Monday, January 13, 2014

Embracing Change

One of Columbia College Chicago's most predominant taglines has been "Create Change." In my 12 years at Columbia, first as a student and then as a faculty and staff member, I have found that we do a lot of change! My personal experience of the variety and multitudes of change has been predominantly positive though I've learned to be much more flexible than is my nature.

So, change is coming to Shaping Community! Our new full-time faculty member, Laura Allen, has taken on the Community Outreach Coordinator role and will be maintaining this site. I'll leave it to her to share more about how her role is shifting along with the CCC culture of community work and what is coming next.

In transition, I'd like to reflect on why I started this site and why it exists in non-commentary blog form. I have long believed that our dance/movement therapy community is so often engaged in incredible community work that goes unknown, unnoticed and unshared among community members. When I stepped into the coordinator role, I really wanted to find a way to make the community work that the department was doing more visible. This felt important to me for several reasons. The first was to share the scope of the impact of our department in the community as well as the variety of ways our students, faculty and staff were working in community. The second was to find others who were interested in the same things as our community members to open the possibilities for further collaborations, partnerships and sharing of information. I believe in the work that our community members do and wanted a place where that work can be shared. The blog format allows for different types of posts that can be linked using the labels. It seemed like an easy way to track a particular topic of interest or project.

Though I am sad to transition out of this very fulfilling and exciting role that I've held for the last 3 years, I'm very much looking forward to the future with Laura Allen and the changes that are coming to community work - and this site!  Thank you for the wonderful connections, opportunities, joys and tears of the specialness of dancing in communities. I look forward to a different way of bringing dance, the power of creativity and the knowledge about dance/movement therapy and mental illness to our community while continuing to support our department in the work that is being done.

Laura Downey

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reflections on One Billion Rising

Reflections from Ashley Fargnoli:

I was privileged to attend the One Billion Rising event at the Michael Barlow Center with a large group of women and men from Heartland Alliance’s International FACES and Psychosocial Rehabilitation program. When I arrived at Heartland’s Uptown office to accompany the group downtown, I was shocked not only by the 20 people waiting for me (I was only expecting about six or seven), but also that there were women, children and MEN ranging in ages 3-65.  The group was composed of refugees from Somalia, Burundi, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia as well as Americans.  After taking one subway and two buses, we finally arrived to a room jam-packed full of women from Grace House, the Sheriff’s department and the Columbia College DMTC program, to name a few.  

The event was interspersed with dance and musical performances, as well as speeches from dance/movement therapy alumni and students and founders of local dance outreach programs. I kept looking over towards my group to see their reactions to the performances and speeches. I was overwhelmed to see a plethora of smiles and sense of intrigue among the group. Although they may not have been able to fully understand the content of the speeches due to language barriers, it was evident that they were identifying with the power of the event that they were attending and were proud to be participating.

One of the highlights of the One Billion Rising event was the opportunity for the attendees to dance in between the other performances and speeches. This was truly a moment for the crowd to stand up and dance in protest of violence against women around the world. With some gentle encouragement, my group of refugees were scattered throughout the crowd dancing to “We are family” and “Run the world,” incorporating traditional dances from their countries. Most of these women and men have been affected by violence in some way in their home countries, during their migration to the United States, or even since arriving to the United States. It was thus heartening for me to bear witness to this group dancing in solidarity to raise awareness to end violence. Towards the end of the event, there was a beautiful and delicious spread of food for all of the participants. A perfect ending to a powerful, successful and engaging event. 

What Ashley didn't share with you was that she was also an inspiring speaker for the rights of all human beings at the event

Reflections on One Billion Rising

One of the most powerful moments this year was the One Billion Rising event coordinated by DCAT student Chelsea Hill. If you don't know about One Billion Rising, check out earlier blog posts and the website ( Chelsea coordinated a fantastic event at the Michael Barlow Center in collaboration with several other organizations.

Here are some photos taken by Kelly Allison from Kelly Allison Photography ( - huge thank you to Kelly for documenting the event for all involved! Please note that many other photos were taken - those focusing on the DCAT community are included here to protect the confidentiality of others who attended the event.

MOVED, DMT II students, faculty and alumni
Chelsea in her role as host, DJ and coordinator extraordinaire!
Alumnus and event speaker Amanda Mitchell breaking out her dance moves!

Amy VanBecelaere, current student and inspiring womens' rights event speaker

Not quite one billion but a room full of women and their male supporters dancing together for the rights of women throughout the world and at home

Live documentation via Facebook, twitter and intagram occurred in events all over the world - check out the archives from February 14, 2013! You'll find many other photos that we do not have permission to post here.

MOVED students flocking

Our leaders....Susan Imus, Chair of DCAT and Jessica Young, Associate Chair
Note: We obtained permission to post these photos.

Reflections: Focus on the Arts

So, one of my favorite things that I've had the opportunity to do is participate in Focus on the Arts at Highland Park High School ( Every other year, a parent and teacher/staff volunteer group brings some of the best, well-known and innovative artists to the school so that all students can experience a wide variety of arts careers, opportunities and interactions.

We were invited to engage two of the the special education classes in creative movement. Using a Chacian style model, we warmed up body parts, developed a movement theme and took a moment to talk about body awareness. The wrestling gym was filled with laughter, energy, creativity, self-expression and LOVE! The students interacted with us and each other and coerced their teachers and aids into dancing along with them. They also taught us some of the very positive relaxation techniques that their teachers taught them to use when they needed to calm down - and they knew when they needed to calm down!

Julie Brannen and Nell McCarty were able to join me for the day along with our Highland Park student ambassador, Jennie. Jennie was one of my dance students when she was 5 years old so this was a lovely reunion for me!

Here we are!

The parents and coordinators of the event could not have been more welcoming and appreciative of what we had to offer their community. Julie couldn't resist taking some photos of the treats:

And, of course, the decorations were fun!

Reflections on Creative Movement at Center of Higher Development

Reflections from Amanda Fondow:

I Can’t Even Dance!

            Throughout our lives we embark on journeys. A journey can be a small amount of time or an extended period of time. I say a journey is in the eye of the beholder. A portion of my journey began seven months ago. It was my final year of graduate school, I was beginning my internship, changing my thesis topic (again), and starting an assistantship at the Center of Higher Development. I didn’t really know what to expect. As it turned out, this would be an experience that would shape other aspects of my educational career. 
            My first semester teaching was with adolescent girls ages six to ten. We used our imaginations, played games, and shared our favorite “everything”. The semester flew by. We laughed a lot and danced to all varieties of music. I helped my girls choreograph a Christmas themed dance for the end of the semester program. They chose the music and collaborated on their choreography. The program was a success!
            Second semester came without warning and brought copious amounts of change. I no longer had my little girls, I would now be teaching the older girls, ages 11 and up. I think that they could smell my fear. 

 Things started off a little awkward but we soon found our footing. Life has a funny way of throwing you a curve ball just when you get comfortable. A few weeks into the semester, the universe put a series of events into motion, that not only changed my role and participants at the site, but also my thesis topic (for the fourth and, thankfully, final time).
            Long story short, these girls were looking for a place where they could talk freely and openly. My group became that place. Red Flag! I desperately wanted to be there for my girls in a way I was not ethically able to be. Enter thesis. How do I provide these girls what they are seeking while staying true to my role as a dance teacher within the parameters of just being a dance teacher even though I had the training to take on some of the opportunities for therapy that arose? This was an opportunity for me to understand my roles and how to distinguish between them.
            Again, things change. Due to new opportunities at the schools, attendance for my group dropped so I was forced to improvise. One little first grade boy became my loyal participant. We pretended we were blue and orange jaguars living in a house in Chicago. We swam in the ocean with whales. He requested disco music every class and he even taught me how to dance. Teaching this class became self-care.
            Do our journeys ever end? How do we know if they end? Maybe they really don’t. I know my journey is still unfolding and because of my adventure at the Center of Higher Development I discovered a thesis topic that I am truly passionate about and immensely proud of. I think it is safe to say I went into this assistantship hoping to change the world. What ended up happening was the site and students changed me. They helped me to better understand myself and my roles, which I believe will help me be a better dance/movement therapist in the future. For that I am eternally grateful.
            The semester ended with a dance/pizza party. The most memorable moment was captured on video and can be found here. I’m Happy to know I accomplished what I set out to do: teach students how to dance. ;)

A group photo from the party on Amanda's last day

These photos and video have been posted with approval from the Center of Higher Development

Reflections on Relaxation at CommunityHealth

Reflections from Lynn Chapman:

On May 1st, Lynn Chapman led her last Healthy Mind and Body Class at CommunityHealth. It was an evening to celebrate and commemorate the experiences of the class members over the past 13 weeks, or for some, the past 8 months.  Class members brought homemade snacks, and the group reflected on both what they had learned about themselves and what practices they would take with them. 

Lynn’s approach to the work she did at CommunityHealth is rooted in the perspective that the body, mind, and spirit are interconnected. Lynn saw one of her roles as creating a safe space for people to come and comfortably explore, discuss, and practice attuning to their body-mind-spirit. Each week she introduced a wellness theme and found creative ways to explore it with class members. Through holistic practices such as mindfulness, art making, meditation, and movement, class members practiced increasing their self-awareness and body-awareness. Students worked to improve their ability to illicit their body’s relaxation response, and therefore improve the quality and length of their lives. 

CommunityHealth staff and volunteers work hard to foster a welcoming environment while providing effective care. The team of volunteers and staff were extremely supportive and enthusiastic about the class throughout the year. On May 16th, Lynn had the honor of leading a workshop for the staff where she shared some of the principles of the Healthy Mind and Body Class, as well as provided practical ways to incorporate stress management into the work setting. 

 Lynn is sitting on the left!

Reflections on the Hubbard Street Parkinson's Project

Reflections from Julie Brannen:

As my time at Columbia College winds down, so does my work as a Community Outreach Assistant. Although I have done a myriad of tasks over my two years in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies (formerly the Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling Department), I will speak about one of them in this final blog post. I am writing about my time with the Hubbard Street Parkinson’s dance program because, as an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, I worked with people living with Parkinson’s disease. After some time and finding my niche, I soon learned about the field of dance/movement therapy and how movement can be healing for peoples’ lives. So I feel as if I have come full circle, and have gained much insight into both Arts in Healthcare field that in turn fuels my perspective as a newly graduated dance/movement therapist.

I worked extensively with Hubbard Street’s Parkinson’s dance program on Saturday afternoons. My time with this community was very special to me. I always felt so welcome by the participants with warm, non-verbal gestures such as smiles or kind eye contact. Even though I am was not a consistent teacher, the participants seemed eager to get to know me. They always asked questions about school, my future career path, and what I liked to do for fun.

I have become accustomed to their class structure. It always began with the BrainDance, originally created by Anne Green Gilbert, using the total body patterns of connectivity to warm the body up. Although this was designed for children, it can be applied to all ages, abilities and settings.

It is comprised of eight developmental movement patterns that healthy human beings naturally move through in the first year of life. As babies, we did these movements on our tummies and back on the floor. However, cycling through these patterns at any age, daily or weekly while sitting or standing, has been found to be beneficial in reorganizing our central nervous system. Repeating these patterns over time may help us fill in any missing gaps in our neurological system due to birth trauma, illness, environment, head injury or not enough tummy time as a baby.” –Creative Dance

Following the warm up, the teachers lead the participants in a full body exercise that incorporates yoga poses, dynamic breathing, and rhythmic structures. With a live accompanist, it is so beautiful to dance these dances! The rest of the time is filled with different improvisational exercises or movement across the floor to help with mobility, balance, and gait. People with Parkinson’s disease tend to have trouble with all of these exercises, so the teachers continually challenged them.

Perhaps my favorite activity was a simple one. We stood in a circle and made a sound/vocalization in response to the person next to us and passed it on, etc. The amount of creativity that emerged was remarkable. It was also so fun to involve your whole body as well as the movement of the vocal chords. My favorite memory was an exercise called “big movement/small movement” playing with the concept of space and how our body can inhabit it. The big movements included ranges of far reach space—in Laban Movement Analysis terms—emphasizing the farthest potential in your personal kinesphere (or space bubble around your body). The small movements aimed to engage in micro-movements proximal to the body. We would fluctuate between the two in an improvisational structure, eventually interacting with one another in the space. It was interesting to embody this dichotomy and how it influences myself in relationship. A participant reported that she became emotional during this exercise because, with the disease, she was not able to have big movements anymore—her world has shrunk to the life of a “Parki”. The exercise was undoubtedly evocative.

I will truly miss my time with these individuals. The community is so rich with love, creativity, and openness to each other. What I will take away from this experience is the knowledge of scope of practice-dance can be therapeutic, but knowing barriers in relationships with the participants, more understanding for the movement disorder of Parkinson’s disease, and all of the movement moments shared together on the marley floor.

Reflections from the Last Few Months

After a long hiatus, I have a lot of information to share....

One of the main reasons that the Department of Dance/Movement Therapy (now the Department of Creative Arts Therapy, DCAT) started this blog was to provide a venue for sharing our outreach work and opportunities with the greater (and smaller!) community. So many wonderful things were being done by our students and faculty but we had no way to share them with each other or with individuals who might be interested in our work. Sometimes, we share these opportunities as upcoming events, others are shared as current events - today I'm sharing a series of reflections of past events.

Over the past academic year, we had several student outreach assistants who engaged in community outreach work in a variety of ways. Some activities were collaborations with other departments or organizations while others were our efforts to bring dance to our community, educate about mental health, de-stigmatize mental illness and tell people about dance/movement therapy. Here are some highlights from the spring semester (though I'm sure to miss many of the details):

Lynn Chapman facilitated a weekly relaxation class for individuals in the West Town neighborhood at CommunityHealth (

Amanda Fondow lead a creative movement class for children and adolescents in the Bronzeville neighborhood at Center of Higher Development. After school programs provide children and teens with homework support, arts exposure, character development and access to technology.

Maria Ninos was a teaching assistant for a Creative Movement Class for Teens with Special Needs at Ridgeville Park District ( and the Caring for Kids ballet class for children with cerebral palsy through the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago ( The creative movement class for teens was led by DCAT alumnus, part-time faculty and Community Outreach Coordinator Laura Downey, 2004 (me!) while the Caring for Kids class is lead by another DCAT alumnus, Katherine Porter, 2012.

Karissa Martens developed an educational workshop for skin aestheticians about pathological skin picking. This psychiatric issue is related to trichotillomania (a diagnosis involving hair pulling) and many people do not realize it exists. To learn more, visit the Trichotillomania Learning Center ( 

Kamahria Hopkins stepped into a new assistantship opportunity in the spring semester leading a weekly relaxation/body-mind integration class for men at Hope Manor. Hope Manor is a home for male veterans run by Volunteers of American Illinois ( DCAT alumnus Amanda Mitchell, 2010 facilitated this opportunity and provided on-site mentoring.

Nell McCarty was a teaching assistant at Sabin Elementary School working with Columbia College Chicago's Center for Community Arts Partnership (CCAP, teaching artist Laura Reibock. Their kids brought the audience to their feet at the end of year showing in May!  Nell also engaged in a variety of other outreach opportunities including assisting with Focus on the Arts at Highland Park High School ( and Caring for Kids.

Julie Brannen also participated in a variety of outreach activities including Caring for Kids, Focus on the Arts and the Hubbard Street Parkinson's Project (

Whew - we've been busy!  There are many other collaboration and opportunities that are not mentioned here and these outreach assistants also engaged in many other activities as representatives of the department and of MOVED, the DCAT student organization.

Keep reading newer posts for the students' reflections on the last few months and some upcoming new news!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Update: One Billion Rising

The location for the One Billion Rising event has been moved to the rain location:

Michael Barlow Center
2120 W. Warren Blvd

Don't know about One Billion Rising?  Check it out!

Want to join a local event? We'd love to see you there!

Alumnus Amanda Mitchell will be speaking and many others from our community will be speaking and dancing! MOVED will be there - will you?  Check back for updates as we get closer.

Have you seen current first year student Chelsea Batko's interview with second year student (and event coordinator) Chelsea Hill?  Check it out!