A Moving Experience

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"If you put something in an ideal environment, it's going to do better, it's going to look better, it's going to feel better, it's going to feel real," Bendix says.

The ASU dance department was happy to open its stage to Herrera's students.

"We went over and performed. They had a dance stage with wing space so they could run and get some speed up. A proper floor with bounce to it -- all the conditions that augment, that accent dance as it should be."

Not only do her students get to feel and see what it's like to perform on a professional stage, they develop an understanding of what it takes to succeed.

"It is a culminating activity," she says. "Otherwise, it just would be sort of a theoretical involvement with it going nowhere. Instead, we end with a performance. They are really well-received, and I think it feels great to them."

Rehearsal ends. It's 4:30 p.m. The bus that is supposed to take some of the kids home fails to arrive."This is so typical," Bendix laments.

Time to improvise.

Most of the kids decide to walk home, but a couple of the girls ask for rides from Bendix and me.

"Are you married?" the teen asks me as we walk to the parking lot.

"What kind of car do you drive? How much money do you make?"

I dodge the startling questions and fire questions back at her. Small talk ensues on the short drive to her house.

"How long have you lived in Phoenix? What's your favorite class? Will your parents be at the ASU performance?"

The chat deepens when the subject turns to family. Her parents are split up -- neither will attend the ASU dance performance, she says, as tears well in her makeup-laden eyes.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" I ask, hoping to shift the topic to something more pleasant.

"Do you mean a boyfriend, boyfriend?"


"No," she says, explaining she's not ready to have children.

"I'm going to wait until I'm older," she says. "Like 16."

"Why so young?"

"Because that way I won't be old when she is a teenager and we can be friends," she explains.

The Herrera cafeteria is packed with several hundred schoolchildren for the March 27 dress rehearsal of "Intersections."ASU students from Dance Arizona Repertory Theater (DART) join Bendix's class in the center of the room. Bendix flips on a boom box and moves a microphone close to amplify the beautiful score, which begins with a haunting sitar solo from "Two Lovers" by Ali Akbar Khan.

Dancers from the two troupes cluster opposite each other before slowly merging and embarking on a series of "flocking" moves in which they gracefully drift together in pulsating thrusts. The interaction intensifies as the ASU students begin hoisting the young dancers one at a time into the air.

The music shifts to a jazzy-techno beat of "Give Away My Fear" by Tyler Stone. The dancers leap in a swirl of spins, jumps and body rolls as the cohesive group splits into two camps -- but now is mixed with dancers from both schools.

The two pods charge each other from opposite corners, cluster in the middle of the room, freeze, pivot and run reunited to a neutral corner. The dress rehearsal uncovers a few glitches, but for the most part, the performance runs smoothly, leaving the grade-school audience energized and smiling.

The dancers retreat to their practice room, giddy with excitement, and await the bus that will take them to a real stage at ASU.

For many of the students, it will be their first exposure to a university campus, which is a primary goal of DART.

Founded in 1984, DART's programs are designed to stimulate positive attitude and problem-solving skills in the community. DART works with more than 20 organizations, ranging from schools to retirement communities, to bring performing arts to the public. DART dancers work closely and regularly with their public partners to co-design performances that reflect the uniqueness of each group.

In Herrera's case, the college students serve as role models and mentors.

"They are cool, because, like, they are not old. They are like our age," says 14-year-old Elia Juarez. It is an opinion shared by many Herrera students.

The DART dancers, she says, also have helped her learn to concentrate and to keep practicing even when she is tired.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty