The men and women seemed hesitant, but Ursula Perry and Elle Johansen quickly arranged chairs in a circle and brought everyone closer to the front.
Many thought these two women were here to showcase their dancer skills.
“We’re just going to move with you today,” Perry said.
This visit to Meadowbrook Place in Baker City was part of a tour for the Repertory Dance Theatre. The company gave a performance Thursday night at Baker High School, brought to town by Crossroads Carnegie Art Center.
On Friday, the dancers divided forces to lead workshops in the community. The session at Meadowbrook focused on movement for seniors. A program at Baker High was geared toward teaching athletes how to build strength and flexibility. The third class was “Contemporary Techniques and Improvisation” held at Crossroads for ages 12-16 with dance experience.
Repertory Dance Theatre is a modern dance company. It was founded in 1966 in Salt Lake City.
In addition to public performances, RDT produces community-based programs that focus on arts-in-education.
With the senior citizens at Meadowbrook, Perry and Johansen first lead everyone in a warm up from head to toe. They moved their head from side to side, shrugged shoulders, twisted their torso, moved arms up and down in a painting motion and tapped toes.
Then came the participation.
The dancers turned up the music and took residents through a dance routine — all from the security of their chair or wheelchair.
For the second song, Perry encouraged everyone to simply move to the music.
“Whatever feels good,” she said.
When that song ended, Johansen grinned at her audience.
“I love your improvisation,” she said.
At that, Maybelle Baird gave out a laugh.
“My circles have square corners but who’s watching?” she said, sharing a smile with her neighbor Mary Basche.
The point, Perry reminded them, was simply to move.
“It’s kind of fun to just move your body with the music, right?” she said.
Next came the name game. To meet everyone, Perry asked each person to create a move to coordinate with the syllables in his or her name.
These ranged from simple — a nod for “Fred” — to a bit more energetic.
“I’ve always yearned for applause, so just three claps,” Baird said, clapping to punctuate three syllables.
To end their time at Meadowbrook, Johansen told the residents that dances tell stories. She then demonstrated a few routines and shared the stories behind the movements.
Then it was participation time again. When asked for a story, Norma Barnett shared a tale that soon had everyone in laughter.
She’d been driving a car full of children when her daughter felt sick. She pulled over, her daughter threw up, and then she discovered she’d lost her keys after exiting the car.
So she started digging in the roadside mud and soon was joined in the messy search by a state trooper.
Then she discovered the keys had been in her pocket the entire time.
She quickly tossed them in the mud and the trooper soon stood up with the prized keys in his hand.
Full of smiles, Perry and Johansen created the story through movement.
“Movement helps you not forget. I’ll remember this story always,” Perry said.
Before leaving, the dancers encouraged the residents to keep moving.
“We encourage you to do everything we did today, every day,” Perry said. “Remember, movement is fun. I saw smiles on faces, I saw joy, I saw discovery.”