Councilmember Hans Riemer Brightens AFTA Program

Arts for the Aging welcomed special guest Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer to a recent program at Misler Adult Day Center in Rockville, MD.  Formerly a senior advisor for AARP, Reimer is dedicated to improving safety-net services for older adults in Montgomery County. He is also a member of AFTA’s National Honorary Advisory Council.

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MISLER PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS WITH (FROM LEFT) – COUNCILMEMBER HANS REIMER; SENIOR DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR SUPPORTIVE SERVICES (JCA) ELINOR GINZLER; AFTA DIRECTOR JANINE TURSINI; AND AFTA TEACHING ARTIST NANCY HAVLIK.

On this wintery day, participants at Misler warmed up with musical selections from balmy climates, including Africa and the Caribbean.  Havlik and participants then discussed different types of light.  Several people stayed seasonal — candlelight in the menorah, the twinkling of Christmas tree lights — others mentioned moonlight, sunlight, electric light and even flashlights.

MUSIC AND DANCE BY THE LIGHT OF THE MENORAH
MUSIC AND DANCE BY THE LIGHT OF THE MENORAH

Participants then used realistic LED candles as props as they moved their bodies in their seats and through the darkened room, interacting by weaving darkness with light.  The mood in the room was magical.  Misler staff could not resist joining in as well.

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The session concluded with a lively group dance.  Each participant had an opportunity to strut their stuff.

THESE MOVERS AND SHAKERS COULDN’T STAY OFF THEIR FEET.
THESE MOVERS AND SHAKERS COULDN’T STAY OFF THEIR FEET.

Hans gamely joined in, sharing a few moves of his own!

GO HANS GO!
GO HANS GO!

Thank you again Mr. Riemer for your dedication to our precious senior community  and for your support of the arts.

As we head into the wintery months ahead, heed this advice from Nancy Havlik: “If you’re cold, don’t put on a sweater – put on some music and MOVE!”


A Neighborhood Revisted, Family Memories Uncovered

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MIRIAM BRACEY, PEOPLE’S FLOWER SHOP, 1985

Photography by AFTA Teaching Artist Carol Siegel was featured in a recent exhibition titled “Spirit of a Neighborhood Revisited: The Parker-Gray Community 1985 – 1986” at the The Alexandria Black History Museum in Alexandria, VA.

In July 1985, Carol Siegel received a grant from the Alexandria Commission on the Arts to document the African-American community of the Parker-Gray Historic District. These photographs were originally exhibited at the museum in 1989.  Revisiting her work today, it is apparent how the community has changed over the past 23 years:  some photo subjects are no longer living, many  buildings are lost to new development, and small children are now adults with children of their own.  Visitors to the exhibition delighted in seeing faces — sometimes their own — and locations they thought were lost forever.

One remembrance resonated more strongly than others.  Carol invited seniors from Alexandria Adult Day Services Center, where she leads monthly Expressive Arts workshops for AFTA,  for a special afternoon viewing of the exhibition.  Many of them worked and raised their family in Parker-Gray and the surrounding neighborhoods.  They took their time carefully inspecting each image they passed.  They chuckled at the series of photographs of twins – an unusually large number for one neighborhood – and their rhyming names.  They reminisced about the church and the barbershop.

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One guest paused a little longer than the others, even coming back for a second look.

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After Maebell returned to her seat, she quietly told those sitting near, “There’s a picture of my mother and my sister”.  Returning to the photo, the family resemblance was undeniable.  Maebell had uncovered an image of her own mother and sister, both of whom passed away many years ago.

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Carol remembered Maebell’s mother and sister well – her sister was known for smoking a pipe, as she is in this photograph.  Maebell was away at school when the photograph was taken. Carol, who spent years creating art and poetry with Maebell and others at Alexandria Adult Day Care Center, never realized the connection.

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Memories are often unearthed at AFTA programs, but connections like these — the kind of bring goosebumps to your arm — don’t happen every day.  Thank you Carol Siegel for your dedication to community service.  You remind us that you never know whose life you might touch, even decades later.


Rediscovering Ourselves

During the pilot presentation of AFTA’s new program The Rediscovery Project, seniors at Downtown Clusters Geriatric Day Care Center in Washington, DC used art, music and dance to rediscover an era long-past. Participants’ ages ranged from mid-60s to the late-90s.  Depression-era lithographs and drawing created in the 1930’s and 1940’s by the late artist Benjamin Abramowitz provided an illustrated context for the tumultuous American scene of that era.  Abramowitz’s daughter and AFTA Board Chair Susan Rosenbaum shared the history behind the art as well as the artist. AFTA Teaching Artists Anthony Hyatt and Nancy Havlik guided the participants in interpreting the images and reminiscences with movement and song.

“THE FARMER” BY BENJAMIN ABRAMOWITZ
“THE FARMER” BY BENJAMIN ABRAMOWITZ

The participants were offered a choice of reproductions of the artwork to keep – and as a “hook” for their memories. Memories and music spilled forth as the art-looking transported the group back in time to the seniors’ own rich and layered histories and families. Participants were also privileged to view Abramowitz’s artwork in the exhibition OUT OF THE VAULT at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Dupont Circle. At the Club, they talked, toured the historic building, and enjoyed refreshments.

VIEWING THE EXHIBITION
VIEWING THE EXHIBITION

Participants shared personal anecdotes as they reflected on the artwork.  Some were joyful and some were poignant.  Several were both joyful and poignant!  During the first Rediscovery Project workshop, participants were asked to pick a lithograph they liked most. One senior, Irene, who is a 65 year old retired custodian and single mother, chose “The Bride”.

“THE BRIDE” BY BENJAMIN ABRAMOWITZ
“THE BRIDE” BY BENJAMIN ABRAMOWITZ

When asked why, she said liltingly, “I never got married.” After a pause she added, “But I almost did.”  The group showed great surprise! They spend each weekday together at Downtown Clusters Geriatric Day Care Center in D.C., but Irene had never before told her friends this story.  Then she told them of a man who had proposed to her at a young age. She accepted, but as the wedding neared, she knew she could not marry him and called off the wedding.

IRENE WITH TEACHING ARTIST NANCY HAVLIK
IRENE WITH TEACHING ARTIST NANCY HAVLIK

A marvelous beauty then unfurled.  The artwork called forth earnestness in Irene that sparked the rest of the group to weave together a tapestry of remembrances: of secret swimming holes, blissful first rides in a car with childhood friends and even a laugh as Irene’s friends gently ribbed her for being a “runaway bride”. In the final workshop of the Rediscovery series, participants enacted scenes from their favorite lithographs under the expert guidance of teaching artists, choreographer Nancy Havlik and violinist Anthony Hyatt. Irene was joined by a delightfully willing gentleman to bring to life “The Bride.”

IRENE AS “THE BRIDE”
IRENE AS “THE BRIDE”

Walking down the “aisle”, friends looked on in joy and as witnesses to the wedding the beaming Irene “always wanted” — a moment at once impossible and now rediscovered.

PARTICIPANTS AND STAFF AT DOWNTOWN CLUSTERS WITH SUSAN ROSENBAUM AND AFTA TEACHING ARTISTS NANCY HAVLIK AND ANTHONY HYATT, NOVEMBER 2012
PARTICIPANTS AND STAFF AT DOWNTOWN CLUSTERS WITH SUSAN ROSENBAUM AND AFTA TEACHING ARTISTS NANCY HAVLIK AND ANTHONY HYATT, NOVEMBER 2012

Funding for this program provided in part by the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation,  the Humanities Council of Washington, DC and S.A. Rosenbaum & Associates.


Quicksilver Gets a Visit from an Overseas Fellow

This October AFTA welcomed a visitor from across the pond. Rachel Rogers, Project Development Manager at Merseyside Dance Initiative in Liverpool UK, was visiting the United States via a travel fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the Baring Foundation.  Her aim was to research performance and community arts practice for, by and with older people. We were thrilled she chose to include a visit with AFTA’s senior dance improvisation troupe Quicksilver in her busy schedule.

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When Rachel arrived at our rehearsal in brightly-colored, movement-friendly clothing, we knew she would fit in perfectly!  Rachel gamely took part in Quicksilver’s rehearsal, from warm-up stretches to improvised dance. Quicksilver dancers know how to use space, and in this session the wall was their prop.

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After the session, Rachel sat down with us to share more about her work with older adults in the UK. Merseyside Dance Initiative has delivered a program of dance activity for older people since 1999 including regular classes, themed projects, intergenerational and culturally specific projects, special commissions and performance work.  We were particularly interested in Merseyside’s Dance for Parkinson’s program, which included family and caregivers of Parkinson’s patients. Rachel expressed appreciation for Quicksilver’s outreach programs, in which our active seniors engage their more frail peers at AFTA partner centers in group dance.   She also commended Quicksilver for their spontaneity and use of “appreciative dialogue” – when members perform for one another and the observers respond with critical feedback.

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Rachel has returned to the UK, but she reflected on her time with Quicksilver in a recent email:

“I found the energy and enthusiasm in your group very exciting as with the level of artistic and  intellectual discussion about the art form.  I loved the fact that it’s not a novelty for these women to want to be involved in dance at this level and that there is responsibility on them to deliver as well as be fed.”

You can read more about Rachel’s adventures exploring creative aging in the United States on her blog.

Don’t miss the story of her visit with Quicksilver!