A candid conversation with Karen Peterson of Forward Motion Physically Integrated Dance Festival [preview]

As we approach the end of 2021, we can’t forget that it still feels like a continuation of the year 2020. Our lives certainly have changed tremendously as we had to adapt to what we would call our new normal.

This coming weekend Forward Motion Physically Integrated Dance Festival & Conference returns to Miami from September 22nd to the 25th  and we can’t wait to see what creativity will bloom after such a long hiatus. We’ve had the privilege of catching up with Karen Peterson, the pioneer of Karen Peterson & Dancers who also spearheaded Forward Motion with ongoing lead support from the National Endowment of the Arts, Dancing Wheels Company, Choreographer Marc Brew, Artistic Director of AXIS Dance Company and Tampa’s REVolutions Dance. Without revealing the whole plot we can expect a beautiful interpretation of what last year represented for these performers.

She has revealed a snippet of what we can look forward to. One word…DUETS!

The duets, which we are going to show at Forward Motion, were based on sort of what we were going through with the virus. People that we knew that had died, or people that had been sick. Quite a few dancers in the company that knew of individuals who had been personally affected. So we made these duets and we wrapped it around two short ensemble sections. We’ve been working in the studio all this time, with masks, without masks, depending upon how the dancers feel.” – Stated Karen.

In the last show we attended, to what I can remember there were visual elements that added a new layer to the performance. This  year with numerous rehearsals done in Naples and Pinecrest, they were  able to take the footage from these rehearsals and weave it into the live performance. A great way to integrate the element of the past with the present.

On top of the COVID challenges, the staff had to endure some staff changes:

“With that in mind, I also brought in three new dancers who are really lovely to work with. I would say the group has gelled more because there’s sort of a need. People are dancing with masks only because they want to wear a mask and dance. I mean, [in the rehearsals] if you really wanted to dance and wear your mask, you’re doing that. If it was too much of a bother, you would find something else to do. I think that’s what happened with the three dancers who left us unfortunately.” – Says Karen

Changes are always good in any circumstance. One element was added this year and perhaps I may have missed it 2 years ago. It is the incorporation of Workshops from September 22nd to the 24th. All are welcome for a small fee, and they have assured having taken precautions according to the CDC guidelines. More details are available on their website.

In the world of modern dance, the first impression is form, however the beauty of movement and the emotional impact the audience can take away from all the elements surrounding the performance whether visually or auditorily. The mystery remains when the physically challenged are also integrated :

“I still think there’s a bit of unknowns in physically integrated dance. Maybe dance audiences are not comfortable with watching disability or dancers with disabilities on stage. Most of the time the feedback that I get is that it’s like a ‘WOW’. Just like you said. ‘Wow, I can’t believe this was so interesting.’ I really hope that Miami dance audiences come with an open mind and take a chance.” – Says Karen

With the anticipation of the show Karen expressed her sentiments on working with amazing handicapable directors:

“Your imagination or your curiosity might get stretched a little bit and you might want to ask someone in a wheelchair what it’s like to be an artistic director. I mean, this is the first time I’m an artistic director on the stage and the other three directors use wheelchairs. There’s more of a push now because of diversity, equity and inclusion. If it’s Black Lives Matter or the Me Too movement…, but there’s a real push for dancers with disabilities to take more of a leadership role, take more directorship role. I’m just so proud to be on a stage with three directors who just happen to be using chairs.” – States Karen

In a world where there is much discord, it’s refreshing to know that some of us humans are able to create a world where art unites everyone despite our differences. The show is on September 25th and we can’t wait to tell you about our experience!

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