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The Spillover Effect: My Brush with Broadway

15 July 2014 at 11:21 am
Staff Reporter
In this latest Blog, Not for Profit Fulbright Scholar, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine writes a chance to dance on Broadway delivers insights into exemplar Not for Profit activity where program partners and supporters are key.

Staff Reporter | 15 July 2014 at 11:21 am


The Spillover Effect: My Brush with Broadway
15 July 2014 at 11:21 am

In this latest Blog, Not for Profit Fulbright Scholar, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine writes a chance to dance on Broadway delivers insights into exemplar Not for Profit activity where program partners and supporters are key.

One of the great opportunities afforded by the Fulbright Professional Scholarship has been the chance to observe the work of Not for Profits in a myriad of environments. But I never thought this would lead to me dancing on Broadway!

It’s a steamy summer’s day and I’m in a dance studio at The Juilliard School, situated within one of New York’s major arts precincts including Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House. Entering the building takes me back to my childhood obsession with ‘Fame’, the musical about aspiring performing artists and the gruelling, competitive nature of their training.

The studio is filled with natural light thanks to an enormous window reaching out over Broadway. Chairs are scattered in rings moving out from the centre towards the ballet bars mounted on the mirrored walls. The room is accessible by a long ramp with a gradual incline and a set of steps that run along one wall, now strewn with bags and shoes.

John Heginbotham teaches members of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group at the Mark Morris Dance Center. Photo: Amber Star Merkens

Participants enter and sit on the chairs. They range in age from 48-83 and come in all shapes and sizes. Some chat to their neighbours; others sit quietly. The excitement as they await the start of class is palpable.

Into the centre of the room come two teachers, recognisably professional dancers by their grace as they move. And so it begins: my first dance class on Broadway. Starting with breathing exercises, our hands track our moving diaphragms, in and out. Gradually we begin to follow the pace of our breath with larger body movements, until our arms and legs are swinging.

At the height of New York summer it doesn’t take long to warm us up and soon we are engaged in dance movements that exercise most of our muscles, from cheeks and jaws to ankles and toes. All this and we are still seated.

This class is part of a program called Dance for PD, which offers dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease. Dance for PD is a collaboration between the iconic Mark Morris Dance Group, a major contemporary dance company based in Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, which provides arts-based classes such as dancing and singing and community-based exercise for people with Parkinsons and their families. Both organisations are tax-exempt Not for Profits .

In 2001 the Brooklyn Parkinson Group approached Mark Morris Dance Group to run classes for people with Parkinson’s, and it has evolved from there.

By the end of the class we have performed pliés at the bar; danced rings around each other (literally); and staged a ‘confrontation’ between two halves of the class as we each performed a marching band, mimicking instruments, baton twirlers and all.

Misty Owens leads members of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group at the Mark Morris Dance Center. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor

Dance for PD provides outreach through training workshops taught to dance teachers, movement practitioners and therapists around the world so that they can emulate this program in their own work; and master classes that introduce the program to communities around the world. Often such master classes work in tandem with the touring schedule of the MMDG; such as those held in Sydney and Brisbane in 2013.

The program is steadily growing as more people with Parkinsons come with a family member, loved one or professional carer. As with so many Not for profit efforts, there is strong support from volunteers, most with some dance background, assisting by trouble-spotting or working with specific individuals who may need more translation of the core activities or who remain seated while others are standing.

In another exemplar of Not for Profit activity, program partners and supporters are key. All New York classes are free of charge thanks to money raised from grants and individual contributions; and studios are provided pro bono by collaborating partners like Juilliard. Dance for PD has also just become one of the five winners of Google’s Giving through Glass challenge, an open call for U.S. Not for Profits  to share how they’d use Google Glass to make an impact on their mission and programming.

Perhaps the most inspiring element is how movement and mindfulness come together for class participants. Out of 10 reasons Dance for PD give for their program, the first three make this clear: dance develops flexibility and instils confidence; it is first and foremost a stimulating mental activity that connects mind to body; and dance breaks isolation. But it is the final reason that makes me a devotee: the essence of dance is joy.

Nevertheless, my one dance class on Broadway taught me that I should indulge my professional dancer fantasies as just that – fantasy. I won’t be giving up my day job!

  • What I’m reading: Walt Whitman poems
  • What I’m watching: Orange is the New Black on Netflix

About the Author: Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine is the Deputy CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, the peak body for charities and social services and the voice for people experiencing poverty and inequality in Australia. She was awarded the inaugural Fulbright Professional Scholarship in non-profit leadership in 2013 and is currently undertaking her Fulbright at the Foundation Center in New York City and the National Center for Charitable Statistics within the Urban Institute in Washington DC. Follow on twitter: @tboydcaine

The Fulbright Professional Scholarship in non-profit leadership is sponsored by the Origin Foundation and supported by the Australian Scholarships Foundation. Applications for the next Fulbright Scholarship close 1 August 2014.    

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