Lineage Dance: The Art of Giving Back
|For most dancers, the joy of producing and presenting their work on stage is the ultimate reward. However for Hilary Thomas, an even greater reward is found in giving back and reaching out with dance. It can truly be said that there are many people in Pasadena, California who are making a difference in the lives of others, and many who are making a difference in the world of the arts, but Hilary Thomas is doing both.
Eleven years ago, Hilary founded Lineage Dance, which presents benefit dance performances in partnership with nonprofit organizations and charitable causes all across the country. What began as a "one time deal" to help a local children's health organization, has now grown into a full-fledged dance company that has supported nearly 200 non-profits across the country.
SUCCESS CAME FROM A GIVING PLACE
"I didn't have any money to offer that first organization," explains Hilary, "so I thought -- all I can offer is my dance. I'll just put a show together and see what happens, and it was a wonderful success. It was so much fun we thought we'd do it just one more time, and that one more time has turned into 200 performances in 9 years."
Hilary and her non-profit dance company have raised over $100,000 for organizations such as the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, the MD Anderson Cancer Center Young Survivors Program, the Hope and Light Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the Constance G. Zahorik Breast Center at Huntington Hospital, Young & Healthy, Five Acres and many other important health, educational, arts and social service agencies.
TAPPING INTO THE PASSION
Even with such a serious professional agenda, one quickly discovers that Hilary's joyful exuberance and love of dance radiate abundantly from her. She began dancing at the age of two, and trained with Pasadena Dance Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet. She originally planned to pursue a career in ballet, but discovered modern dance at Santa Clara University and began choreographing her own pieces in that genre.
"When I was young, my sister and I were obsessed with the TV show FAME. I can remember every dance piece and every bit of choreography. Debbie Allen was a huge inspiration to me -- she had a ballet training and took it to a slightly different place and into so many different movements."
Looking back, she sees that "my version of making a dream come true came in the form of dance and music as inspired by FAME and XANADU and all these things I watched at the time. I think that was really what created my drive to dance. As I got older, and this idea of making your dreams come true seemed more ridiculous and more challenging, this whole notion of doing what you're passionate about kept creeping in."
The company's Associate Director, Caterina Mercante, who has been with Lineage for 8 years, feels a similar drive to use dance as a way to give back. "I started dancing when I was very young, 3 years old. And I never thought I would do anything else besides dance or teach. Being on stage provides this amazing feeling that cannot be duplicated in any other way -- it's just so fulfilling and fun, and being able to help and raise money for other organizations -- there's nothing like it."
Lineage Dance's repertoire is athletic, energetic and emotional, and many of their dance pieces tell a story. One performance, "Healing Blue", was inspired by the life of surfer and activist Rell Sunn, who lost a long battle with breast cancer, and grew to include pieces choreographed around the stories of other women's experiences with the disease. "It is so inspiring to be able to dance their stories and see some of them in the audience and see them experience their stories on stage, and being able to touch so many people through that." Since it's premiere in 2006, "Healing Blue" has been performed across the country, benefiting a dozen cancer centers.
ON KEEPING THE PASSION ALIVE
In addition to choreographing and running a dance company and traveling on weekends for performances across the country, both Hilary and Caterina are teachers at a local independent school. How do they manage to balance these careers and still fulfill their passion?
Caterina ponders that question. "Managing time in a day is definitely not easy to do. Juggling a full-time job, a husband, a dog and home and everything that needs attention and care can definitely be challenging. I think the key is to find something you're really passionate about... you will create time, you will want to make time for that."
Hilary agrees, "I think you need to maintain the passion and stay fresh because I know if my dance career started to feel like a burden, I could never do it. But it never does. It's so rewarding that it just never feels like work."
MAKING DANCE ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
Much of Hilary's time is spent creating new and exciting dance choreography and raising awareness for important causes, but the second part of her goal with Lineage is making dance accessible. They regularly offer community workshops where people of all ages can move creatively and expressively.
"A lot of people get scared. We've done so many workshops with people of all abilities, people in wheelchairs even and it's so wonderful to see them come alive. Dance unleashes something in people that I don't think they realize is there, that they often kind of put a lid on... and then they start dancing and they lose that self-consciousness. It's amazing to see, and people have really been affected by it."
Lineage Dance frequently performs for audiences who are unfamiliar with contemporary dance. And now with their recently opened Lineage Performing Arts Center in the heart of Old Pasadena, they have built a community hub that showcases music, dance and theater performances and provides classes for people in all ages and stages of life (and dance experience!). There are even free outreach classes specifically for those in the community living with Cancer, Parkinsons disease and Down Syndrome.
As noted by writer Veronique Chevalier, "Lineage Dance is setting a noble precedent of bringing together excellent artistry, outreach, philanthropy, and most of all, mutual understanding, with a model that I hope will be duplicated by other arts organizations the world over."
See one performance, take one class, and we think you'll agree.
Take action now! Dance or Donate! Donations can be made on the Lineage Dance website: www.lineagedance.org. A line-up of the company's upcoming workshops, performances and festivals can also be found on the website.
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Compiled by Peggy Burt, Managing Director, Lineage Dance.
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