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Contemporary dance can inspire confusion and panic in the average viewer.

But now it's time for us all to get over it, and Rayn Hookala is here to help. A graduate student in Arizona State University's department of dance, Hookala works overtime with her own dance company, Rayn Dance Theatre. The group emphasizes outreach, which means making modern dance more understandable. It might even make you laugh.

"People often feel as if they're not getting' the message that choreographers meant for them to get in a performance," say Laura Steigerwald, promotions manager and dancer with Rayn Dance. But Steigerwald says Hookala's choreography for this exciting new company is "gesture oriented," and therefore easier to understand. "We strive to make our performances accessible to our audiences, and we employ athletic movements versus traditional ballet movements," she says.

One of the company's pieces focuses on gestures of the male gender, and investigates how those gestures might look if taken to the extreme. All of the graceful female dancers in the company dress as men and sport mustaches for the performance, too. It's a fun piece that allows the audience to recognize the humor in simple, often unnoticed acts in our everyday lives.

In addition to teaching us how to laugh at a dance performance, Rayn Dance has commissioned some extraordinary talent in guest choreographer Jennifer Tsukayama, an associate professor of dance at ASU and the founder and artistic director of the Tsukayama Dance Collaborative (tdc). She has created a work that revolves around local poet Norman Dubie's poem "The Last Sentence of the Evening," which is not to be missed.

The group's debut performance is your chance to catch a glimpse of dance anew and welcome fresh young talent to the Valley's dance community.

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Maidi Terry