At its best, dance can stir vivid memories and evoke strong emotions. The internationally renowned Shapiro & Smith Dance troupe aims to do both when they visit Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 16, for a 7:30 p.m. show.

"There's several different pieces in the show, but the most substantial work is titled 'Burning Air'," said Shapiro & Smith Artistic Director Joanie Smith in a recent telephone interview.

Smith explained that the piece is "loosely based" on the Great Hinckley (Minn.) Fire of 1894. In one particularly evocative scene, the dance is intended to depict people standing in about 18 inches of water, alongside local livestock and wild animals who are all seeking refuge from the flames that surround them.

"Those images are very powerful to us," Smith said.

"It was literally a firestorm," said Smith of that 1894 blaze, which burned a phenomenal 350,000 acres — more than 400 squares miles — of forest land and took the lives of more than 415 men, women, and children along with untold numbers of pets, livestock and wildlife.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Smith also noted that the exact number of people who died in that fire was still unknown, as during that time, Native American lives lost were not taken into account in the official tally.

Smith said that she and some of her fellow dancers felt the timing of this piece was particularly apropos, what with the recent Canadian wildfires that sent smoky air wafting unpleasantly through Minnesota at various times this summer, as well as the more recent fire that sent clouds of black smoke through Detroit Lakes' own downtown this past Friday.

Though it is undoubtedly tragic, Smith said, the "Burning Air" piece is also intended to evoke emotions of hope and faith. Other pieces performed during the two-hour show will evoke romance, inspiration, and even comedy.

"There's this one piece, called 'Shirt' ... it's about a group of men negotiating and fussing over a bunch of shirts," Smith said, adding that the performance is intentionally humorous. "It was totally inspired by my dogs."

Smith explained that her three dogs had been known to fight over and compete for a toy that they didn't even notice until she picked it up and called attention to it. "It's really quite funny."

In another, more poignant piece, titled "To Have and To Hold," the dancers evoke a sense of romance and what it truly means to lose a loved one. Though it was choreographed by Smith and her husband, Danial Shapiro, several years earlier, the piece took on special significance after his death from cancer in 2006, at age 48.

"It's about trying to grab the important people in your life and hold onto them," she said, adding, "We miss him so."

Though they will only be doing one show at the theater during the trip, the dancers from Smith's troupe will actually be in Detroit Lakes for several days this week, working with dancers from Northern Lights Dance of Frazee and Summit Dance of Detroit Lakes as well as senior citizens at both Ecumen Detroit Lakes and the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center's Silver Sneakers program, along with the Lakes Crisis & Resource Center.

"That's the kind of thing we really adore doing," said Smith of their outreach work; their appearance at the Holmes Theatre, as well as the outreach programs, are being funded through a Minnesota State Arts Board touring grant, she added.

If you go

What: Shapiro & Smith Dance

When: Thursday, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Historic Holmes Theatre, 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes

How: Tickets are $15 for adults, $7.50 for students, and may be purchased by calling the Holmes Box Office at 218-844-7469 or reserving your seats online at