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Debunking myths about dancers

Stuart Pimsler dancers performed with DL Middle School students Tuesday. Vicki Gerdes/Tribune

When most people think of a professional dancer, they envision a ballerina who has been in toe shoes since she was a toddler, or someone who started taking ballroom, jazz and tap dance classes almost before he or she could walk.

But the members of the Twin Cities-based Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater company did their best to debunk that misconception during their visit to the Detroit Lakes area this past week.

During an assembly at the Detroit Lakes Middle School Tuesday afternoon, six dancers with the company talked about their backgrounds, which included skateboarding, skiing and a variety of other sports.

And while some did start when they were quite young, others didn’t discover the world of dance until they were in college.

Having the dancers talk about their varied backgrounds as they demonstrated various styles of dance and improvisational movement was all part of SPDT’s goal of trying to “de-mystify” the art form of dance and make it more accessible to the students, said Suzanne Costello, artistic co-director of the company.

“It’s interesting for the students to hear about the backgrounds of the performers,” she said. “Many of them came to dance late, or through an athletic background. To say that all dancers start when they’re really young is simply not true.”

The company’s presentation at Detroit Lakes Middle School, as well as similar programs at Frazee-Vergas Schools, Detroit Lakes Kiwanis, Essentia Health-St. Mary’s, the Silver Sneakers program at the DL Community & Cultural Center and more, also included an introduction to the creative processes of choreography and improvisation.

“Whether we’re talking to fifth graders, seniors or college students, it’s not much different,” Costello said. “We show samples of our work and talk about how it’s made, discuss the creative process…”

She noted that the process is very different from one choreographer to the next, and between different forms of artistic expression.

“Everyone’s imagination is so different,” said Costello. “It’s interesting to see how they got there (to the finished product).”

One of the things that they try to “debunk” during their presentations, she added, is “the theory that divine inspiration just strikes you” and a performance springs, fully formed, into the creator’s mind.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Costello. “There are a lot of bad days, where things don’t turn out right. Being an artist is a job, it’s not a hobby. It’s a great profession, and it’s valuable, but it’s hard.”

As Costello explained during Tuesday afternoon’s presentation, the SPDT company uses a lot of improvisation in creating their performances.

The finished pieces are polished and rehearsed to make them as entertaining as possible, but the initial process of creation springs from spontaneous movement, written ideas, or even the spoken word.

Another concept that the company tries to convey to its audiences is the fact that movement is a common language everyone understands, no matter their age, sex or cultural background.

“We all have a body, and we all move,” she said. “It’s a common language — babies learn to move before they can talk. We all have that wisdom in our bodies. To communicate through movement is an intrinsic gift.”

With that in mind, part of the dancers’ presentation included audience participation, by both students and teachers, who were invited up to the stage to take part in a couple of improvisational pieces.

“We’re not just performing, we’re engaging the students and the community,” Costello said. “It’s a powerful art form when you can get people to participate in some way.”

The company also tries to engage its audience emotionally through its performances, she added.

“Through the emotion of each piece, we try to touch people and hope that it’s meaningful,” she said.  “Whether it’s funny or sad, people can relate to it in some way. That’s important to us.”

The company’s weeklong visit to Detroit Lakes will culminate this Thursday evening in a 7:30 p.m. performance at the Historic Holmes Theatre.

This performance is underwritten by Essentia Health St. Mary’s and is funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Arts Board through the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the Legacy Amendment vote of the people of Minnesota in 2008. The week’s other outreach activities were funded, in part, by the Lake Region Arts Council.

Tickets to Thursday’s show are $20 for adults and $10 for students, and can be purchased online at, by calling 218-844-7469, or by visiting the Holmes Box Office at 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes.

 Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454