible for Danceworks to provide multi-arts programming in Milwaukee County senior sites and other older adult facilities. Amy Brinkman-Sustache jumped right on the idea and suggested the studio offer 50+ dance classes as well. The first of these classes was 50+ Tap.

Natalie at the Barre in her 50+ Ballet class.
Natalie at the Barre in her 50+ Ballet class.

“I liked it a lot but I kept asking for 50+ Ballet—and then finally I got my wish!”

Today, 10 years later, Natalie takes two Ballet and two Tap classes each week.

“It’s the teachers—you have the most incredible teachers. Oh, that Melissa and wow, that Amy! What makes them good is that they listen to you. If there’s a particular way that you learn, they incorporate it into their teaching style. I learn audibly and visually. You can’t just tell me to listen, you have to show me.”

“If I say—that hurts!—they’ll say, ‘then try it this way.’ They have alternatives and they remember. That means a lot to me, because as a teacher I know people learn differently. Everyone has their own style of teaching, but good teachers incorporate what helps different students. That’s the difference between a mediocre and a great teacher. Students won’t usually tell you what they need, but good teachers can figure it out.”

Brenna McGee is a Danceworks 50+ Student and Columbia St. Mary’s Urgent Care Nurse. She stops by Danceworks each week as she can fit it in. She is also a member of Milwaukee Set Dance Club
Brenna McGee is a Danceworks 50+ Student and Columbia St. Mary’s Urgent Care Nurse. She stops by Danceworks each week as she can fit it in. She is also a member of Milwaukee Set Dance Club

“We all like each other at Danceworks. These are my friends. If someone in class doesn’t get something, we encourage each other. In dance class, you just want to be friends with everyone–you all have something in common. These are active people–real doers. People with outside interests, professionals, people from all different walks of life. They travel, study….I love these people. If someone new comes in, you just know you’re going to like that person. I even know a handwriting analyst! I never knew one before! Veterinarians, doctors, nurses, lawyers, people who own their own studios. There are top people in their fields in these classes.”

“Dancers walk taller. It’s an inspiration to get up in the morning. I say–oh good, today I have Tap and Ballet! I can walk to Danceworks. I’m always so glad for Monday. As a teacher I would say, ‘Yippeee‘ for snow days, be so grateful for the weekend. But Danceworks! Why, you’re not allowed to close!”

So, if any of you have always wanted to take a class but thought you were too old, too out of shape or whatever excuse you might be using, I hope Natalie inspires you to change your mind. 

Thanks for sharing your contagious enthusiasm, Natalie, every time you step through our doors. And most of all, thank you for setting an example of what it means to age gracefully.

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Here she comes again!

sarah wilbur
Sarah Wilbur, DPC co-founder, artistic director (1997-2007)

Reflections from Sarah:

Who makes a dance?
Or, perhaps more appropriate to this 20th anniversary blog series, the question might be better phrased: Who makes a dance work?

In my experience, we do.

During my decade at Danceworks, I had the privilege of moving through some explosive successes and failures as a dancer and as a person. As a dancer-choreographer-teacher-administrator-collaborator, I gained a heightened sense of my self and others through the privilege of dancing. The hyphens in that previous sentence evidence the many personal and professional attachments that I continue to hold in my memory and in my body since I left the organization in 2007.

For me, Danceworks holds a very personal purpose. It is where the invisible work that dance does and is, became visible to me.

[Pause, while she does a big kick, and settles into a slow, not so dramatic, lunge…]

So…here we are. I wish this were less of a monologue. Bound to go nowhere unless you are still reading. Still dancing. Returning to dance. That’s something that Danceworks is and does, for a lot of people. For twenty years and counting.

For me, ten of those years meant dancing around my own type-os, lackluster press releases, audacious titles, and overblown ideas. So here I am, still struggling to find the right way to to frame, to label, to “say” what Danceworks means to me.

So… for all that I won’t say, can’t begin to describe. For all that I see and I feel when I close my eyes and think of Danceworks, I offer the following list of one liners.

Incomplete. Still moving. No one person did any of these things. But, in my memory, we all had a pretty amazing time.

So, maybe, dance works, because…
No one can stay calm in a crisis better than Mary Newton.
No one can transform my breathless utterances into a lucid press release with the feminist glory of Polly Morris.
No one asked Amy Brinkman-Sustache to come strutting through the office door just weeks after Gabi was born, carrier-in-tow, ready to help with the next bulk mailing.
No one can stop Janet Lew Carr.
No one can spot optimism and “robust enthusiasm” like Terry Hueneke.

Or, if you prefer, dance works because…
No one can smile, “sell it” and then turn around and schlep all the gear back to the car than the original DPC misfits: Anina Bacon, Cynthia Collins, Joan Fernandez, Andrea Hill, Jen Moore, Laura Teska (Kariotis), Brinkman was there too, I’m quite sure (wasn’t it an Aretha Franklin medley?)…

No one, that is, except for maybe some of the later rebels: Becky Blong, Jeni Frazee, Dani Kuepper, Kelly Nellis, Megan McCusker (Licht), Kim Johnson (Rockafellow), Derek Rusch, Joe Pikalek, Kelly Anderson, Dorothy Kulke, Diana LeMense, Liz Hildebrandt (Tesch), Paula Koss, Catey Ott, Natasha Posey, Melissa Anderson, Korey Olivier, Dan Schuchart, Renee Griswold…and so many more beginnings and elliptical endings…

_MG_9790Or, quite probably, today, dance works because…
No one can remember how many times we’ve moved the ballet bars out of studio A for an evening performance.
No one can remember to get the lock on the second stall in the women’s restroom fixed.
No one can remember ALL of the UPAF gigs.
No one can spot the type-os on sweatshirts like Melissa Dineen (Feldmeyer).
No one can laugh louder than Liz Hildebrandt (Tesch).
No one supports like Dani Kuepper.
No one is more poised and ready than Kim Johnson-Rockafellow.
No one can set the sail in as many directions as Debbie Farris.

Or from where you sit, reading, dance works because…
No one can…(close your eyes, think for a moment, and insert your memory here).

It’s getting really crowded in here. That’s my point.

No one can. No ONE can. Danceworks, to me, is a midpoint in human connection. A space to return to dance, for whatever reasons, and to experience new results.

I am so lucky to have joined Danceworks, a space to bumble and stumble, to sweat and to fight, and to learn to stomach the taste of my own words. I am so thankful for the people that I hold close today, due to my time with the organization. And I am still, so inspired by the promise of these elliptical endings.

Sarah Wilbur
DPC co-founder, artistic director (1997-2007)
Choreographer-turned-academic-hopeful
UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance

Along Came Sarah.

In honor of Danceworks’ 20th Anniversary, we are sharing 20 stories of individuals who have made an impact on—or who have been impacted by—Danceworks and our programs. This is the sixth in our series, “20 Years, 20 Stories.”

The tempting treat that dangled before my eyes was the promise of finding a place to live close to a place to dance. This was the motivation Todd used to get me to move back home to Milwaukee from the beautiful, mild-wintered Chapel Hill rather than him move there. He sent me an article on a new dance studio opening just north of downtown. He said we could live close by and be near the Lake, restaurants and shopping. He also enclosed a schedule of classes and arranged for a visit.

By 1997, Danceworks co-founders Mary Newton and Polly Morris had decided Danceworks needed a resident dance company. Sarah Wilbur, along with about nine other newly graduated, gifted UWM dance majors, formed Danceworks Performance Company (DPC), of which Sarah was the first Artistic Director.

Sarah, an integral part of the original Danceworks team.
Sarah, an integral part of the original Danceworks team.

In 1999, together, Todd and I stepped through the doors of Danceworks’ newly renovated space at 1661 North Water Street and sat down to watch a rehearsal. I remember she was wearing a yellow top. It matched her disposition—she seemed to glow. Her name was Sarah.

I was drawn to the strong individuality of each of these highly athletic women who seemed to be as comfortable upside-down as right-side-up. It wasn’t long before we were dancing together (though I had a strong preference for remaining right-side-up!).

One afternoon after class, we sat and talked—Sarah and I—in the long windowed hallway facing the river. I had started work on my MFA at UWM, in dance of all things, at 45.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with it,” I remember saying, “but I’m dancing and it’s getting me connected. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be Executive Director of Danceworks or something like that.” (Lesson: Be careful what you say, it might happen.)  I knew my dancing days were numbered, and the next best thing would be to help make it possible for others to do it.

Sarah performing with DPC.
Sarah performing with DPC.

I think it is fair to say that, while Mary and Polly put Danceworks on the map, Sarah put the follow-spot on it. As artistic director, she brought Danceworks into the light of the eyes of the community. DPC was designed to be a collective of dancers, each contributing his or her own unique choreographic voice. That structure still remains to this day.

Leadership is important—even within a collective—and Sarah lead with a distinctive style, sense of innovation, quirkiness and athleticism, along with a work ethic that never quit. When she moved on to pursue her MFA in L.A. (and now PhD), it took two if not three people to replace the load she had carried with great enthusiasm and sense of fun.

To get a deeper inside look at what it was like to work with her in DPC, I asked several of our founding company members who are still with us to share a good Sarah story. Andrea Hill Johnson, the stunning, statuesque glossy-haired dancer who caught my eye that day I first watched rehearsal captured it beautifully:

sarah-pic-3
Sarah Wilbur getting members of the Sheboygan community on board for DPC’s “Wide Sky Dance Project: Willing to Risk”.

I have to say that it is hard for me to remember one funny story about Sarah. When I think about Sarah and the 20 years that we have been friends, all I feel is joy and laughter. There were too many funny times during our college dancing days–far, far too many DPC laughs (our trips to the Kohler Center for the Wide Sky Project were monumental for supreme hilarity. Actually, any of our road trips…too funny). Even more ridiculous times creating Danceworks’ first Outreach Portable Performances (she and I would have to bargain over who had to be the ‘dude’ during the swing portion of Dancing through the Decades). I continue to laugh with Sarah between the many miles that separate us. Laughter and love always bridge that gap. Sarah = laughter, through the good and the bad. I am fortunate to have gone through it all with her and continue to do so.

Something I’ve never confessed to anyone — when I went back to Chapel Hill after that weekend visit to Milwaukee and Danceworks, I headed straight to TJ Maxx and bought a yellow top to dance in.

On behalf of all of us at Danceworks, here’s to you, Sarah, and to your ongoing, continued success!