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Gibney Dance Community Action Residency

Training dancers to help victims of abuse

By Jonelle Seitz, Fri., Nov. 4, 2011

Pat Stone holds the theory that victims of domestic and sexual abuse tend to "self-select for the dance field, because they want to regain respect for the body and regain control over the body." Over her 30-odd years of teaching dance, she says she's encountered far too many women with histories of abuse. What these women may intuitively know is that expressive movement can help regain what abuse destroys: a feeling of control and a positive relationship with the body.

With this understanding, Stone, also a choreographer and senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Texas State University, has focused the latter decades of her work on contact improvisation and its healing capabilities. New York City choreographer Gina Gibney is of a similar mind. For more than 10 years, her dance company's Community Action for Domestic Violence project has helped NYC survivors build positive mind-body connections through movement. Recently, Gibney Dance launched its Community Action Residency program to impart its methods to organizations outside New York. When Stone got word of the program, she quickly launched a successful effort, in collaboration with the School of Social Work, to secure $21,000 to bring a residency to Texas State.

The CAR method seems impressively logical and foolproof. Before committing to a full residency, Gibney did a test-drive of the Austin-San Antonio area, contacting shelters and holding a preliminary workshop. This fall, Gibney returns to San Marcos, bringing her company with her. In addition to a three-day workshop, during which participants learn to work with victims of abuse as well as to build and sustain a program, the residency includes a performance by the company.

With the training from the workshop, Stone plans to begin a pilot program at four Central Texas shelters. The Gibney model distinguishes itself from "dance therapy" – opportunities for expression, not analysis of those expressions, are the focus. Nevertheless, says Stone, participants have noticed that they are particularly available for therapy after a movement session: "It's not just that they're relaxed, but that their cells have opened up."

The free workshop will take place Nov. 4-6. Space is very limited; email Karen Knox at kk07@txstate.edu to inquire about registration. Gibney Dance will perform "View Partially Obstructed" and repertory highlights on Thursday, Nov. 3, 7:30pm, at Evans Auditorium on the Texas State University campus in San Marcos. For more information, visit www.theatreanddance.txstate.edu/dance/Guest-artists/Fall2011GibneyDance.html.

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