Tag: Michigan

Support Dance Activism in Flint, MI: Global Water Dances 2017

I am launching a new project with partners in Flint, MI and we really need your help.

Global Water Dances (GWD) illuminates water issues through the art of dance and takes place in over 80 cities on six continents on the same day. Global Water Dances has had a vibrant history for seven years. We have staged three worldwide events in 2011, 2013, and 2015, with a fourth event planned next year. One day, every two years, cities from around the world participate in the Global Water Dances event. From Beijing, China to Zadar, Croatia, choreographers take on local water issues through workshops, dance activism and dialogue.

On June 24, 2017, the Flint, Michigan community will come together for their first-ever site of Global Water Dances. This event is a celebration of togetherness and de-victimization through dance in several sites throughout the city. As a project, it showcases the strength of Flint’s artists as agents of change and activators of positive momentum. GWD-Flint aims to build positive relationships across diverse groups of residents living near the Flint River. The project aims to provide a way for all to share ownership of the parks and water. Project details, goals and budget can be found below. We have some support from foundations but are limited because, as part of a global endeavor, our fiscal sponsor is not based in Michigan. We need to raise $3-5,000 from individuals in order for the event to be fully possible.

Donations can be made through the link on the bottom right of the page HERE and are tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor The Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies. Please write “Global Water Dances – Flint, MI” in the special instructions to ensure your gift goes to this site specifically.


Flint water crisis inspires portion of UM-Flint Spring Dance Concert, by faculty member Emma Davis.

Flint water crisis inspires portion of UM-Flint Spring Dance Concert, by faculty member Emma Davis.


Section I. RITUAL is an opening ceremony specific to Flint River Bank Park’s ADA-accessible amphitheatre. To create this ritual performance, Adesola Akinleye and her team will facilitate conversations and movement workshops with Flint mothers who are who are currently residents at Odyssey House about the work of women and its connection to water, the women’s role of simultaneously protecting children from harmful water and providing healthy water. There will be 5 sessions of 75 minutes each over three weeks. These workshops will be fully complete experiences for the women: they are not just service the choreography of the dance that will follow. Adesola will then work with dancers from FIM to devise and rehearse a 10-12 minute dance work in response to the women’s stories.

Section II. GLOBAL DANCE presents choreography done simultaneously by all GWD performers worldwide to the same piece of music, connecting participants and audience globally. Participants in Flint will include individuals and families from Headstart, Odyssey House, senior centers, and Vista volunteers. The sequence will be taught and guided during spring workshops led by the advanced students at Flint Institute of Music – Flint School of the Performing Arts’ dance division under the direction of Karen Mills Jennings and guest artists including Shawn Lent. In addition, on the day of the event, there will be Open Studio sessions throughout the city by partner organizations and dance schools to learn and rehearse the sequence. The sequence will be performed by community participants following the previously described RITUAL performance at Flint River Bank Park.

Section III. LOCAL DANCE is an afternoon, free dance concert featuring local choreographers Emma Davis, Alisyn & Jared Hurd (Vertical Ambition Dance Company and intermediate students at Flint Institute of Music addressing the river and recovery efforts.

Section IV. PARTICIPATORY DANCES invites audiences to travel back down to the river at the conclusion for a co-created movement sequence and group improvisation facilitated by Shawn Lent in River Bank Park, illuminated by the “A Body of Water” sculptural installation by artist + activist, Desiree Duell. The evening will flow into a family-friendly dance party.


GWD-Flint is focused on local empowerment and de-victimization for Flint, Michigan residents who are living through the water crisis. The project is intended to inspire a local ecology of collaboration, environmental knowledge, and activation of public spaces through dance.

COLLABORATION: Peace is an embodied practice. Dance is a way forward for children and families living in a volatile world. GWD-Flint aims to build positive relationships across diverse groups of residents living near the Flint River. The project aims to provide a way for all to share ownership of the parks and water. Creative movement is a particularly powerful tool for breaking down barriers, engendering empathy, and resilience, going beyond verbal dialogue.

KNOWLEDGE: GWD brings needed attention to water issues around our planet. Close to 1,000 surveys from our 2013 performance were gathered from four continents, and tabulated by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Survey Research. The surveys showed that 75% of the respondents reported that the performance increased their interest in water issues and 78% answered positively that the dance event inspired them to take action regarding water issues. Dance is a powerful way of increasing awareness in the global community.

ACTIVATION: Public spaces, like those in Flint, are often under-utilized. According to a bipartisan nationwide poll of kids ages 13-18, “80% said it was uncomfortable to be outdoors” and preferring screen time instead. On the positive side, “91% percent said that if a friend encouraged them to spend more time outdoors they would listen.” In addition, a study published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, “only 51% of children went outside to walk or play once a day with either parent. Only 24% of dads said they had parent-child outdoor playtime each day.” Time together. Outdoors. As families and neighbors. Moving. That is one foundational concept of our project. Dance engages the body, mind and spirit, releasing endorphins. Providing a natural and inviting entry point, community dances are fairly accessible for all ages and levels of dance experience (from novice to professional).


  • Engage 100+ local students, seniors, parents, toddlers, and artists in a day-long celebration of dance, of each other, and of water.
  • Draw 400+ audience members through various activities.
  • Celebrate and animate stories of local residents and of the park and river.
  • Strengthen the network and visibility of Flint’s dance artists nationally and internationally.
  • Increase capacities of at least 3 local practitioners.
  • Offer experiences where participants can grow in somatic awareness, social identity salience, spontaneity, greater extent of physical expression, positive mood/lessening of anxiety, sense of security, release of inhibitions, reduction of defensiveness and prejudice, and physical trust and interaction.
  • Provide movement experiences that are relevant, fun and engaging for families and residents of diverse ages and backgrounds.
  • Enhance familiarity, ownership and sharing of River Bank Park among diverse residents.
  • Activate everyday participation in River Bank Park as a place of important community exchange, creative learning and civic engagement across generations.
  • Promote creative exercise, fitness, and physical activity in Flint.


Adesola Akinleye is the artistic director of DancingStrong. She trained at Arts Educational School, London and The Rambert Academy. She began her professional career as a dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Since then she has danced with companies in North America and Europe. Adesola teaches dance and receives choreographic commissions internationally working in university setting, K-12/Foundation to Secondary/High School systems and private dance academies, as well as in community based projects. Adesola holds a PhD from Canterbury Christ Church University Social and Applied Science, Sports and Exercise Science Department and a Masters of Arts with Distinction in Work Based Learning – Dance in Education and Community from Middlesex University.

Karen Mills Jennings is the Chair of the Dance Division at the Flint School of Performing Arts and is the founding Artistic Director of the Flint Youth Ballet. Mrs. Jennings danced principal roles with Ballet Michigan and has been on the dance faculty for the Flint School of Performing Arts since 1980. As the Outreach Coordinator Mrs. Jennings facilitates programming for community partners both off and on site at the FSPA. Mrs. Jennings has worked closely with Director of the FSPA Davin Torre, in the development of FSPA’s teaching approach Beyond Boundaries, which utilizes non-judgmental teaching techniques that encourage and support the goals and learning styles of all students. Community Engagement has been her priority.

Shawn Lent moves this world as a manager and social practice artist, with experience from a field in Bosnia to a children’s hospital in revolutionary Egypt. Shawn currently serves as Program Director for Chicago Dancemakers Forum, Alliance Building Lead for Createquity, and project lead for SUNY Purchase and Dance Peace, which is catalyzing an integration initiative through dance and music for Syrian refugees in Chicago. Previously, she was the national coordinator for EducationUSA Egypt with AMIDEAST and U.S. Department of State, U.S. Fulbright Scholar, UN Alliance of Civilizations International Fellow, instructor at Cairo Contemporary Dance Center, Commencement Speaker for Millikin University, and panelist/presenter at the University of Maryland, Universal Exposition Milan, Hope College and TEDx Shibin El Kom. Shawn holds a Masters in Arts Management from Columbia College Chicago, and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Youth Arts Development from Goldsmith’s College.

Global Water Dances is a fiscally-sponsored project of The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS), a non-profit educational organization with a global network of movement professionals. 


TOTAL COST $21,000*

Space River Bank Park site rental $500 $250 per day x 2
Space Theatre venue rental $3,000 UM-Flint
People Power Local Coordinator $2,000 $400 per month X 5 months
People Power Choreographer/Artist $2,000 $500 per artist x 4 artists
People Power Dancers $2,000 $100 x 20
People Power Project Director $1,250  
Supporting Roles Filmmaker(s)/Documentation $1,500  
Supporting Roles Tech Crew $2,000 $500 x 4
Supporting Roles Musician Fees $1,200 3 x 4 days @ $100 per day
Stuff Rentals $2,000 Equipment and Seating
Stuff Costumes/T-shirts $1,000 $10 x 100
Stuff Marketing/PR/Promotion $500 printing, signage
Stuff Water and snacks $750 for all participants
Stuff Workshop & Event Supplies $300  
Transportation Artist Travel $1,000 4-10 trips @ $50-250
TOTAL   $21,000  

Best Kitty Ever: A Tale of CH, Western/Middle Eastern Identity, and Determination

My husband spotted him under the tire of an abandoned car. He was stick-thin tiny, big eyes, distraught, tremoring and covered in street filth and his own feces. I thought he was a Middle Eastern rodent. We bent down, got closer and saw he was a wide-eyed kitty. Completely malnourished. At death’s door after only 1-2 weeks in this mighty world. Barely visible in the shadow of a car tire.

It was in the hot July heat of Cairo, Egypt during Ramadan. All the stores were closing for Iftar. There’s no way we could have left him there. We called a vet and begged him to stay open until we could get there so that he could put an end to this kitty’s misery. So we gently, gently slid him onto a piece of cardboard, using a rolled-up newspaper, and got into a cab. He lay still during the ride except for a pronounced tremor. His legs were unbending. I didn’t want him to die without a name, so we named him Lamar after the juice brand advertised on the billboard outside the taxi window.

At the vet, they gave him a bath and discovered the kitty was white and a Lamara, not a Lamar. An x-ray determined that nothing was wrong with her structurally. The vet said she probably had nerve damage from a strong kick or long fall. She didn’t appear to be a breed of street cat, so a human with no heart had probably threw her out. The vet said that with good care  and a few prescriptions, she would be walking in 2-4 weeks. We agreed to take her home and get her to the point of walking so that she could find an owner or shelter. After 4 weeks, she was healthier but no success on the walking front. She still had to be held to drink and eat (which she does ferociously), and lied down to go potty (which can get extraordinarily messy for a long-haired kitty).


A friend kitty-sat for us and took her to the international vet who gave the official diagnosis. Turns out Lamara was born with Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH), which is similar to ataxic cerebral palsy in humans and looks like Parkinsons. Cats with CH have a normal life expectancy and are usually not in any pain, other than from falls. Many wear helmets. We considered it, but she hates things on her. Kitty diapers and “wheelchairs” were also a no-go.


My husband spoke to her in Arabic, and I learned the basics of the language. Her breed seems to be Siamese / Persian / Himalayan mix, but she is an Egyptian gal to the core. She may or may not be Arab, but she is Middle Eastern.


And she is making her life.

She says no to nothing.

With her moderately severe CH case, they said she wouldn’t ever really walk. At four months old, she took her first consecutive steps.

Then she taught herself to drink sitting up. My husband coaching her through every sip.

Then she taught herself to climb, all the way out of her crate.


Then, we thought it would all have to come to an end. We became so busy with battering life in Egypt, barely able to take care of all her special needs. She was not taking to any lesson on being house-trained. We tried everything and our flatmates had become fed up. It broke my heart just thinking of alternatives to her not being there. We persevered and looked at life one week at a time.



At 11 months old, we caught her in the other room practicing trying to stand on all four legs. Balancing lessons. She had taught herself to sit when she was about to fall, rather than fall to the ground.  In addition, she decided to teach herself how to scratch her ear with her back paw. No luck. But she kept trying and trying for months. We would assist her by guiding her foot or holding her head up for her.

She enjoyed her first birthday in the intense Cairo summer heat of the El Sisi adminstration.


Then she decided she would immigrate to the U.S. This must have been her decision, because I cannot remember my husband and I ever discussing it. This was a given.

She got her vaccinations, passport, paid her fees, and got into a carrier for eighteen+ hours including a layover in Paris.

She came to America and breathed the fresh Michigan air.


She saw grass for the first time.

She saw birds, frogs, bugs and went on her own version of an uncoordinated backyard stealth attack. Her vertical leap grew to an impressive 2 feet and she “stuck” the landing often with her face. My dad generously constructed her a wheelchair, feeder to help hold her up, and steps to get on the couch. She never decided to use any of these devices the way they were meant to help. But he did teach her to use litter inside a boot tray!

She was making quite a mess of the back room, so we made her a special walled zone in the basement. Well, in the morning, we found her sitting at the top of the stairs. We all thought one of the humans in the house must be a prankster because it was impossible for her to scale a wall and climb an entire flight of stairs.

So she demonstrated once more…

I am one determined kitty. I made it up

Posted October 10, 2015


Recently, the three of us moved from small town Mid-Michigan to Chicago. Back to the big city life for our gal. But when the temps reached 66, she gave me a demanding look towards the door.  So Lamara took on the public park.

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Definitely the only cat people had seen in this setting. No fear, and having a blast “chasing” squirrels and diving in the leaves. I stayed near her, on dog and bike patrol, and she had happy exercise and fresh air for 40 minutes with soft grass to fall on. Getting stronger and more coordinated.

She is not the dog we discussed and were planning for, but Lamara has changed our lives. She does the unexpected, every time. She is borderless, bilingual, and won’t be defined. My love. With every butt wipe and every death-defying leap off the couch, she inspires me. And this is only the first 1.5 years of Lamara’s story. Stay tuned.



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