Yoga, dance, sacred text meld at workshop

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— More than 40 years after her dance schooling at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, JoAnne Tucker was lured back to the magic of the mountains to a getaway from the everyday hustle and bustle of life in New York City.

Since 1972, Tucker has run a New York City dance company Avodah Dance Ensemble that is rooted in Jewish tradition. But she never forgot the summer of 1958, when she attended Perry-Mansfield, and she yearned for the opportunity to come back to Steamboat Springs.

Tucker thought it would be perfect to set up an annual workshop in Steamboat that would give Steamboat Springs a different take on culture and ancient tradition. After moving to Burgess Creek Road, Tucker found a willing partner in next-door neighbor Libbie Mathes.

Once the two women began sharing ideas and histories with each other, they collectively decided to create a workshop that would encompass their love of physical expression. What resulted was the Avodah Dance Ensemble Colorado workshop.

The workshop, which features a blend of yoga, dance and sacred text, runs from Monday through next Friday. It is designed to provide a connection between the spirituality of a sacred biblical story and physical expression through dance and yoga.

"When you read about Abraham going forth to a new land, you become Abraham and physically move," Tucker said. "This is perfect for those of us who are physical learners. Dance is a vehicle to physicalize text."

Participants in the workshop make connections to the text with their own lives, said Tucker, a Juilliard School and Martha Graham Studio graduate.

Such thematic workshops don't always have the same popularity as straight dance workshops, but Tucker said she wanted to return to Steamboat and give it a go.

"It's the whole philosophy of how you make biblical takes in motion," Tucker said. "How can we do in movement what the rabbis did verbally."

Tucker is co-author of "Torah in Motion: Creating Dance Midrash," a book of improvisations based on passages from the Torah, the five books of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Tucker said many times the text is explicit, while other times the passages leave much to interpretation. Rabbis struggled with this, creating their own interpretations relevant to the time.

The yoga, dance and sacred text workshop allows people to make their own interpretations through movement.

Avodah Dance Ensemble has conducted other New York City-based workshops and continues to tour the United States with presentations in synagogues, churches, community and concert centers.

But this is the first workshop of its kind, combining yoga, dance and sacred text.

Tucker, who has a doctorate in theater from the University of Wisconsin, will head the Steamboat Springs workshop and focus on the improvisational movements aspect.

Heading the yoga portion of the workshop is neighbor and friend Mathes, who has received training in India. Mathes is an expert in Asana, or posture, and Pranayama, or breath control. Like Tucker, she combines her personal interest in acquired yoga with Jewish traditions.

Amichai Lau Lavie, who has an extensive background in storytelling and mythology, will lead the sacred text aspect of the workshop. He will weave multimedia arts with classic Jewish texts and study techniques.

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