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Finding Balance in Dance

Nov. 11, 2010
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Tom Thoreson spent 20 years as an artist in residence at Milwaukee’s Lincoln Center of the Arts, choreographing and dancing with great style in Bauer, Wild Space and the company he came to lead, Foothold Dance Performance. Now he is a personal trainer and adaptive dance teacher with the Exercise Studio in Mequon, and a devotee of contact improvisation at the Pink House Studio in Riverwest.

How has your life changed since Foothold stopped performing?

I’ve shifted from dancing as an art form to the therapeutic modalities of movement. I’m so lucky to have found dance as a young man and to have stayed with it, but I’m loving life without performing and having a company and all the need and striving that goes with that. The experience of dancing is richer when it’s not performance-oriented. Contact improvisation has been a re-entry into dancing for me because it’s about the beauty in ordinary movement and in community-building. You need enough technique to be safe physically and psychically, but you begin with a mindfulness and openness. You may bring your own movement practice, your own dance solo, but it isn’t necessary. Come as you are.

What is contact improvisation?

It’s dancing using points of contact, often in duet, that change through, for example, shifting, sliding, rolling, pressing actions; from “athletic pyrotechnics,” to quote the brochure, to contemplative stillness. There’s a naturalness to it. There’s something called “the small dance,” where you barely move. You watch the others and you watch yourself for authentic impulses to move. In performance-based work, we always used to improvise with another goal in mind; improvisation was a vehicle to create whatever dance we were making. This is not that. Contact improvisation is sometimes used for dance performance, but there’s also a community-based aspect. That’s been the major shift for me. Creating alternative communities is important in this world. Status quo ain’t the only way to go! It’s a grassroots movement.

You’re also dancing the tango with Parkinson’s patients?

And with Alzheimer’s and geriatric patients. I do that with Susanne Carter and Kate Mann through The Exercise Studio. Tango is a dance based on walking and rhythm. The close embrace helps people with balance. It combats depression and feelings of isolation. I wish I could do more. So many people need more. As a trainer, I help people know their bodies through movement. We focus on strength, alignment, flexibility, endurance, balance. Besides the athletic model, there’s also the somatic model that deals with sensing and feeling, the subtle body-energy balancing, internal listening, chakra alignment. It’s about witnessing and watching people—rigor and technique, but also intuition, dream, magic. They are infinitely inseparable like yang-yin.


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