Friday, October 27, 2017

VSA Texas Unsung Hero of the Week: Silva Laukkanen

Photo of Silva

Today’s unsung hero is a woman who is very dear to my heart. Silva Laukkanen arrived in Austin in 2009 and immediately made her home in the Body Shift community. She has been a tireless advocate for inclusive community dance ever since. As she prepares to leave Austin to pursue a new adventure in Albuquerque, I am reminded of all the laughter and all the tears we have shared. Life in Austin won’t be the same without her, but life in Albuquerque is about to get a whole lot sweeter.

Why do I think Silva is an unsung hero? Well, for one reason, she never says no to any idea. It has always been “Yes, and…” with Silva. Although she will be the first to tell you that this habit has not always been easy, she bounces back and always says “Yes!” to the next opportunity. She has an opinion on just about everything and is not shy in letting you know it. However, she rarely takes credit for all that she has done and the lives that she has touched, and so today I want to acknowledge her for all that she is and all that she has done for me and VSA Texas.

Taking photos during Bridging the Gap rehearsal on Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge

Without her ‘can do’ attitude, we would not have our wonderful movement class at Rosedale School. We would not have had our marvelous experience with Stephen Koplowitz at Sparky Park. We would not have joined Heidi Latsky in her global On Display annual recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Our work with Nina Martin would not have the richness that it has developed. We would not have had our boundaries stretched by working with Gerda K├Ânig and Mahesh. And her tireless advocacy, along with strong support from Olivia O’Hare, brought Alito Alessi to Austin; changing the way we look at inclusive dance and significantly influencing how we teach our Elements classes. She has touched the lives of incarcerated women, disabled veterans, pre-kindergarten and elementary school children needing love and support, mothers and daughters, teachers, college students both with and without disabilities, dancers of all abilities, and the VSA family of individuals with diverse abilities.

Silva, Celia and Olivia, the dynamic trio, planning another choreographer residency

Managing a career, while co-raising three children under the age of 9 with her husband Charles, has provided Silva an opportunity to lose sleep, be in three places at once, and forget how to speak English once in awhile. But she knows what the word friend means, and she is a perfect example of loyalty and dedication.

Silva and Sarra during On Display at the Blanton Museum

As her departure appears on the horizon, I will not say goodbye, but instead, see you soon. I wish you and your family good fortune, fun adventures, and new beginnings. I love you and will miss you – a lot. Thank you for being my friend.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Lion and Pirate (in Costume!)

Hey everyone! This is Eric, your friendly neighborhood OMOD coordinator and open mic co-host, here to tell you about a special Halloween edition of our Lion and Pirate coming up next Sunday, October 29th, from 1:30-3:30 PM, and trust me, you do not want to miss out. Why, you ask? Well to start, it will be one of those rare opportunities where you get to see yours truly in costume – and it's a pretty good costume, if I say so myself. And if that isn't enough, you'll get to hear me sing a song or two with a new musical collaborator (Who is it? You've got to come and find out!)

Playing with my friend Chris at the last open mic
(Photo courtesy of Malvern Books)

We are also excited to have several Opening Minds, Opening Doors (OMOD) speakers join us to share some of their all-time (mis-) adventures in costume, while also in costume. Mind-blowing? I think so. We hope to make this OMOD presence a staple of the Lion and Pirate by also making the open mic our monthly OMOD meet-up. So expect to see more OMOD speakers sharing stories and wisdom at the open mic in the coming months! Also, if you can make it out for the open mic this month, be sure to join the OMOD crew right after the open mic for pizza at Austin's Pizza 29th St. (2928 Guadalupe St., Austin, TX 78705) where the fun will continue and you can find out how you too can become an OMOD speaker.

So dust off that costume or pick out a new one and bring your talented self down to Malvern Books (613 W. 29th St., Austin, TX 78705) next Sunday, October 29th, from 1:30-3:30 PM for a fun afternoon! Contact me if you have any questions or would like a free costume consultation; email me at or call the VSA office at 512-454-9912. You can also find event updates, RSVP, and invite your friends on our open mic Facebook event page here. Malvern Books is close to Cap Metro bus routes 1, 3, and 22. You may want to arrive early to find a parking space or park at Cabo Bob's across the street, as they are closed on Sundays. See you there!

Mac the Corgi puppy dressed up as Chewbacca. What are you going to be? 

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!