By Carol Norris
To keep working as a modern dance teacher and choreographer in the Tristate, Cheryl Wallace knows you need to go where the work is. That might mean working with burn victims at the Shriner's Burn Institute one day and with gifted children at Cleveland Elementary in Hamilton the next.
"Recently I've been doing a lot of teaching," Wallace, 51, says. "It's a huge range of populations from university students to differently-abled individuals through the Arts Links program. We've been working with Children's Hospital, Shriner's Burn Institute, the Drake Center - people you wouldn't expect to be dancing."
She and colleague Renee McCafferty of Newport work together in taking dance to the most unlikely places. They're basically a dance studio on wheels. Wallace says the rewards go beyond a paycheck.
"The work has been transformative - in particular it's broadened my world," Wallace says. "I remember as a young dancer it was like I had blinders on going in one direction. I was only thinking about my own career. I would have never come in contact with these situations. It's made me bigger as a human being."
No matter the disability, through a series of improvisations nearly everyone gets drawn into the experience.
"At Children's Hospital we usually get about 90 percent participation. At Shriner's some of the children are in too much pain - that means they can be the boss."
She's talking about their most popular improv - "the boss and the mover."
Working in pairs or in groups, someone will be named the boss and allowed to give commands, such as "rotate and revolve" or "fast, slow and stop." The "boss" is in charge of telling the others when, where and how to move. Wallace says it's a healing experience.
"It's a structure we've put together that involves the movers in such a way that they can't think about their inhibitions. It's been my experience that when I'm completely involved in moving, that's where I am. Ultimately I think that's a healing thing. Every time we walk out of there, we feel like we've been a part of someone's healing process."
Some of the most challenging work through Art Links has been with troubled kids who've been kicked out of school. Out of four sessions, maybe one will be a success. "One time we had five young men choreographing with us," Wallace says. "Why that happened only one time out of four I don't know. It's frustrating when it doesn't work, but we're not the only people to have had failures in these situations. For me, I'm delighted with that one success."
She teaches movement to theater majors at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, modern dance to high school kids at Purcell-Marian and to younger kids at Parham and Cleveland Elementary schools. She's insanely busy but deeply satisfied: "My teaching and my three kids - that's what I know best."
Cheryl Wallace's latest choreography - a work for seven dancers titled "Unease" - will be part of Contemporary Dance Theater's annual Choreographers Without Companies Concert, 8:30 p.m. June 6-7; Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center; 621-2787 or 241-7469; $12 (students and seniors), $18, $22.
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