“A fully functioning body creates a fully functioning brain.”
If Anne Green Gilbert has a personal mantra, that’s it.
It turns up in the books she’s written and in the videos she’s made about teaching dance and developing healthy minds and bodies in children and adults alike.
For 33 years, she has put that credo into action at Seattle’s Creative Dance Centerand with Kaleidoscope Dance Company, a performance troupe for children in elementary school through high school. Even at 66, Gilbert has such a high-energy, youthful personality that some people may be surprised to hear she’s retiring after directing one last Kaleidoscope concert this weekend.
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It’s also rather telling that she’ll be succeeded not by one person but by two. Former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Terry Goetz will take the helm at the Creative Dance Center, while choreographer Anna Mansbridge, director of Seattle Early Dance, will become director of Kaleidoscope.
Gilbert grew up in Chicago and started dancing when she was 2 years old. She came to Seattle in 1973, where, among other pursuits, she taught physical education and dance at the University of Washington and dance workshops in Seattle elementary schools. When choreographer Bill Evans came to Seattle in 1976, she directed the Bill Evans Dance Theatre Seattle children’s program.
During this frenzy of activity, she explained in an interview earlier this week, she began looking into matters that went beyond dance.
“I was reading a lot about perceptual motor development, because I was training dancers and physical educators, and I really didn’t know anything,” she said. “I got very interested in the science of movement and also the science of teaching. … It was just a big time of study for me.”
With the founding of the Creative Dance Center and Kaleidoscope in 1981, headquartered in North Seattle, she created a living laboratory where she tried out her ideas about dance, movement and body development. One result was “BrainDance,” a warm-up exercise regimen that provided the building blocks for Kaleidoscope’s style, but also had nondance applications.
BrainDance, Gilbert said, was based on developmental patterns of movement in babies. It was especially influenced by Irmgard Bartenieff, a physical therapist who used babies’ learning patterns to help people with polio to walk again.
The BrainDance courses offered at the Creative Dance Center don’t just foster dance abilities, but help adults with Parkinson’s and dementia, along with children with autism, Down syndrome and sensory-processing disorder.
“To me, it’s ‘exercise-plus’,” Gilbert said, “because it is based on these very fundamental movement patterns that wired our brain in the first place. So by going through them we can fill in missing gaps and we can maybe strengthen or find new neural pathways.”
Gilbert soon was spreading the word on her findings any way she could, while raising three children and continuing to teach at the Creative Dance Center and direct Kaleidoscope.
“It all came out of not so much a need for money, as a passion — just this passion to have good dance in the world,” she says. “I find it transformative. It can be joyful. It can be for everyone. … I’m not out there to train dancers. I’m really out there to train human beings.”
Some children who were part of Kaleidoscope have gone on to dance careers, most notably Aaron Loux of Mark Morris Dance Group. It’s especially pleasing to Gilbert that one of her students, Aaron Swartzman, both danced professionally and went into elementary-school education.
Swartzman, who teaches third grade at Lawton Elementary School, said of Gilbert: “She is such a force. She’s such a believer in dance and movement as an integral part of people’s fulfilled life.”
Gilbert’s development of BrainDance, he added, is “huge in education. All kinds of teachers all over the world are using that: dance and nondance teachers.”
One especially heartening development for Gilbert in recent years is that former students are signing their own youngsters up for classes at the Creative Dance Center.
“It makes me feel incredibly old,” she laughs, “but it’s also just really fun — that I had them in second grade and now I have their child. … So dance is still in their life. They’re architects and lawyers and doctors — but they’re bringing their children to dance.”
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org