In honor of Luna’s 25th year, each week this page will share unique stories from the perspectives of past and former students, teachers, and organizational partners, connecting our past and envisioning our future. We hope you will enjoy reading them, and as they collect, develop a fuller picture of the landscape that is Luna Dance Institute.
I often say Luna was launched on a whim—my colleagues at CitiCentre Dance and I were losing our work space and a beautiful studio on Park Boulevard, in Oakland, California became available. Although that first act of pulling out my credit card to lay down a deposit on the space might be viewed as impulsive; ever since, from the purposeful decision to hold Luna’s first Open House on International Women’s Day, March 8, 1992, to our current efforts to develop our Luna’s next generation of leaders, each and every choice made has been intentional.
My journey as Luna’s founder has been long and winding; yet, certain themes, concepts, and values have endured. In the early days, volunteers including Jane and Richard Rosario, Amy Hutto, Tricia Freitas, Freesia Huth, and Lori Lara burned the midnight oil pulling out built-in benches, laying marley flooring, and installing safety devices. Twenty-five years later, our nine-person staff and numerous volunteers exert the same effort to pull together annual events such as 20 Points of View, CHOREOFUND, and Dance-a-rama. It takes a community to run Luna has been a constant. The CitiCentre dance teachers that found a new home at Luna, including Malonga Casquelourd, Roger Dillahunty, Leslie Carter, Danny Giray, and Hafeesah Dalji, have moved on; yet, they remain connected–last summer, Malonga’s daughter, Muisi-kongo, participated in our Summer Institute. The importance of relationships is another sustaining value.
When the African dance teachers relocated to the Alice Arts Center, now Malonga Casquelourd center, I had a chance to articulate a vision for Luna’s children’s program that emphasized nurturing the choreographer in every child. I saw this, at the time, from a feminist perspective. My own dance training was about trying to learn routines created by my teachers and perform them as perfectly as possible. I was a good follower and so did fairly well—but what about leadership? Typically, people became choreographers after they’d dutifully danced for others—what would happen if the choreography came first? What if every child learned to choreograph a dance like they learned to write an essay? Not everyone would be the next Alvin Ailey or Martha Graham, but not every child ends up the next Walt Whitman or Alice Walker either. So, I set out with these questions guiding Luna’s program design. Over the years, with a team of gifted, committed dance teachers (Laurie Foster, Erin Lally, Lori O. Lara, Bonner Odell, Freesia Paclebar-Huth, Alisa Rasera, Julie Regalado, Veleda Roehl, Chantal Sampogna, Sarah Sass, and many more) we crafted a pedagogy that keeps creativity front and center in our studio program, as well as in schools, community centers, residential treatment facilities, and Head Start centers.
Today, our team: Amelia Uzategui Bonilla, Cherie Hill, Deborah Karp, Nancy Ng, Jochelle Pereña, Carmen Roman, Heather Stockton, Nia Womack-Freeman, and myself are pooling our talents to take Luna into the next quarter century. What role can dance play to create positive change in the lives of children and those who care for them? How can we more boldly participate in conversations of race, equity, and justice in our roles as artists and educators? How can we wield the generosity of our board, our advisory council, and our funders to lead with integrity and develop Luna’s next generation of trailblazers?
At a typical monthly assembly at New Highland Academy (NHA), where I teach dance as a Luna teaching artist, I experienced a moment of personal transformation. Acting as emcee, teacher Ms. E struck up “Down by the Bay” on her guitar and in moments the room was filled with exuberant singing voices. Such joyful scenes are common at NHA, where the arts—music, visual art, and dance—are central to the school culture. School assemblies and “artist of the month” awards showcase arts’ importance, and this month’s gathering featured a dance performance by a class of adrenaline-pumped 2nd graders. Dancing with expression, poise and focus, the act of performing transformed them from a squirrely pack of reluctant listeners into serious dance artists. As the applause died down, the Vice Principal buzzed in over the loud speaker:
We are officially on lock down.
Local police have informed us of violent activity outside the school.
No one may leave the cafeteria until further notice.
Gasps and murmurs spread through the room. Some kindergartners broke into tears. Instinctively, Ms. E. snatched up her guitar. “If we’re stuck here, we might as well sing!” And sing we did. The students’ favorite was a tune in Spanish that had them dance various body parts in different ways. I was struck by how absorbed they were in the movement. With tear marks still on their cheeks, Kindergartners smiled, sang and danced with gusto.
At once I felt a new sense of gratitude. Though gun violence—and the fear and suspicion it breeds—is a threat these children face every day, within the locked doors of that room, joy, community and expression overflowed. Situations like this one remind me that the arts are a life-giving necessity. Children’s creative expression remains greater than the forces of hate and division.
Story #3 – Dance Builds Community by Cherie Hill
In 2011 Marcia moved to the Bay Area from Wisconsin with her husband and two daughters. Intimidated by Oakland’s massive population, Marcia worried that her family would not fit in or find the tight knit community they had experienced before. At her local park, Marcia ran into a former Luna Dance MPACT teacher who encouraged her to take Luna’s free family dance class at the West Oakland Library.
On a cold and windy day, Marcia, her husband and two daughters bundled up and headed out for their first MPACT (Moving Parents and Children Together) dance class. Though shy at first, Marcia’s family broke out of their shell, leaping, turning and dancing full out. They continued attending weekly classes and the bond between them deepened into taking greater risks in movement. They jumped into the following session at Lotus Bloom and began to form long-term friendships.
Four families hug, kiss, and hold hands, greeting each other before class.
Shaky arms, shaky legs, and shaky gallops fill the room.
Children and parents create shapes to move over, under, around and through.
The energy breams with feelings of joy, love, security and comfort.
With each class the communal bond between Marcia’s family and three other families blossomed into play dates, babysitting-swaps, and eventually the formation of a cooperative preschool. From West Oakland Library to Lotus Bloom, then to Cesar Chavez Library and 81st Ave., each of these families followed MPACT classes when they were offered by Luna.
I spoke to Marcia, recently, and she told me that without the community created by MPACT for over three years, she and her family would have been lost in Oakland. Marcia is just one of many parents who share with me how significant MPACT classes are in building trust and community. Parents and children find MPACT a safe and nurturing place to play and dance together–increasing confidence in each dancing participant, enhancing the immediate parent and child relationship, and invigorating a sense of unity that carries on outside of the dance room.
Jared Hassan is a 10 year old musician who plays global percussion instruments and the saxophone with Bay Area Youth Arts. He has an amazing “musical ear”, and his music teacher says he is the , “ . . . . reincarnation of Thelonious Monk and Charlie Bird.” He studies in the advanced music class with Bay Area Youth Arts and has performed at Yoshi’s and for Congresswoman Barbara Lee with their youth ensemble. Jared’s mother, N’sombi is featured with her son in the book, “Thicker Than Blood”, a picture book which tells the stories of adoptive families, written and curated by a University of California Berkeley photography major. I first met Jared, seven years ago at an MPACT class at the West Oakland library.
Jared was almost three years old at the time, and he looked like he was five. His mom tells me he is still big for his age. During the first several classes he hid under the tables and dashed out the door multiple times during the class. I could see that N’sombi was anxious that this dance class might not be a good fit for them. Following that first class experience we encouraged N’sombi to return with Jared, and assured her that with time he would acclimate to the class. The next several classes were similar, and then Jared became interested in the other kids. He was new to playing with other children, so his way of getting to know them was to crash into them, or jump on them while they were making a low shape. After attending several six-week class series over a couple of years, Jared gradually danced more with his mom, and navigated the dance room with other children, learning to dance near them without crashing. He used his words to say “hi” and “goodbye” to his teachers and dance friends.
“My child is adopted and so I needed to find something to bond. I used to dance and so when I saw this it was a thing I wanted to try … And so, I do it for the bonding, although this is the first that we’ve ever really bonded. Cause he’s not, he’s not, he hasn’t (starts to choke up) learned that yet. You know what I mean? So, he’s in the process of learning to bond. So, even though he runs around and does what he does, he’s learning to come back, which is something that he hadn’t done before. We’d never danced together before. It was always him over there and I was over here. But now, he’s learning to come dance as a family in this class … it’s a good place for us to learn how to bond, for him to learn how to bond. He was a wild child. I was gonna to take him out of class. I was afraid for the other children, because he was a runner, ran in circles, circles, circles. But he finally got a grip, he’s ready to behave, he’s having fun. He’s being part of the class instead of not in it.”
When Jared was five years old he started dancing at the Berkeley Luna studio through our tuition assistance program. He and his mom were comfortable at the Luna studio; they trusted the teachers, and Jared danced at our studio until he was seven years old. About once a year I call N’sombi to see how her son is doing. Jared will attend middle school this fall. She is considering a school that has a strong music program; and they might possibly consider Oakland School for the Arts. In our most recent conversation she said that if he does pursue a music-based school she can include “Luna” on his resume as his first experience with the performing arts.
Story #6 – “…I see their creativity come out in their play” - Interview with Studio Lab Parent Kim Carlyle, interview & transcription by Heather Stockton
I would say being a part of Luna has really helped me get back in touch with my own creativity, just from watching the kids being creative.
Luna honors that everyone has their own creative ability- there is no right or wrong. That is your own story- your own creative piece. That is why we choose Luna too, because it has that inclusive environment.
I love that you have all of these women working here and make it work for the women working here. I love that you support each other through all of the different changes that you go through… that makes me feel better about our time and money here. I was just thinking ‘I don’t know how they do it all!’ I often tell people when they ask “why are you going all the way to Berkeley?” (we come from Alameda) well, other than the philosophy itself, I am giving my money to (an organization) who goes out into communities, and does outreach programs like MPACT, you know? And also as a work unit, how you all support each other, it just feels like a good place to support. I wish (our) family had more resources to support you.
I did parent child classes with Carmen…I did maybe like two sessions of parent-child classes with her. I love how you guys are so centered on what is developmentally appropriate…and then watching her grow into the older classes where she could start to do her own thing. And with Zola…she was so shy and more of an observer and really quiet. Usually would not answer back to an adult. I think in her head she thought she was doing big movements but actually looked like teeny little shapes. I actually wasn’t even sure she enjoyed coming to Luna and I remember thinking ‘I don’t know if we are going to come back’. But she said she wanted to come back and when she came back she started breaking out of her shell and I’ve seen her breaking out more and more. She has just become so much more grown…much more confident. I have seen her confidence grow at school- she used to be afraid to speak in front of others and just the other day she told me that she got this sticker because she read (her) writing in front of the class. I thought ‘wow how brave of her’. I absolutely believe that Luna has helped her develop confidence. And also within her body- on a physical level, she was always a more timid child. It wasn’t like she was not strong—she was hesitant, hesitant with her body. But I have seen her grow more confident with her inner self and with her physical self… yeah it’s really awesome. I do feel like Luna has been this subtle yet strong influence in her life.
On Monday, there was another girl in the class who was more shy than the others and Deborah (Zola’s Teacher at Luna) said “oh wow Zola was really brave, she (stepped up) and pretty much choreographed a dance with a whole audience…”
I am definitely really proud of her. I just love that she is growing in that way and I feel like it is in a healthy way. I think especially being a girl, I feel like this is good, having this foundation. I read somewhere that for a girl, confidence peaks at age 9. For my girls to be here, being able to be in your body, to be independent. I would say that is something that I am really grateful.
And with Carmen, she is just having so much fun. There is so much joy in her expressing and it makes me so happy to see. She said that she couldn’t wait to have a class for herself.
They love to be in the space and it is nice to see them so comfortable. And as siblings when they get to dance together in the space (during open houses/family dance classes) I feel like they get to connect through dance, they get to create together.
Story #7 – Luna Holds the Thread by Nancy Ng
Constancy, guts, unwavering determination – these were on my mind when I greeted Paula, a parent at one of our Oakland schools. Her family danced with Luna several years ago at a residential recovery center where we bring MPACT (Moving Parents and Children Together).
Six years ago, Teresa was dancing with her foster mother at a community site while waiting to be reunified with her birth mother. A season or two later, we met up with her again—this time dancing with her birth mother at a residential center. Dance was the way they were able to reconnect.
During those MPACT sessions, Paula was pregnant and gave birth to her son Justin. She was joyfully dancing with both of her kids the week after he was born. Justin was snuggled close in a baby carrier while Paula held on to Teresa ‘s hands twirling, rocking and gliding. Paula and her children danced with us throughout her recovery and once she left the center they came to free family dance classes at the Luna studio. We ran into each other occasionally when she came to visit staff at the residential center–both children in tow. She always greeted me with a huge hug and let me know that she was adjusting well to life outside of the residential center.
After not seeing this family for a couple of years I was thrilled to meet them again at one of our school sites. Last year, Patricia and I taught her daughter, Teresa in a fourth grade class; and Amelia taught her son during his weekly transitional Kindergarten dance class. After a few weeks of teaching, Teresa ran up to me while I was putting dance supplies away and pulled me towards her mother. Paula gave me a huge hug and ran to get her son to meet me. Of course, he did not remember me, but stared at me with wide open eyes as I crouched down low to say “hi”. Paula said, “This is my friend Nancy, she knew you when you were a baby.” Then she introduced me to her fiancé who was standing right next to her—he greeted me with a firm handshake and smile.
Story #8 - Former Luna Dancer Ben Oldham
Visit here to hear Ben speak about Luna’s gift of freedom and dance!
Story #9 – From Soloists to Duet – A Story of MPACT by Deborah Karp
Some things are easier to describe than others. At Luna, we engage in observation and reflection as daily practice. We charge ourselves to see what actually happens in a dance class, trying to separate out assumptions, judgement and interpretation in order to witness creativity, relationship, and growth, but, sometimes this is difficult; our MPACT (Moving Parents And Children Together) dance classes often happen at residential addiction recovery centers, where mothers are simultaneously learning tools to maintain independent, substance-free lives and to reconnect as they regain custody of their children. There is a lot to observe in these classes. During our opening circle we often see mothers and children participating together, moms tickling their kids to the tune of hickory dickory dock and rocking and rolling with their little ones as they exuberantly sing humpty dumpty. For some families this oneness of mother-child continues throughout the 60-minute class, but, for others, the strain of separation and loss shows through.
When we first met Mary and her child, we observed more separateness than togetherness in their interactions. Mary’s child did not want to sit on mom’s lap and usually danced away from her, toward other children and other mothers, or danced alone, not relating to anyone in class. Mary sometimes engaged her child, usually by giving instructions to listen to the teacher and behave. They rarely danced together and by the end of the six-week session were still two soloists, even when dancing as a duet.
When we returned some months later to start the new session we noticed the shift almost immediately. Mary’s child sat in her lap, smiling and singing nursery rhymes with her. Later in class as parents and children were dancing away from each other then back toward each other, Mary’s child galloped, jumped and turned across the room from her, then returned each time to receive a hug, high five, or “Good job!” from her. As the session progressed we witnessed the two of them making shapes, dancing over, under, around and through each other, giggling, grinning and inventing new ways of playing together through dance. At the end of each class, we as teachers reflected that both mom and child had moments of dancing as creative, expressive individuals and as a happily bonded pair. Through this transformation Mary also emerged as a leader: she confidently led sections of the warm-up and was a role model for how to connect with one’s child through dance.
While dance class is only one component of a busy week at residential centers, it’s a special time for moms and their children to be creative and play together. It was through this lens that we had the privilege of witnessing the remarkable relationship catharsis of Mary and her child.
At that moment, it was clear to me that Luna Dance had been a constant thread in this family’s life.
Story #10 – Student Succeeds at Dance by Cherie Hill
I am in a third grade classroom. Students are making shapes and applying energy. Kevin shouts,
“Look, I can do it standing on my head!”
I stare at him in awe, envious of his balance and strong upper body, and extremely happy because prior to class, Kevin’s teacher came to me with some concerns. He feels Kevin has too much energy, and is unable to control himself in dance class. He informs me that in previous years he was unable to participate. I told him we would give it a try, because kids with “too much energy” tend to be great dance students, and I knew if Kevin could stand on his head while applying smooth and sharp energy, then he could focus.
Flashback to before becoming Kevin’s dance teacher, I often saw him sulking in the school office. It was obvious he had been labeled as a problem kid. After speaking with his teacher and witnessing his talents, I made it a point to make sure Kevin had his dance time, and dance he did!
Through third, fourth, and fifth grade I was delighted to be Kevin’s dance instructor. Each year he became more confident, helpful to other students, and a more sophisticated dance-maker. I’ll never forget when he volunteered to explain his dance in front of a grant funder. For his 5th grade dance he led his group in choreography, directing when to start the canon, and placed himself front and center.
Kevin excelled in dance, and his other subjects, dancing at his graduation. Dance was part of Kevin’s success!
Jessica Bohn was the same age as her son Dashiell (12) when she first showed up with two friends, Bootsie & Reeves Battle, to take the adult modern-jazz class I taught on Tuesday nights at Somebodies! Dance studio on Telegraph Avenue. At the time (1982), I was delighted and challenged to consider how to integrate these brave and passionate young dancers into an intermediate dance class for grown-ups. All three teens stepped up with talent, determination and enthusiasm-Jessica brought a level of passion that belied her years.
After high school graduation, Jessica and friends went off to explore their own worlds. Occasionally, I would run into Jessica’s mom, Diana, in the neighborhood or on BART. We would reminisce about the old days-she told me that she still vividly remembers a soulful solo that Jess performed to Anita Baker in one of our student concerts.
Imagine my delight when Jessica reappeared decades later with two young sons in tow! Like their mom and grandmother, Dashiell and Dyami were curious, engaged people. It was fun to have them at Luna. Dance did not remain a priority for Dyami, but Dashiell stayed on, making dances about his expanding interests along the way. For the past nine years, Dashiell has enlivened his choreography with his knowledge and passion for geology (especially gems and rocks), science, martial arts, and improvisation.
Dashiell performed his choreography — a solo this past January at our family dance birthday party — launching the first of many celebrations of the Silver Jubilee. Like his mother before him, he performed with passion and his acute understanding of the craft of composition belied his years.
Although this year we celebrate 25 years as Luna Dance Institute, some of the deep relationships formed at Luna began much earlier. Others are new. Many are intergenerational!
Watch clip of then 9-year-old Dashiell dancing.
Click here for Alisa’s story of journey with Luna as a professional dancer, educator, and leader.
Clio Korn-Wallace is 28 years old now and will complete her PhD from the University of Oxford this spring. She was one of Luna’s first students 25 years ago. Clio’s dissertation is focused on the neurochemical dopamine functions across different brain regions to regulate motivation and decision making. This video of her is a “throwback” from 2010 when she was about to embark on her PhD program.
Now, Clio is incredibly busy applying for postdoctoral research positions. She hopes to secure a position in academia continuing with neuroscience research on dopamine, and gain experience teaching and working with science policy. She still dances—taking a ballet class fairly regularly, modern dance occasionally, and enjoys going out for an evening of salsa and blues dancing. Like many of the current students who dance with Luna, she has spontaneous pop-up dance parties in her home. Nancy Ng was Clio’s Luna teacher during her tween and teen years.
Story #14 – Why We Love Luna! by Rochelle Vaughn (Studio Lab parent)
While looking for extracurricular activities four years ago for my now 11-year old daughter Renee, I happily discovered Luna Dance Institute. Over the years we have found the Luna experience to be one of the most positive for choreographed movement for children and youth in the Bay Area. Young dancers are allowed to explore space and movement with guided instruction utilizing planned curriculum – something we had not experienced in other dance classes.
Since attending classes at Luna, I have observed that my daughter (as well as others too) has become more aware of her body in space. She has also been complimented many times for her poise and self-awareness. At Luna, independent choreography and team choreographed moves are encouraged, which seems to inspire the young dancers to develop higher levels of self-confidence and a team attitude. Luna’s programs are rich in communal spirit with the direct involvement of a most experienced and caring staff each well versed in their craft.
I am especially taken with the freedom that she was empowered with to create and dance.
We keep coming back to Luna because we love it!
Micaela is a bright first-grader at International Community School in East Oakland with dark curly hair tied in a high side ponytail decorated with a colorful ribbon. When I first met her in the Fall, she had a difficult time interacting in the dance class. She would stand still, off to the side while other students danced through the room. Her teachers’ told me that they had recommended an IEP, Individualized Educational Program, to help her get the support they imagined she needed.
In the following weeks, Micaela started to stand by me during dance class and narrated everything she saw her classmates doing. She pointed to a colorful rug on the floor with the alphabet and pictures of animals. The students slithered on their bellies; she ran and pointed to a picture of a snake next to the letter S. She excitedly said, “They are slithering like snakes!” When we worked on shapes, she looked around at the whole room of dancers holding their still shapes, and said, “They are frozen like ice statues.” I asked students to melt down to the low level and she whispered, “…like the ice melting on a hot day.”
After about 3 weeks of observing, Micaela started dancing. She seemed to take my indication very seriously, “find the empty space.” I saw her jogging around her classmates’ bodies in the middle level, her arms carving out the empty space in front of her. She also began proudly inventing her own shapes, repeatedly holding a shape balancing on one leg, with her arms straight over her head, and her leg at a 90 degree angle in front of her. She held that shape for a long time and said, “Amelia! Do you see me?”
Story #16 – Connections Sustained Over Time by Patricia Reedy
In my 25 years at Luna, a surprising aspect of our work has been to witness how dance often provides continuity. For some families, dance class is one of the most consistent things in their lives. We might see a child dancing with a foster parent in MPACT classes at one library. The next year, we see that same child at a residential center with her biological mother. Later, we find her again in second grade dance class at the public elementary school. This happens again and again.
One of my favorite continuity success stories is about the Love* family. We first saw the Loves in 2009. I was observing and video-taping an MPACT class at the West Oakland Library as part of a research study. That class happened to be larger than usual, perhaps a group of 21 adults and children were moving through the space. I noticed one mother dancing with a girl about 6 years old. After a few moments, she took the girl out of the room and then returned with a younger girl, about 3. This continued throughout the class. Afterward, I met up with the mother and her social worker in the lobby. Before I could ask her about the repeated ins and outs, she blurted out that she was totally overwhelmed, that the older child had autism and from the moment the little sister was born she was extremely jealous. The mother was a wreck trying to hide the love of the little one from the big sister because she was afraid she would hurt her. She felt guilty about not being able to give to the little one, but she was so afraid. The social worker also told us that this was the last time she would be accompanying the mother to the class—from now on, she was on her own. I encouraged her to return and set to work with my co-workers about how we could support her dancing with both girls at the same time.
The mother’s dedication was profound—she attended every class of the 8-week session with both daughters. On the last day, she said that she felt sick and wanted to sit out. The older daughter piped up, “I will be the mother in this dance class!”and led her younger sister joyfully through all the activities.
The Love family followed us from library to library. Eventually, the older daughter was given a scholarship to our afterschool studio program. Her mother brought her on-time, religiously, along with the younger sister who watched. One day, as I was observing class, the younger sister told me, “I’m going to be a dancer just like my big sister!” And dancer she was! Eventually, we had to find funds for both girls to attend. The little one had the dance bug—she was inventive, engaged, and engaging to watch.
After a few years, they moved to a suburb about 40 minutes from us and the mother continued to bring them both weekly until she found a job that did not allow the time. Last year, I learned that both Love girls came back and this time they danced together in the 7-11 year old Modern Dance Class! The experience of Ms. Love and her daughters humbled me—once she saw a bond possible, she committed herself to strengthening the connection between the sisters. The dedication it took to provide opportunities for her children to express themselves through dance required a great deal of commitment, trust, and perseverance (not to mention driving!) I will never forget this amazing family.
Photo: Matt Haber
Story #17 – Oakland Unified Teacher Albertina Padilla
“The class made her feel safe and able to express herself creatively.” – Albertina Padilla
Click here for Albertina’s story about working with Luna Dance and her K/1 students.
The lessons and legacy of my time working at Luna Dance Institute have been formative in my life as a professional and as a mother. I began working as an intern with Luna in 2003, became an employee into 2004. I worked as a development associate, and dance teaching artist for special needs preschool and elementary school classrooms as well as in the MPACT program. Luna’s mission of bringing creativity, equality and community to every child through dance aligns so deeply with my own professional and personal goals that each role I held for Luna allowed me to become more fully myself. In particular one aspect of my work for Luna which I valued enormously was the way the structure of the organization embraced each employee as a multifaceted individual who could simultaneously hold multiple roles. At Luna, everyone was an artist valued for their creative input, an administrator or coordinator valued for their intellectual and organization contributions, a teacher valued for what we had to give to others, a student valued for what we could learn, and a member of a community valued for how we worked together. I felt uniquely embraced in my working life as whole person; body, mind and spirit.
Now as a self-employed mother of three, I refuse to give up on that holistic integrity to what is possible in my life and career.
I have gone on to become a registered Dance Movement Therapist and currently work individually with young children experience developmental delay, autism, ADHD, anxiety, attachment difficulty and early trauma. I also continue to teach attachment focused parent-child dance classes, which my own children, ages 6, 4 and 2, have all attended with me. I teach a dance program for people with Parkinson’s disease and I teach dance in special needs preschool classroom. Through my multiple roles and contexts, I carry the lessons and memories from my work at Luna. I am deeply grateful for the mentorship I received from Nancy and Patricia as well as for how my experiences working at Luna shaped who I am today as a parent, teacher, and therapist.
Story #19 – Erin Lally, dance teaching artist & mother by Jochelle Perena
Watch former Luna dance teaching artist and family service manager Erin Lally’s story here.
Story #20 - Expanding the Realm of Movement: one student’s journey from MPACT to Luna’s Studio Lab – interview by Nancy Ng
Nathan Jacobson is currently a student in Luna’s Studio Lab creative dance improvisation class. I first met Nathan’s mother, Irene Jacobson, several years ago at the Oakland site of Family Support Services of the Bay Area. They provide home-based and community-based respite services to parents and caregivers of vulnerable children, and they had asked us to bring MPACT parent-child and parent education classes to their site. I had a chance to speak with Irene and interview her during Nathan’s dance class. Here is their story:
Nancy: Tell me about how you first got to know Luna Dance, or your first experience?
Irene: My first experience with Luna Dance was your presentation at Family Support Services of the Bay Area . . . for respite providers there at their office. You had come and given a discussion about [the] psychological, biological, physiological development of the child’ awareness and development of the child. You had done that and it had sparked my interest and I wanted to go and try it for Nathan’s sake. You had mentioned the program MPACT. I think you had recommended that to me and I gave it a try. What was nice was that it was at the libraries, like at Fruitvale, and we could take BART – we live near a BART station. We could make a big deal of it to go, walk to the BART station and get on BART to go and have an hour of dance, and it was really enjoyable. He was not very responsive all the time, we would be side-by-side with the parents. The leaders were very good and were just very encouraging. Just the idea, like what we’re doing now, trying to expand his awareness which will be a life-long endeavor of ours. And I guess just being around lots of other kids and other parents, and just a lot of activities. And, I don’t know it just seemed very beneficial to him. It was through the MPACT program that someone would say “spin”, and two or three times, he did actually respond. Nathan, we’re all going to spin, and that started in the MPACT program, to follow a direction; and it would of course be a direction that he understood and enjoyed doing.
The warm-ups he does with Deborah, he responds very well to that. Anyway, it was at the MPACT program I saw him enjoying a movement, as spinning – either on the floor on his bottom or standing up, it was the first movement that brought a smile to his face. It seemed to give him so much joy, from hearing someone ask for it, and doing it, and having fun, what a concept. That was years ago.
Nancy: How old is Nathan now? I remember meeting you at family services – was he four?
Irene: He couldn’t crawl until he was 23 months . . . with weight on his hands.
Nancy: And, I remember in the beginning he didn’t crawl.
Irene: 28 months he started to walk
Nancy: So maybe like at two, he wasn’t walking, and if he crawled it wasn’t very often.
Irene: I can’t remember. I guess the whole point was to give him some awareness of himself, and it is still a struggle today, but we’re working on it. And like response to others . . . my dream is to have cooperative something. You know, response where someone does something and he responds to it. Oh, or helping; often he helps, but with prompting. He is not fully aware. And taking verbal cues, “Oh Nathan, we are going to do this now.” He is able to that better now. I am just trying to find a way to keep him out of his own world, and be in the rest of the world; and I felt that the MPACT was a great way to start doing that.
Nancy: We knew you and Nathan in MPACT, and then there was a point you weren’t coming to classes.
Irene: I can’t remember why.
Nancy: I can’t remember why, either. And then you called about our Studio program, and it took me a long time to get back to you; I am embarrassed to say, but then I called you. I am curious about the impetus to enroll him again—to come back to Luna for one of our programs.
Irene: I just wanted him to have more of the movement and the body awareness. I don’t know what made me, maybe I just was frustrated. I think he was getting services at Kaiser, and that stopped . . . PT (physical therapy) and OT (occupational therapy), and speech. They were getting it through Easter Seals, but then they dropped us because he wasn’t improving quickly enough . . . and that doesn’t make sense. Anyhow, so there was like a void, and I felt I needed to fill that void. He was getting ABA for his autism at our home.
Nancy: What is ABA?
Irene: Applied Behavioral Analysis, which is a Skinner approach to play theory. They work with the child on responsiveness and so on, which is great; but I guess I was thinking if just doing this was working for us anymore. In other words, he is getting therapies through various agencies—medically, psychological services – physical and mental. I felt there was something more he needed. I guess I just want him to break out.
NN: What do you see that the dance does? You talked a little bit about it. Do you want to share anything more about how you see dance supports what you would like to have for Nathan?
IJ: I guess my sixth sense tells me that when you move and you expand yourselves in different ways—expanding his realm of movement I feel like opens doors to his psychological, spiritual and emotional development. I just feel like enjoyment of opening him up, there’s that, and there’s the part where following directions and working within a structure, and sharing an experience with other children and the movement; he seems to like that from time to time. Like if a bunch of us are running, it’s sort of exciting, and that brings a smile to his face. I just think neurologically, there’s a real advantage to moving and expanding your realm of movement. I don’t know.
NN: I think you do know.
Story #21 – Vanina Doce-Mood (MPACT mother & intern) Interview by Cherie Hill
I remember meeting Vanina at an MPACT class with her family in 2012, and admiring how dedicated she was to dancing with her child, and to the program. She knew quite a few other families, whom I later learned were part of her parent-run co-op. For years, she or husband brought their daughter to dance with us. When classes were huge, they volunteered to help pass out the snack. Now, I have the pleasure of training Vanina in teaching family dance, and I am in awe at how natural leading families appears for her, and her quick ability to improvise when needed in the moment. After a day of robust MPACT teaching I sat down with Vanina to capture parts of her story.
Cherie- What are your strongest memories of participating in MPACT?
Vanina -I remember when I started going to the Emeryville studio. At the first class Paloma was 13 months old and she was dressed in this tutu. We have a picture of Erin playing the drum and she is bouncing. Paloma is looking up at her like what is she doing, and she is flexing her knees and watching Erin with an amazed look in her eyes. I have so many memories. It was great because we were attending with all the families from our co-op. We met Rianne there and she became part of our co-op. Coming to MPACT helped us with being in a co-op because we bonded differently. We became a small family and doing MPACT together made us a stronger community. We were taking care of each other kids with lots of challenges and differences. It was always a happy place for us to be even for me, and my husband Michael too. It put us in a good mood and it was nice that Paloma could see this.
Cherie – What inspired you to become an intern?
Vanina – I had been with you guys for so long and I really believe in your mission. We share the same values. Dance for building relationships was very inspiring, and when you asked me to intern I couldn’t believe it. I knew this was a way to help others be happy. It’s like when you are doing Zumba, and in the moment you forget about everything and are in a good mood. The community and social justice aspect appealed to me a lot. I didn’t experience it in full until I became an intern, but I could see what we do translating to other families who are in different situations. Dance can help and heal them, maybe not completely, but it can. In 2013 I experienced a rough time that was really hard for me. Dance was my sacred space and I became a Zumba instructor. It was such a dark moment for us and I remember when Deborah called me on the phone to invite us to MPACT, I was coming out of my depression and craziness, but it was amazing because that is what I wanted to do. Dancing was my therapy and way to get out of the darkness.
Cherie – Where do you see yourself headed now?
Vanina – I want to continue to bring dance to communities that need it even if they don’t know they need it, like communities that cannot make dance a priority because they have so much going on. I want to help families within the system or work with adoption centers. With all the trainings I feel more confident and understanding of the challenges some families face. When kids have more challenges in their mental or physical development, I now have a deeper understanding and more compassion for those families then before. I can try to imagine what it means to have a traumatic experience that a kid has to go through. I’m very thankful to all of you especially you for your support and trust in me. Your encouragement to do it!
Luna’s partnership with New Highland Academy began eleven years ago when we were invited to help build a comprehensive, standards-based dance program that would eventually bring weekly dance classes to each student in the school. One of the New Highland teachers we have been honored to work with is Emily Blossom. Initially a kindergarten educator, Emily currently teaches first grade. A singer and musician, Emily brings to her classroom a rich repertoire of song, and now, through her connection to Luna, incorporates creative movement. “At first, I was simply taking my students to dance class and not involved in the class. Over the years, I started collaborating more closely with my Luna partners in designing the dance experiences of my students. After many years of shorter professional development experiences with Luna dance, I found my way to the SI in 2015.” She dances the Brain Dance daily with her students, and uses the language of dance to enliven transitions between activities and classroom customs. Her continued interest in arts integrated learning has brought her back to Luna as a soft-facilitator on Dance as Arts Integration Practitioner Exchanges.
Responsible for teaching all subjects, Emily’s recent year-long inquiry looks at ways dance can support literacy, especially in her classroom where 70% of students are English Language Learners. She explored how students expand their writing and oral skills to describe their experience of dance, both as observers and as dancers, and how they can use writing to compose dances and plan ahead. Her research was supported by her own experience in the SI, and her interaction with other educators which broadened her understanding of the power of creative expression in helping people learn. “I have seen how movement gives a voice to students who otherwise might not have one – such as those who don’t yet speak English.”
Emily’s investigation included observation of her students, the creation of student dance journals in which they wrote regularly, and “Lunch Bunch” interviews during we she chatted with students while they watched videos of themselves dancing. Below is one such interview and her reflections:
Me: Can you describe what you’re talking about–tell us what they’re [your fellow students] doing.
L: He’s bowing and spreading his arms wide.
J: I think that was like a bird.
Me: Do you think that was what he wanted to do? Can you use any dance words?
I’m listening for how they describe their experience, and if they access the content vocabulary that they’ve been exposed to. I try to ask questions that are both open-ended and specific enough to get them talking.
E says, “She’s moving like a little slug, like a little caterpillar.” E’s an ELL, and she’s struggling to find the words, but she’s using her body to show the way an inchworm folds itself and then expands forward. The others supply some more ideas: “bursting,” “falling,” “twirling,” “balancing.” When they’re finished eating, we move to the classroom rug and I ask them to show me some of the moves they saw each other making in the video. They happily demonstrate for me, reenacting each other’s creative explorations.
I listen to this recording on my way home. I’m hearing the kids’ processing in a new way, when I have the luxury of not managing the class or thinking about the next step, but just listening to them. While their language is imprecise, they’re noticing details about each other’s dancing that I didn’t appreciate because I was so focused on whether or not they could use the specific vocabulary. I’ve kept these recordings of lunch conversations with my students on my phone for months now, because every time I listen to them, I hear something I hadn’t noticed before. I keep thinking about the value of teaching dance, and the ways that the arts can support a child’s emerging literacy. Rarely do teachers have the time or even the reason for “targeted listening” like this. What a gift!
Story #23 – Miss Agnes Lyons: An Impassioned Advocate for Children, Families and Seniors by Nancy Ng
Miss Agnes is an early childhood educator, thespian, social service provider, community volunteer and mother that I have had the privilege of knowing for the last 17 years. We first met when Luna’s MPACT program was launched as a pilot at the Solid Foundation’s centers in Oakland. Miss Minnie Thomas was the director of the Solid Foundation, and Miss Agnes was her “right-hand” woman, and the manager at Mandela 2, one of their residential treatment centers where Luna taught hundreds of classes for 13 years. The Solid Foundation closed its doors in May 2013, and I attended the celebration to commemorate their closing day. Women whose lives had been deeply affected by both Solid Foundation leaders came from all over the Bay Area and California, and a few other states as well to honor this agency and the incredible grassroots community-driven work of Miss Thomas and Miss Agnes.
Over the many years of our partnership, Miss Agnes and I established a strong working relationship and a friendship. While a manager at the Solid Foundation she was instrumental in ensuring that the women and children could attend Luna events outside of the three residential centers where MPACT classes occurred. For Luna’s 10th anniversary she drove one of the vans on her day off so that more women could celebrate with us. She also attended several of Luna’s GALAs where the evening would end with her bringing loaves of Acme bread that had been donated to the GALA to the residential centers for the following day’s meals.
She retired from the Solid Foundation before they closed, and during her retirement became involved with Stagebridge’s senior theatre program. I was able to see her perform in a Stagebridge play at the Ashby Stage—she was fantastic! And, she also came to a few adult creative dance classes at the Luna studio. Miss Agnes and I occasionally meet for lunch or speak on the phone to catch up with Luna’s programs, her volunteer work, and our families. In preparation for writing this story I spoke with her a few weeks ago, and I was amazed by her vitality and commitment to social service during her retirement years.
When I called she was in the middle of writing and sending cards to the senior citizens she knows. She knows about 25 seniors, and every day she communicates with several of them by sending them cards or calling them on the phone to chat. She told me, “I talk to them, give them encouragement, and someone to talk to.” On Mondays she volunteers for the Telecare program on the Herrick Campus at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. She speaks with social worker referred homebound seniors to check in on them and give them support. On other days of the week she is a Stagebridge volunteer for a literacy program, travelling to various Oakland public school 3rd-5th grade classrooms as a storyteller.
I asked Miss Agnes to tell me about her love for dance—What was her experience as a dancer? What does she remember about the dance experiences with the families at Mandela 2?
She shared that when she was younger; she was a “really quiet person” who did not know how to communicate. Her school girlfriend was more outgoing and an exceptionally good dancer. This friend taught her how to dance, and then Miss Agnes would watch others dance and then she took dance classes. I remember her telling me that she took social dance classes while at the Solid Foundation. While speaking on the phone last week she said, “I enjoy dancing and love dancing tremendously.”
Her memories of MPACT at Mandela 2 are that the teachers supported the moms to see their children and appreciate their children’s abilities. She remembers the children dancing on their own during the week after an MPACT class. Miss Agnes said, “I appreciate Luna coming in to teach and interact with the children and their mothers—they could exercise and be free.”
Board member & professional learning client Heidi Opheim Sawicki with son and modern dance composition student Schuyler, share their story with a dance!
Click here for video.
Courage. Luna taught me about courage, and the importance of having a space in which courage can develop. Every bit of choreography, and every bit of relationship -building, is risk taking.
I first met Luna: a dance world, when I met Patricia at UC Berkeley in 1991. Luna, and all its possibilities and breath, spilled out of Patricia, and out of Luna’s first home on Park Blvd, that day and every day thereafter.
Patricia introduced me to modern and creative dance, and to all the freedom, connection, and strength that grows from this ever self-reflective and community-building dance world. I had the opportunity to dance in Patricia’s company, to be inspired by the many professional women who took evening classes after their long days at work, and the many, many children and families that walked through Luna’s doors every week to dance. It welcomed the dancer within me in such stark contrast to the world of ballet from which I had come.
Luna taught me about the development of choreography – how we graft our exploration, initiation, choices, emotions, history, dreams, and communication to form our dance. As a new dance teacher, I had the opportunity to sit around a dining room table with the Luna Kids Dance founders, with recently printed dance flyers and Luna sandwich board signs at our sides, and bear witness to the deconstruction of generally accepted dance curriculum. In true Luna form, we challenged every assumption, questioned the role and delivery of technique when developing young choreographers, and rebuilt Luna’s studio lab and professional learning curriculum to honor the child and child expression. Luna’s early teacher development programs taught me more than any legal training I have had about the child as participant, in relationships, as witness, and communicator; these trainings strengthened my resolve to continue serving children through our legal system and to continue challenging my own dancing into my adult life.
For children and families living within our foster care system, one might think that physical self-expression – dancing as individuals, learning about others through watching their dances, and dancing together – would be a luxury not to be brought to these families separated due to abuse or neglect. Patricia and Nancy challenged me to further my query about whether Luna’s parent/child dance classes could be brought to these families, families I was working with as a dependency attorney. Over the past 17 years, MPACT (Moving Parents and Children Together) has also provided its children and families a safe space to find their courage to witness each other, to look each other in the eyes, to create together, to dance together, and to find the courage to learn about their self-expression, and relating to their child or parent, while others are watching. Through my work with MPACT I learned more about Luna – how the spiral of query, exploration, patience, and reflection builds relationships and dance, shifting them out of day-dreams and into reality. At the same time, Luna supported my personal query of whether I could live in both the dance and legal worlds as an adult and as a mother. A truer gift I could never have received.
Over the past nine years on Luna’s Board, I learned even more about Luna’s commitment to its values as a feminist and social justice organization. Luna continuously challenges itself to dispel myths about the role a dance organization can play — Luna is a local, statewide, and national leader in dance and parent/child dance education. Luna is committed to providing its dance teaching artists with competitive salaries and benefits, has established itself as a major advocate towards teacher credentialing; and is constantly bringing dance to all children and all children to dance.
Dancing with children and diving deep with them into concepts of space, force, and time continues to feed me individually, as a parent, and attorney. My time dancing with my sons, Dominic and Leed, has made us happy, brought us laughter, and deep understanding of each other. Leed was born on Luna’s birthday and International Women’s Day and Patricia was at his birth. Patricia’s connection to time, body, need, and breath, as well as how she leads others to bring themselves and what they want to offer forward, made that birthing experience a forever life changing event in so many ways.
Luna continues to influence my parenting every day – when I make eye contact, mirror, and shadow dance with my sons; it has helped me to make space for, and welcome, their rolling and tumbling; to appreciate their own self-query when they move smoothly and contrast it with sharp jabs; when they move over and under each other. Just the other day, after a difficult day, I saw Leed, my four-year-old, begin to dance in the living room. It was subtle – he did a mild roll, placed one hand and foot on the ground and lifted his other leg high and over, till he was sitting. He was dancing. I joined him – we did some over and under, some connected shoulders and heads, and crawled and slid; Dominic, my almost nine-year old joined. I lifted him, our arms crossed, we danced low – and then I spun him – my young boy, now 4’ 6” and 60 lbs, wanted to be spun and held by his mom — the vestibular, one of Dominic’s favorites – and the trust and security, we can find when dancing with someone. His joy and comfort and release was immense.
For Chantal’s dance with baby Leed in belly click here.