Arts camp hosts dance diversity training

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— Since JoAnne Tucker created the Avodah Dance Ensemble in 1974 in New York, the experimental dance company has delved deep into intercultural education programs for prisons, schools and professionals.

Next week, the group will be at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp to lead a five-day diversity training workshop designed to incorporate movement, storytelling and percussion to build interpersonal relationships and cooperation. Participants are coming from across country to gather skills that they can bring back to enrich their communities.

"All of this is about collaboration -- how do you accompany without dominating," Tucker said.

The diversity workshop comes to Perry-Mansfield via Tucker's connection to Steamboat. She spends about half the year here and first came to the area as a camper at Perry-Mansfield in 1958.

"That was the defining summer," Tucker said.

After attending The Juilliard School, the Martha Graham dance studio and earning her doctorate in theater at the University of Wisconsin, Tucker has spent the past 30 years using the power of art to promote intercultural harmony and positive interactions between diverse communities. Recently, two women's prisons have been wrapped into the fold of Tucker's realm of diverse community projects.

In 2002, Tucker said she found herself performing in a women's prison "by a fluke." Now, she said she and the other dancers who regularly participate in the prison workshops have been deeply changed by their experiences.

"It's very powerful work, and the women get it," Tucker said. "They pour themselves into it."

Tucker suggested there are similarities between dancers and inmates. Both the dancers and the inmates she works with are risk takers who think outside the box, she said. The difference is in acting out those impulses in legal versus illegal ways.

The Avodah Dance Ensemble offers inmates a potential outlet to channel their energy in positive ways, Tucker said.

At Perry-Mansfield, diversity training participants will be using dance, drumming, yoga and storytelling to break down miscommunication and cultural barriers, Tucker said.

Throughout the week, storyteller Regina Ress will share traditional stories and folk tales from places such as Haiti, Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa and Borneo. These are stories that show how people react to one another and how we can find peace in the world, Ress said.

Ress said she starts with the premise that "to be human is to be a storyteller."

She emphasized the importance of oral traditions and the intercultural exchange that stories have to offer, especially because many cultures share similar basic stories. During the workshop, participants will explore the "delicious seasoning a culture adds to the same stories" and learn about ways to perpetuate the oral exchange of culture and ideas.

Days will start with yoga taught by Steamboat resident Libbie Mathes, who joins Avodah Dance Ensemble as an instructor for her third workshop.

"I see yoga as a foundation. It is the necessary element of grounding and centering," Mathes said. These elements are important to being authentic in the other interactions throughout the workshop, she said.

The workshop is partially funded by a grant from the Laura Jane Musser Fund.

Scholarship money is available to defray most of the cost of the workshop; however, people interested in attending must commit to the entire five days, starting Monday morning. Call Tucker at 870-8942.

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