Friday, October 13, 2017

Body Shift Elements Teacher Profile: Lauren Tietz and Tuning Scores

Originally written and posted October 10, 2017 by Olivia O'Hare on the Body Shift blog. Reposted with permission. Photos courtesy of Amber Ortega.

In order to enhance our practice of moving together this month we have invited guest artist, Lauren Tietz, to our Elements class to teach movement from a somewhat different perspective. She will offer an exploration of Lisa Nelson’s Tuning Scores which, similar to the DanceAbility method, uses more open directives to allow freedom to move in ways that feel good to your body no matter what your abilities or experience level are.

Tuning Scores are a fascinating mosaic of movement and performance discoveries originated by Lisa Nelson. Tuning Scores reveal the basic elements of action, by attuning to the rich details of composition, behavior, and communication, altogether. The games are a multisensorial and kaleidoscopic set of practices that are wildly fun to do. Through the specificity of solo movement warm ups, group dancing, and verbal cues, tuning lays out an approach for performance research that can change how you make, perceive, and do in any creative medium.

Tuning Scores are an intriguing way to investigate fundamental elements of performance, movement behavior, and communication, altogether. The explorations illuminate how we compose perception through action; in other words, we learn how what we see is inextricably linked to how we see, through our multisensorial layers of observation. In “tuning,” we practice together, using both movement and verbal calls. Through these, we communicate our desires, our imagination, and our memory, in a shared image space. And with this material, we compose live art, together.

Margit Galanter and Lauren Tietz during Margit’s 2017 Tuning Scores workshop

Lauren is delighted by the poetics of the everyday- holding hands in public, the color of beet borscht, the dull circular sound of feet against a dry limestone creek bed. She is intrigued with the experience of small, daily things and the cumulative impressions they make on the human body over time. Her work seeks to expose, through movement, sound and image, a certain immediacy of vulnerability and intimacy.

Lauren is a dancer, somatic movement educator, craniosacral therapist, Pilates instructor and filmmaker based in Austin. As an artist and healing arts practitioner she loves to uncover the intelligence of the body, its nuance, poetry and wise council. She savors this relationship of body to language, inner to outer. She believes the body’s expression of movement is our birthright and it is with delight that she shares this work with people of all ages, backgrounds or experience level.

Photo taken during Margit Galenter’s 2017 Tuning Scores workshop

So be sure to join us for this month's special edition of our bimonthly Elements class every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month (this month it will be October 14th and 28th) from 2:30-4:30pm at Town Lake YMCA in the large group exercise room on the first floor.

No gym membership is required to attend. Open to adults age 16 and up; all abilities and experience levels. No registration necessary and fee for class is on a sliding scale from $5-$20, cash or check accepted. See you at the Y!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Another Day of Art at Moody Gardens

I know you have missed me and my blog entries. This is Lynn here at VSA Texas. My most favorite activity is a spectacular event called Art in the Gardens, which is our annual outdoor hands-on festival for kids of all ages with disabilities, held at the famous Moody Gardens® in Galveston. A week ago today was our sixth annual Art in the Gardens festival, and this year’s theme was “Stars of the Sea” in celebration of Moody Gardens' newly refurbished Aquarium. It was a bright sunny day with high humidity, but the water was beautiful and the breeze was blowing. Perfect day. April and I got there early and set up our art activities. Then volunteers started rolling in, and the first performers arrived and began drumming to get us all in the mood for a good time.

The Moody Gardens complex from the water: a white tent pavilion and 3 large glass pyramids with hotel behind
(Courtesy of Moody Gardens)

In case you didn't know, Moody Gardens began in the mid-1980s with a horse barn, a riding arena with a hippotherapy riding program for people with head injuries, and an extraordinary vision to create an island tourist destination. Today Moody Gardens is one of the premier educational and leisure facilities in the Southwest. It also provides horticultural therapy, education and employment for persons with a wide range of physical and emotional disabilities.

Even though Hurricane Harvey battered southeastern Texas just a month earlier, arts organizations in the area rallied and came out to provide art activities for more than 400 attendees. Among the activities were great jellyfish cutouts with the Junior League of Galveston County, paper plate fishbowl making with The Kids Club of UTM School of Nursing, decorating king and queen crowns with Galveston Arts Center, and making “Stars of the Sea” headbands with Moody Gardens. A man in a shark suit could also be spotted visiting with all the kids and bringing friendly shark smiles everywhere.

The shark man complete with a green button-up shirt in a crowd of kids

Chalk drawing (below) was also a big hit for everyone. In most cases, we connected big plastic apparatuses with chalk to kids' wheelchairs to facilitate making their own chalk art. Other kids would run around excitedly pushing the chalk apparatuses like old lawn mowers. All the kids seemed to head straight for that activity as they entered the tented pavilion.

Kids traverse the colorful, chalk-covered concrete floor of the pavilion. Note the chalk drawing apparatus.

Lots of great performers were also present to entertain our folks. Joy of Djembe Drumming started off the morning with lots of drumming, and a conga line slowly formed. Later, the wonderful Down Syndrome Association of Houston rocked the floor with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” (seen in the video below).


Texas A&M University at Galveston Two Steps followed that up with their country western thang, which was fabulous. Afterwards we ate lunch with all the volunteers provided by Moody Gardens, then cleared away all our sea gear, shook hands, hugged, and said “yeah! another great year” and the kids danced and sang and swayed and enjoyed going to the Aquarium Pyramid compliments of Moody Gardens. Thank you Galveston and Moody Gardens for participating and providing another great day for all the kids, parents, and teachers. Looking forward to next year’s theme!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2017

Did you know that the first full week of October every year is Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW)? It was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress to educate and increase awareness about mental illness. This year MIAW will be celebrated next week, October 1-7, 2017. Did you know that one in five adults will experience mental illness in a given year? VSA Texas honors artists with mental illness in our annual Mental Illness Awareness Week art show held every year in San Antonio.

We are only able to bring you this fabulous exhibit because of the dedication of one volunteer, Susan Beattie. Susan has hosted the MIAW exhibit since 2002. She invited us to be her hosting partner in 2007. And 11 years later, we are still going strong. Susan starts working on the next exhibition as soon as the previous one is over each year. She finds the venue, coordinates the details of the reception, promotes the event, solicits artists, and so much more. Her passion for this show is unstoppable! Plus she has become a great friend over the years.

Photo of April and Susan with our faces painted at the Grand Opening of Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio in 2010

Susan is a collage artist and photographer. As an artist living with mental illness she thought it was important to make sure that people with mental illness were seen for their positive attributes, skills, and contributions to society rather than be stigmatized as “crazy.” She does a great job of getting this message across by presenting a professional exhibition of work by San Antonio artists with disabilities.

Photo of collage by Susan Beattie

For the past several years, High Wire Arts has been the home of the Mental Illness Awareness Week art show. Owners Cindy and Ray were very supportive of the show. This year we have moved to a new (to us!) but well respected venue, Bihl Haus Gallery. We are excited to work with Kellen and hopefully make this space our new home for future MIAW exhibitions.

Photo of Susan and Ray at one of our previous MIAW openings

Come out to this year’s opening reception Saturday, September 30th from 5:30-8:30pm at Bihl Haus Gallery, 2803 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio, TX 78201. We are featuring artwork by 20 artists, and there will be live music by the Michael Waid Duo. If you can’t make the opening, the exhibit will be on view through October 7th. Gallery hours are 1-4pm Fridays and Saturdays OR through appointment by calling 210-383-9723.

Photo of "Anxiety Boy vs Doctor Diagnosis" by Raquel Majeno

If you have never been there before, Bihl Haus is the historic building located inside the gate of Primrose at Monticello Park Senior Apartments (across from the Tip Top Cafe). Please park in the circle lot and enter through the walk-in gate. Overflow parking is available at Redeemer Church.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Describing Art in Mandarin Chinese

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to Taiwan to train museum docents and other personnel in the art of audio description. I was working with the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts under the auspices of the Taiwan Ministry of Culture. They have launched an island-wide museum accessibility initiative, and audio description is the first item on their extensive list. There were 35+ people at the training in Taichung and an additional 50 at the workshop in Taipei. There is a great deal of excitement within the museum community about this initiative and there were several very promising describers in both groups. We worked hard for 5 days, but we also had a lot of fun. And a special shout out to Jennifer Shih Carson for her exemplary translating skills; Li Chuan Emily Wu for organizing the entire training; and, everyone who made sure my visit was comfortable and culturally satisfying. Tea, noodles, re-connecting with friends… everything a girl could wish for.

Celia with describers in training at Nat'l Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts

On the culture front, I lived in Taiwan in 1989-90, so this was a homecoming of sorts as I have not been back in 27 years. I have to say that much has changed during that time, but also much has remained the same. The small street that bordered the university I taught at has become the largest night market in Taiwan! Gone was the smiling Buddha noodle shop and in its place was a neon, amplified seller of socks, electronic gadgets, handbags, you name it. Taichung has built many tall buildings and shopping centers, and the scooters have exponentially increased, still with entire families riding on one. But the bicycles are now in racks for the tourists (if you dare!) and cars vie with the scooters for road space.

Jennifer, the workshop translator, heads off into the night on a scooter with two of her children aboard.

Taoist Temples are still in every neighborhood, and they still bustle with people day and night. But there are rules now about burning incense because of the problems with air pollution, so there are only a few sticks in the burner at one time. The temples used to be dense with smoke so I am sure this must have been a hard rule for the Taiwanese to accept. Also, the food has changed. We ate simply in 1989 (I was a graduate student at the time), but we ate well. Most food was Taiwanese. KFC opened its first shop in Taipei in 1990, and it was a big deal. Now, it is easy to get just about any food you want, but I still went for a simple Taiwanese meal. And I think because I was eating breakfast at what would have been evening time if I were home in Austin, I ate several kinds of noodles, pickled bamboo, green salad, red peppers, steamed buns, radish sprouts, and peanuts every morning.

Entrepreneurial wheelchair user selling gift items in an outdoor market

But what has remained the same is the people. They are kind and generous and eager to learn. As a Lǎoshī (teacher), I was treated with respect by everyone, and people couldn’t thank me enough for sharing my expertise and knowledge with them. The year I lived there was one of the best years of my life, and that has not changed. Feeling appreciated and supported when you are 8,000 miles from home is significant. And for that I thank Emily, Jeannette, Catherine, Joy, Jennifer, Evelyn, Emily II, Allan, Marvin, and all the trainees. You made my heart full.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Where All Of Me Is Free

This week we are excited to hear from dancer Susie Angel with a poem about her experience in our Body Shift mixed-ability dance program:

"Where All Of Me Is Free"

In the norms of everyday life,
My arm movements are fast and uncontrollable.
Whenever I want to do something,
Plenty of thinking and planning must happen first.
Then, I pray I can accomplish the desired task without hitting anyone or anything.

My left arm is pretty cooperative
Until I need to do something that takes any fine gross motor control.
For example, I shake someone’s hand with the left,
But we play “Catch Me If You Can” before we can actually shake.

As for my right arm, I can’t trust it at all around other people, so I tuck it behind me.
I tell people not to blame me for what happens with it because it has a mind of its own,
Which is why it has affectionately become known as Maurice.
Loved ones are very much acquainted with his mischievous nature.
Some days he gets tired of being restrained
And squirms around or stiffens so much that I can't concentrate on anything.
Knowing my limits, he won't stop until I set him free.

However, when I enter a Body Shift dance class, workshop, or performance;
It's magical and I'm safe and totally transformed!
All dancers must remain aware of each other and their surroundings;
Leaving room for my arms to do whatever they want.
They offer counter-balancing and general support to fellow dancers
And move in ways that even surprise me.
Fellow dancers only react to them
Instead of judging them and making them conform to what is expected.

Too bad the whole world can’t be more like a big mixed-ability dance class.
If it was, it would be more inclusive of everyone and we could all live in peace.

Taken by PBS' KLRU: Tanya Winters (who uses crutches) and Susie Angel (who uses a wheelchair) preparing to stand with only each other for support.

Want to join Body Shift and experience the magic yourself? The all-level Elements dance improv class, held every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month from 2:30-4:30pm at Town Lake YMCA in Austin, is a great way to get involved. See you there!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

VSA Texas at Library Live!

This past weekend we held our second VSA Texas at Library Live concert featuring musicians with disabilities at Carver Branch Library. Although we had a smaller turnout than our first concert in January (I'm thinking the gas non-shortage may have played a part in that?), we still had quite a memorable show with different acts – some bordering on the experimental side. These included James Sandlin, who sang a number of folk songs with beautiful melodies and acoustic guitar, Nicole and Eric's Guide to a Meaningful Life, a synth- and theremin-based spoken word thought project featuring former OMOD project facilitator and poet Nicole Cortichiato along with yours truly, and the Heller Wade Experience, a spontaneous psychedelic noise duo featuring virtuosic keyboard player and creative force behind Foot Patrol, TJ Wade, and his lovely foil and self-proclaimed hippie, Anne Heller, who brought theremin, electric guitar, and tambourine to the party.

James Sandlin plays a song during our sound check Saturday.

Anne with tambourine and TJ on keys (note the analog theremin in the background!)

When I first spoke with Andrew Murphy about the possibility of organizing a one-off concert featuring musicians with disabilities at Austin Public Library (for more on the origins of this program that initially was not a program, check out my blog from January), I had no idea we would be invited to make this a quarterly concert series, and I was also not aware of the variety of future acts we might feature. That said, I'm thrilled to have organized another successful concert, and I look forward to meeting other musicians who can benefit from this opportunity to play their music in an accessible and supportive community venue. If you are a musician with a disability and want to perform at the library, please send me an email at for an application.

If you were not able to attend our concert this past Saturday or back in January, worry not! The next show has already been scheduled for Saturday, December 9th, 2017, from 2:00-4:00 PM at Carver Branch Library, so mark your calendars! L&P open mic favorites Michael Tidmore & the Rollers, The Old Hats, and Wayne Napier will bring you tasty tunes of the country/Americana/folk variety. Stay tuned – you won't want to miss out!

And I almost forgot to mention: the videos from our first concert are ready for your viewing pleasure! Check out the highlights from our January 28th show on our YouTube channel. Thanks for reading and see y'all in December!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mobile Art Program Celebrates 10 Years of Service to the Austin Community

The Mobile Art Program (MAP) is celebrating its 10th anniversary of providing free art activities to older adults in Austin. Envisioned by Theresa Zelazny, this program has helped hundreds of people living in residential facilities or at home with care partners to explore their creative minds through art-making and socialization. Most recently, we completed a six-week class that was conducted over the phone by VSA Texas teaching artist Mark Morrow. Fifteen women signed up to participate and we mailed them individual packets with lesson plans and materials to make six diverse works of art. Once a week, they got on the phone (courtesy of Family Eldercare, our program partner) and talked about their art and used the time to get to know each other a little better. This is the third year of this project and it is a big hit! And it is a great way to engage adults who may not be able to leave their homes very easily. Some of their work will be displayed on MAP Austin's Facebook page very soon!

Found object collage inspired by the work of Joseph Cornell by Charlotte Berman, a student in the Mobile Art Lifetime Connections Without Walls art class

This Fall, we have two exhibits planned that we are very excited about. The first one will feature artwork by Austin residents who have been making art through Austin’s HACA “Living Well! Collaboration” with Family Eldercare. Mobile Art teaching artists have been conducting classes at eight Austin Housing Authority locations. We are proud to display some of the resulting artwork at the Cepeda Branch of Austin Public Library, 651 N. Pleasant Valley Rd. from September 1-28, 2017. There will be an artist reception from 10am – 12pm Saturday, September 9th.

Our other exhibit, “Exploration: New Art by Older Adults” is in partnership with Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA), and it will run from September 15 – December 31, 2017. VSA Texas promoted a call for art from artists aged 55 and older and requested that if they were an experienced artist, they work in a new medium. And we encouraged emerging artists to apply. This was a brand new endeavor for Mobile Art as they have always exhibited work by participants in their classes. Hosting a call for art to feature professional and/or emerging older adult artists brings a new perspective to the classes we promote and gives the general public an opportunity to experience and enjoy the perspectives of our older citizens.

"Summer," acrylic on canvas by Carmen Cartiness Johnson on display at ABIA

We are happy to say we will feature the work of nine artists at the airport and here is what one of them, Marty Allen, has to say:
“In 2011, I was diagnosed with lupus, sjogrens and celiac in addition to macular degeneration so focus on my art work continues to be limited. However despite these inconveniences, I am thrilled to say that so far I have been commissioned in both the United States and Ireland for my colored pencil portraits and my watercolors.
“And now, with determination I am turning my attention back to my real passion…oil painting.
“Armed with my artistic determination I suppose you could say, I love to explore, create, and try new things so you will rarely ever see me paint the same thing twice. To me, there are far too many interesting shapes, objects and people and it would be boring to paint the same thing over and over again; that is why you will find my art work subjects to be wide and varied, from landscapes to animals, to flowers and people. You might also say that anything that connects with me will be painted in some way, but what brings me the most pleasure is being able to express God’s beauty, which is all around us, even in the ordinary.
“While it is my intention to continue painting as long as I can, who knows what my next artistic adventure will be, that for me, is still yet to be discovered.”

"Castle Boat Landing, Kilkenny, Ireland," a watercolor by Marty Allen on display at ABIA

Getting to know the MAP teaching artists has been a real pleasure this year for the VSA Texas staff, and we look forward to ten more years of making art together!