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Dancing to better health

The Kairos Band played a swing song during Thursday night’s Kairos Dance Hall performance at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Physical activity, cognitive stimulation and social interaction — these are the keys to living longer, healthier, happier lives.

“It turns out that when we are interacting with other people, we get health benefits from that,” says Maria Genné, director of Kairos Alive! — a non-profit performing arts and arts education organization that aims to share the joy and healing power of dance and story with audiences of all ages.

“Isolation is one of the worst things for us,” Genné added.

Yet studies have shown that as people age, they become less mobile, less engaged in their work and social lives, she said — which unsurprisingly, leads to increased isolation.

Genné and her fellow “teaching artists” from the Minneapolis-based Kairos Alive! were in Detroit Lakes this past Wednesday and Thursday for a series of interactive workshops and performances aimed at changing this trend.

The foursome made stops at the Detroit Lakes Public Library, Boys & Girls Club, and the Ecumen-Detroit Lakes senior living community, and Lamplighter Manor, before hosting a free public event known as the Kairos Dance Hall on Thursday night at the DL Pavilion.

Community residents of all ages and backgrounds came together for an evening of song, dance and storytelling featuring music by the self-styled “gypsy jazz band,” the Carluster Crumplebee Orchestra.

There were some teenagers, some kids and senior citizens in the crowd, as well as a few local residents in wheelchairs — which didn’t keep them from joining in the fun, as the Kairos artists engaged them in as much of the dancing as possible, despite their limited mobility.

“We’re all performing artists who are interested in engaging communities in the performing arts — dancing, making music, telling stories,” Genné said.

“A lot of our work is with older adults, who have been under-served and under-recognized,” she added — but they also work with children, families, and the developmentally disabled.

The ultimate goal is to get them up and moving, engaged in their communities and interacting with others.

“We find that the real interchange, the teaching and learning and story sharing, comes when we are creating something together” with their audience, Genné added.

“That’s the legacy… giving the elders in the community an opportunity to pass on their wisdom in a creative way,” said Genné’s fellow teaching artist, Carla Vogel.

“Something we’re seeing is that young people need to be seen, need to be recognized by their elders,” said their colleague, Nicholas Pawlowski — and conversely, elders need the same thing from young people.

“When they can see (and interact with) each other in a creative, nurturing, safe place, they can both thrive,” he added.

“Creating individual and community well-being” is the ultimate goal of Kairos Alive, Genné said. “We do that by creating opportunities for folks to dance and make music and tell stories together.

“As artists, we’re interested in people coming together and seeing the best in each other. Art is a great way to do that, because there are so many different ways to be successful with it.”

“There is so much scientific evidence to back up how important that is,” Pawlowski added.

“The thing about dance is it’s physical, it’s cognitive (through learning and implementing steps), and it’s social — and you can even do it in a chair,” said Genné.

Another part of the Kairos Alive experience is stimulating each other’s creativity — stimulating audience members’ imagination to create stories, theater and other forms of art.

“I believe we need artists for individual and community wellbeing,” Genné said.

Pawlowski recalled an event earlier in the week when he met a bluegrass musician named Perry — “who sang me a song about a sod house and giving hands,” he said.

Parker Genné mentioned another woman who told them the story of how “she waltzed with her husband for 50 years.”

“We incorporate their stories into the work we do,” she said. “It’s not about performing for people, it’s about creating art together.”

In this way, “people become co-creators in their own entertainment, and partners in their own health care,” Pawlowski added.

Maria Genné said they were particularly excited to host Thursday’s event at The Pavilion, which served as the Detroit Lakes community’s “dance hall” for much of the 20th century — a tradition that has recently been revived through events such as Thursday’s performance.

Kairos Alive’s visit to Detroit Lakes was funded through a collaboration between PartnerSHIP 4 Health and Springboard for the Arts to host various activities in conjunction with International Screen Free Week, May 5-11.

Screen Free Week is a time when kids, families and communities are asked to spend seven days without screens — that means no watching television, no surfing the web, no playing video games, and instead read, create something, get active and simply spend time together.

For more information on local Screen Free Week activities, visit

For more on the award-winning performance and arts education group Kairos Alive, please visit

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