When Hanya Holm came from Germany to New York City to open a dance school in 1931, “people were standing and waiting for her doors to open,” Heidi Jasmin said. “And my mom was one of them.”
Her mom was Nancy Hauser; the Minneapolis dance company she founded celebrates its 50th birthday next year. Jasmin, 66, took the reins of Hauser Dance as artistic director (she also choreographs, teaches and dances in performances) in 1987.
“You have a perfect right to branch out, if you have the stuff in you, if you discover your own richness, if you have something to say.”
-Hanya Holm (1893-1992), modern dance pioneer
The nonprofit company is small-six dancer/choreographers-but its challenge is large: changing the way people think about dance and who can do it. As in, it’s not just for nubile 20-something ballerinas; folks from 6 to 76 (and up) are Hauser Dance’s target demographic.
Mixing diverse age groups “simply evolved over time,” Jasmin said. “We have had a history of combining age groups in structured improvisations starting way back in the late ’70s and ’80s.”
Former company member Pam Gleason (who still teaches and choreographs with Hauser Dance) came up with the idea for the 10-week “Dance for the Ageless” class, in which “active older adults” explore the pleasure of moving. On the other end of the spectrum, an annual summer kids’ camp lets youngsters age 6 to 9 play with the basic building blocks of dance while learning to improvise.
Young and old came together for Hauser Dance’s 2010 spring concerts, teaming up for the premiere of “Beach Dance,” a structured improvisation created by company member Diane Moncrieff. While it can be challenging when 5-year-old attention spans meet the physical limitations of 75-year-old bodies, Moncrieff said, “Having a common goal and being in the same boat brings them together.”
If terms like “structured improvisation” sound paradoxical, welcome to the world of modern dance. In brief, according to Hauser Dance’s statement of artistic philosophy, “modern dance must first come from the creative source within the artist and then must find a universal language within movement that others can share in and understand.”
In describing its appeal, sometimes it’s easier to explain what it isn’t (codified; predictable; ballet, tap, jazz). As Moncrieff put it, “We don’t always want to have our toes pointed and be leaping through the air.”
They are heirs to an early modern dance tradition that began with Isadora Duncan and like-minded women who “rebelled against that fairytale world of ballet, that non-reality,” Jasmin said. “They wanted to come down to earth and make a statement.”
Today, Jasmin rebels against commercialism, competition and codification. “In every shopping mall there’s a commercial dance studio,” she noted. “In the public schools, dance line is competitive. If we’re anything, we’re not competitive. We’re the opposite of ‘So You Think You Can Dance.'”
Jasmin herself-who had severe asthma growing up-didn’t start dancing until her late teens. She isn’t sure if she’d have found a passion for dance if not for her mother, but knows that if she’d tried a form other than modern dance, she would not have kept going.
“It would have bored me,” she said.
Asked what she’d like Hauser Dance to explore that it hasn’t yet, Jasmin reflected a moment. “Every time you teach a new group of people, you’re exploring,” she concluded. “I never know how it’s going to turn out.”
Hauser Dance’s fall session begins Sept. 13; a Sept. 11 open house features free sample classes. www.mnartists.org/hauser_dance2