There was this moment of unexpected, almost heartbreaking beauty in White River Junction the other day. Maybe you were walking down the street late in the afternoon, glanced in Open Door's big picture window, and caught it.
Kate Gamble and Kelly Armbrust were working with eight middle- and high-school-age dancers. Kate, Open Door's founder, is choreographing their springtime dance performance; Kelly, who runs Open Door's dance programs, teaches their class. The girls had just warmed up -- jogging around the room, crab-walking, leaping from one end to the other, loose-limbed and playful. Kate had them sit in chairs across from one another, close their eyes and center themselves, then open their eyes and gaze at their opposite partner. "Try not to smile -- just look," she said.
"I can't not smile!" one said, laughing, and a few others shifted, on the edge of giggling.
"This is a skill. You should learn it," Kate told them. "Close your eyes if you’re getting too in your head or goofy, and really feel your body."
"You can see someone else," Kelly added, "and not lose your awareness of yourself." They tried it again and it was as though the air itself settled.
On a cue from Kate, they stood and walked toward each other. "Come across to your partner, and then you can touch her heart, or hold her hands and look at her, or come and pause and just touch her head. You make the choice," Kate said. "Just let a sweet moment happen."
And here's the thing: It wasn't just sweet. It was entrancing. In workaday t-shirts and sweats, they caressed hands, entwined arms, cradled heads -- simple movements become fluid, graceful, honeyed, expressive. It was dance arriving out of the air.
Of course, using words to describe dance is like trying to paint the taste of orange-blossom water. It's plucky to try, and you might even capture a whisper of it... but in the end, it's impossible.
The thought behind dance, though -- that's not impossible. And as you'd expect at a place like Open Door, which believes in health and overall well-being as a whole-body experience, the dance programs are about far more than simply learning technique and physical discipline.
"I think our intention to nurture true authenticity and self-awareness is less common in traditional dance settings…and in our culture in general," says Kelly. "So while we teach technique, we also teach students to attend to and use their inner experience or felt sense of the movement. Kate and I both include improvisation in our classes, believing that learning to create one’s own movement or find one’s unique movement voice is as important as learning the style or technique of a teacher. Much learning can happen just by noticing how it feels to move big or small or in contact with another dancer."
Kelly Armbrust and Joe Sargent--a movement instructor at Open Door--rehearse a duet they'll perform in May.
Kelly grew up dancing, danced through college, and then afterward with some small dance companies; she also taught. But she's known since she was in 5th grade that she wanted to use dance to help people, and ultimately began practicing dance therapy. She started teaching again when her daughters were young.
"I couldn’t find the kind of dance experiences I wanted for them, so decided to teach class myself," she says. "I wanted them to learn to move organically from a grounded, centered place before adding technique. And as they grew older, I wanted traditional technique that continued to support authenticity and self -discovery." She eventually enrolled her older daughter in Kate's class, then joined Open Door as an instructor herself. "Kate and I collaborate all the time…and so we learn from one another and the students benefit from a richer approach than either of us alone would bring," she says.
Kate, now a physical therapist, was a dancer before, and dance has always had a place at Open Door. This shouldn't be surprising, says Kelly. "A dance class aims to wake up all parts of the body, inviting movement and flow. Movement is life, and dance lengthens and strengthens and connects.... As you learn more ways of moving, you expand the realms in which you are comfortable. As we discover and cultivate more choices as movers, we begin to have more choices about how we interact with the world around us. Ultimately dance can connect us to our bodies again…or in ever deepening ways. It helps us feel more alive and more human and more able."
Photo by Kay McCabe -- Her dance photographs will be on display at Open Door's dance performance on May 11.
Open Door's performance will be on Saturday, May 11 at the Richard W. Black Community Center in Hanover -- time still to be determined.
In addition to Kate and Kelly, Open Door has three new dance teachers. Among them, they offer a wide range of dance classes for ages 8 to adult, including modern dance, a new ballet class, dance for people with Parkinson's, a once-a-month Soul Sunday dance gathering, and a lot more. You can find the programs for teens and adults here, and for youth 8-18 here.