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Maria Genne: Everyone Needs to Dance

_mg_1247web_220Dancer, choreographer, “amazing-person” Ida Arbeit died peacefully in her sleep early on March 15 at 101 years old. Four days earlier she was a featured dancer in a taping session for an upcoming public television program about the Kairos Dance Theatre. Ida was an exemplary model for creative expression throughout the lifespan. And that’s what Maria Genné is all about.

Maria Genné is the founder and director of the Kairos Dance Theatre, an intergenerational dance company based in Minneapolis that uses dance and storytelling to transform individual lives and build community. Ida, who’s dance career spanned decades and included work with the 1930s WPA Federal Dance Project, was part of the Kairos company since 2008. “Ida had such a wonderful eye for choreography,” says Genné. “She was always looking for what was next. ‘I am not about the past, I am about the future.’ She was a true collaborator with me, and the company was very honored to have shared her experience and wisdom.”

Genné believes that, as a society, we focus on the deficit side of elders rather than appreciate the gifts they have to offer. She particularly laments the lack of opportunities for creative expression for older adults. Kairos works to increase those opportunities, for people of all ages and abilities. Click on image below to see Kairos in action:


“Dance is my primary language. Even as a young child, I would do anything to dance. But I am also an educator with a passion for helping others express themselves.” Early in her career, Genné collaborated with teachers to bring creative movement into the classroom. Then she taught creative dance for children and later expanded to include families. Eventually she included elderly parents and people with disabilities. “I always took a look and found that the picture was not big enough. It had to include the whole community.”

mariagenneheadshotweb_220Genné sees herself and her company as catalysts for social change. “Social justice is in my blood,” says Genné. “My mother worked as a field secretary for the NAACP in New York with Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins. My dad was on the NAACP board in Chicago. Through my mother’s work we traveled the country and I got an intercultural education. I grew up knowing that you needed to walk your talk. Our intergenerational performances, which we bring to schools, nursing homes, museums, parks, and community centers bring a vision of what community can be: all ages, all backgrounds, all abilities, all dancing together.”

The Kairos Dance Theatre has been widely recognized for it Dancing Heart™ program. The program engages frail elders, including those with mid-to-late stage Alzheimer’s, in weekly dance, music and storytelling programs-led by professional artists. The program has won three national awards, most recently, the 2011 Rosalinde Gilbert Innovations in Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiving Legacy Award in the category of Creative Expression. The program has also won the Archstone Award for Excellence in Program Innovation from The American Public Health Association and the 2008 Mind Alert Award from the American Society on Aging. Beginning in January 2011, the Dancing Heart expanded into independent and assisted living sites engaging more active older adults in vital art creation.

Photos courtesy of Kairos Dance Theatre.




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